The Villa Report – Leicester City (H) 2-4
In a Word
Shambles: ‘A situation in which there is a great lack of order or understanding.’
(Oxford Learner’s Dictionary)
The Carter Report
By Rob Carter
Now that we’ve got the defensive performance out of the way (see above), we can talk about the rest of the game.
Spirits were high as supporters took their seats in the Holte, scarves were twirled with the team 90 minutes away from being in the top half of the Premier League. Five wins out of the last seven, with the prospect of a Leicester side seemingly bereft of confidence in recent months, the sense of anticipation for a rousing performance (and three points) was in the air.
A quick start did nothing to dent the confidence of the Villa masses, with neat and tidy passing from front to back. Ollie Watkins manufactured a clever finish after Emi Buendia’s curler came back off the bar and Villa Park was in raptures.
There’s playing with confidence and there’s playing with a little too much arrogance. The modern method of playing out from the back to ‘beat the press’ is all well and good, but when it doesn’t work, the disbenefits can be spectacular. And so it proved. Only a few minutes after going ahead, a dithering and over-confident Boubacar Kamara gifted the ball back to Leicester, and suddenly we were level, courtesy of a tidy James Maddison finish. This very much set the tone for the afternoon.
The majority of the talk before the game was about how Villa had not strengthened adequately in the offensive positions; few foresaw a defensive horror show on this scale after looking relatively solid at the back in recent weeks.
Despite the setback, Villa continued to look bright coming forward. An inexplicable miss in the six yard box by Watkins aside, confidence was high, and all seemed well when the aforementioned striker’s cross was deflected in by the Foxes Harry Souttar to make it 2-1. We had also seen a Buendia header from a corner (similar to his goal at Everton last season) come back off the bar as Villa pressed forward. Anticipating an enjoyable half-time pint, its fair to say few expected us to be going into the break behind.
A detailed dissection of the rubble of the defensive performance is probably best left for another day, but an unmarked Kelechi Iheanacho, and another Foxes debutant, Tete, soon had Villa 3-2 down, the latter profiting from yet another ‘playing out from the back’ type howler.
With the ineffective Jacob Ramsey and the poor Lucas Digne hooked at half-time, replaced by Phillipe Coutinho and Alex Moreno respectively, it was clear that Unai Emery was far from happy with the first half performance.
With Matty Cash replacing a below-par Ashley Young on the hour, the second half was a relatively even affair, with Villa carving out the odd chance (and having a Coutinho goal ruled out for offside), whilst Iheanacho fluffed his lines in front of the Holte when one-on-one with Martinez. Bailey’s weak effort was cleared off the line, before yet another calamitous defensive howler extinguished any hopes of Villa getting something from this game.
The excellent Harvey Barnes (so often exceptionally good against us) threaded a deflected ball through towards Dennis Praet, which Moreno failed to cut out. Martinez must have been pretty fed up with being rounded by this point, as the Belgian did so with ease to fire home into an empty net.
Villa’s new forward Jhon Duran had a late cameo, but by then the game was lost. There will be better days to judge the Colombian, but he did at least look like a willing runner at the top end of the pitch, capable of stretching opposition defences.
Walking away from Villa Park, it was hard to understand how and why the defensive lapses had occurred so frequently throughout the game. We can only hope that this is a blip because the transfer window is of course now firmly closed, and Emery will have to work with what he’s got.
With difficult fixtures against Manchester City, Arsenal and a resurgent Everton on the horizon, a lot of work appears to be required at Bodymoor Heath to tighten us up.
Onwards and upwards!