The Villa Report: Brentford and Lille Mixed Emotions

Aston Villa vs Brentford & Lille

By Rob Carter

In Two Words

Pessimistic: ‘Thinking that bad things are more likely to happen.’

Optimistic: ‘Hoping or believing that good things will happen.’

Cambridge Dictionary 

The Carter Report

In some ways how Villa fans view these two results might reflect their personality; cup half full, or half empty?  Approaching an important week, many felt that both games were a must win – to cement top four ambitions in the Premier League, and to put ourselves in a strong position ahead of a difficult trip to France for the 2nd leg in the Europa Conference League.

One thing is for sure – unless Villa sort out their currently leaky defence, finishing top four and progressing in Europe are going to be decidedly tricky.

In both matches, the opposition appeared to be able to create chances at will; Brentford capitalised on theirs in a devastating nine minute spell, but thankfully Lille didn’t, helped largely by a superb performance from the world’s number one goalkeeper.

Analysing the reasons for the degradation in defensive solidity does not provide definitive answers.  There are certainly common trends though.  

Firstly, Boubacar Kamara’s absence appears to have weakened Villa significantly.  The Frenchman’s work as a defensive screen in front of the back four has been sorely missed, and whoever plays in his position has not been able to fully replicate his work.

Secondly, there appears to be a real vulnerability to crosses into the box, from either side.  The defence doesn’t seem to be able to deal with this most basic of tasks.

Thirdly, there appears to be a vulnerability to set pieces, as evidenced against Lille.

Lastly, and perhaps most importantly, the constant chopping and changing of the back four has robbed us of any semblance of a settled defensive unit.  Yes, you can point to injuries (for example, Matty Cash), but even before this, we did not appear to have a ‘first choice’ back four, in particular at centre half, where Unai Emery doesn’t seem to be able to decide between Clement Lenglet, Pau Torres & Diego Carlos.  With Ezri Konsa shifted out to the right to cover Cash’s absence, it all seems to be a bit of a muddle.

Now for the cup half full bit.

Going forward, Villa can still be electrifying.  Ollie Watkins is flying and is well on course to be the 20-goal Premier League striker we have craved since the 1980’s.  Leon Bailey, despite dropping slightly in his level over the last few games, is still a dangerous threat to any opposition defence.  And then there is Morgan Rogers.  The January signing from Middlesbrough seems to get better every time he pulls on the claret & blue shirt, carrying the ball forward with intent, and evidencing that he can finish too with a wonderful goal against Brentford.  With a full pre-season behind him, 2024-2025 could be a stellar season for this bright young prospect, and, despite him playing in a slightly different position, he can mitigate the loss of Jacob Ramsey if the latter’s injury woes continue.

After what looks like an extremely difficult trip to Arsenal, Villa will travel to face Lille in the 2nd leg of their Europa Conference League tie with a leaky back line, but also with the ability to hurt the slick French side going forward.

Momentum is everything in football.  If Villa can somehow get something at The Emirates, and progress in Europe, there will be real hope of a top four finish and maybe even a first European trophy since 1982.


Value rating: £50 (out of £71) 

Follow MOMS on Twitter/X & Facebook & Threads