With the dust beginning to settle on Aston Villa’s return to Premier League football, now is probably a good time to reflect on the 3-1 defeat to Tottenham Hotspur. Especially now as I have a clearer head after getting wrapped up in the emotion of the occasion last Saturday.
I think the majority of Villa fans can agree that overall, the performance showed real signs of encouragement. Villa led the game for just over an hour, but inevitably, once Spurs made the breakthrough it was then always going to difficult to shut them out and hold on for that precious point.
Players deserve credit
Several Villa players came out of the game with a lot of credit. Tom Heaton pulled off several heroic saves, not least from Christian Eriksen’s Free kick and the acrobatic save from Davinson Sanchez, which ultimately found its way to Tanguy Ndombele for his goal.
And both Tyrone Mings and Bjorn Engles looked immense with neither putting a foot wrong. There appeared to be a real partnership developing between them and that is really encouraging. Both are huge imposing figures and will win the vast majority of balls in the air. They also threw their bodies on the line which is so pleasing to see. Along with Heaton, it is fair to say that Villa, defensively, have the makings of a respectably solid outfit.
John McGinn showed that he could be Villa’s most important player this season and was at his dogged best, harassing his opponents at every opportunity. His composure for his goal was pure class. I also thought Trezeguet looked busy and a really good outlet and caused several problems in the first half. Fitness appeared to be an issue, but that will come with games.
My one real concern, personnel-wise, surrounds Wesley. While this was obviously a tough game for him, he has to quickly learn what this league is all about. I rapidly grew tired of his constant appeal for fouls and throwing his arms up in the air sulking. He is 6ft 4” – he has all the attributes to bully a defence and needs to focus on that. Which to be fair he did in holding off Sanchez which let McGinn run through for his goal. The moping disappeared in the second half, but I don’t think he pressed particularly hard from the front which will need to be worked on.
Ultimately, Villa was undone by a couple of moments which could be deemed as unlucky. Ndombele’s goal typified the only way Spurs were going to breakthrough. It was a moment of magic from a quality player. A shot from distance, well placed where no one could’ve done much more to stop it. Perhaps Hourihane rushing out a little quicker if we’re being critical. But it’s worth mentioning that Mings was a hairs breath away from making contact and deflecting the shot.
Similarly, the way the ball bobbled about bouncing off both Mings and Engles before landing in front of Harry Kane’s path for their second owed a lot to luck. To be fair, Spurs had earned their good fortune though. They were undoubtedly the better team and dominated the game. Eventually, that kind of pressure is likely to result in a clear cut chance. Kane is of that world-class standard by where he will take that chance more often than not.
One real lapse
We, of course, cannot blindly ignore the only real lapse in our play leading to that goal, which was Jack Grealish being caught on the ball in the lead up to Kane’s first. But it isn’t unreasonable to suggest that being caught in possession in that manner will be a massive wake up call and highlight the difference in tempo that we need to operate at. Grealish of all people certainly has the character, quality and ability to learn from that moment.
Even Kane’s third was a shot from the edge of the area, well placed and guided beautifully. And to be fair every single player was dead on their feet by that time. That fitness and coping with the intensity of this level for 90 minutes will be built up though. The point is, the defensive frailties and gaps were not massively apparent throughout the game. And that bodes well.
As many people have noted though, we have just gone to a Champion’s League finalists home and given them a real game. If this was Barcelona or Real Madrid, there wouldn’t be even a question of Villa falling short.
Villa are going to lose games this season. And when we play teams like Liverpool and Manchester City especially, those defeats could well be heavy, as Norwich and West Ham can attest to already. There is a stratospheric difference in the teams at the top and where we are. On paper, we’ve got one of our most difficult games of the season out of the way already. Games like this won’t define our season.
But I think it’s important to recognise that at no point did Villa get overrun. We weren’t being carved open time after time. We didn’t look particularly vulnerable either for the most part. Heaton wasn’t being called into action every few minutes.
Obviously, it would’ve been nice to see us push out more and be able to attack but I completely disagree with anyone saying that we parked the bus and were negative. Spurs used their quality to peg us back deeper and deeper and we simply weren’t good enough in possession to force our way out. Eriksen’s introduction turned the screw tighter and his quality deliveries caused problems. The Danish international controlled the step up in tempo and got closer to Kane and we struggled to live with that. But again, we’re talking about players who are world-class here who could walk into any team in the world.
It’s difficult to make definite assessments after one game, and I think we’ll get more of an idea where we are with a nicer looking fixture at home to Bournemouth where I do expect us to be on the front foot more.
I think there was a huge optimism before the Spurs game. I, myself, was confident of a good result. I still don’t think that optimism was misplaced as we were just a few minutes away from getting something from the game. And I certainly don’t think that optimism should dissipate.
Importantly, we’ve seen other teams fare much worse than us this weekend with arguably easier fixtures. Southampton and Watford spring to mind, but even the capitulations of West Ham and Chelsea, albeit against strong opposition, will have much more cause for concern in their performances than us.
There are plenty of positives to take. And I’m sure next weekend is a great opportunity to get up and running.