With three games under their belts, the Villa players are now gearing up for the start of the season and things are looking quite positive at the moment.
During the game against Mansfield, it was great to see the team playing neat passes in to each other and the movement off the ball seemed very different to what we’ve been watching from Villa. Last season, at times, it felt like Lambert was trying to use a more direct approach in games, which was different to what we were used to seeing from the Villans.
There was a lot of frustration from the fans last season when we saw Ciaran Clark and Ron Vlaar lump the ball forward towards Benteke, who would more often than not fail to win the header, only for the knock downs to be picked off by the opposition. This was not the football that the fans, or even the media, expected from Villa after we had gained a growing reputation as a fast, counter-attacking team. If the pre-season friendlies are anything to go by, it seems there has been a change in philosophy at Villa – and that is great to see.
On the whole, it does seem that Lambert and Keane are instructing the players to keep the ball and control the tempo of the game. Clever passes from various players in midfield are now part of our artillery and it is very encouraging to see that we are able to keep the ball and use the possession wisely. The urge to hoof the ball seems to be gone and even the goal kicks have been short passes to the centre backs on the edge of the penalty area. At this moment in time, I am not sure whether this has been done to prevent the goalkeepers from suffering any strains while taking goal kicks or if we really are trying to implement a new passing system.
It was nice to see Darren Bent knocking in goals again but it was even more encouraging to see N’Zogbia and Hutton, two more members of the alleged ‘bomb squad’, linking up extremely well to create chances for Bent.
Weimann’s performances have also been very encouraging as he showed good awareness and proved to be a nuisance for the opposition defenders.
The players seem to be clicking with each other and that was really good to see. Some of the play was very good. Although it was ‘only’ Mansfield, a win is still a win and the players can only beat what’s in front of them. It would not have been the end of the world if we had played out a boring draw or even lost but I’m sure the fans would have been angry that we were not able to put away a team of that ilk.
The Villa squad then made its way to the United States to face FC Dallas and Houston Dynamo.
The Villans beat FC Dallas with a good display in very humid conditions. The players fared very well and played some very nice football. The standard of American soccer has risen steadily in the last couple of years and it wasn’t surprising to see that the American side also played some very nice football at times, given the performances by their national team at this year’s World Cup.
Goals from Andi Weimann and a fantastic free kick by N’Zogbia saw the Villa boys win 2-0.
It was very good to see Jack Grealish and Gary Gardner get some playing time and Grealish was very impressive. His direct sense of play, his confidence and his ability to get past defenders make him someone special. He really is one to watch this season.
The game against Houston Dynamo was a hard fought game, in which the only goal was scored by Joe Bennett. It was a good goal, coming from a cross on the left of goal which Bennett headed in from six yards out.
A few injury concerns became apparent, with Delph going off after thirty minutes or so with a foot injury and Jores Okore took a knock to the knee which meant he did not play at all. Joe Cole was another absentee as he had a thigh strain but none of the injuries are thought to be serious at all and Lambert expects them all to be back very soon, possibly within the next few days.
All in all, I’m pleased with how pre-season is going and I hope some of the playing style and swagger will be seen in the coming Premier League season.