With Everton visiting Villa Park, Rafa and the Toffees will want to continue on their positive run this season. After a big home victory against Burnley, winning on the road against a well-coached Dean Smith outfit will be no simple feat, but it is definitely doable, even without Dominic Calvert-Lewin once again.
RBM: First off, Aston Villa are coming into this match having gotten off to a rocky Premier League start this season; what is the mood like around Villa Park currently?
Most of the supporters are patient with the understanding that a slow start was expected after a wild summer where the club sold the player the team was built around and had a very disjointed preseason. There were two matches canceled due to Covid worries from the opposition and a slew of injuries right near the start of the season.
There are certainly some frustrated and loud fans calling for massive changes and/or Dean Smith’s job. They are a loud minority mostly on Twitter. But Twitter is rarely a positive medium so I’m not too worried about them but they are likely to get louder over the next set of fixtures after Everton with Villa traveling to Chelsea (Carabao Cup), Manchester United & Spurs.
RBM: In your mind, does the current record and position on the table reflect the kind of football you’ve seen from Villa so far this year, or are they simply unlucky to this point?
It is a fair record. But there has been some bad luck as well. We have not seen a true first team, or even close to it. In four matches the following players have missed at least one and could be considered starters (deep breath): Emi Martinez (Argentina duty), Tyrone Mings (injury), Douglas Luiz (reported late due to Brazil duty), John McGinn (covid/quarantine), Jacob Ramsey (covid/quarantine), Morgan Sanson (injury), Bertrand Traore (injury), Emi Buendia (injury, then Argentina duty), Trezeguet (long-term injury), Leon Bailey (injury), and Ollie Watkins (injury). I know every team suffers injuries and missing players but that list is rough for a team trying to rebuild after losing their best player.
The first half of Watford was really awful. The rest has been inconsistent. The 3-0 loss to Chelsea was actually the team’s best performance, undone by one terrible back pass and Romelu Lukaku being Lukaku (he is really good). I don’t know if the team is ready to start truly coming together yet, but when it happens it will be a joy to watch, at least I hope so. Then Villa have the chance to move up the table to what is likely going to be a season of consolidation.
RBM: Despite retooling during the summer transfer window, the offensive production simply hasn’t been there through the start of the new campaign; how are all the new signings fitting into the squad thus far?
They aren’t yet with the exception of Ashley Young and Danny Ings. Ings has hit the ground running and is an above average goal scorer. But now that Ollie Watkins is healthy it will be very interesting to see if Dean Smith plays them both together like he did against Chelsea. That will take time for Ollie to get used to, less so for Ings who has played with a partner in the past. Leon Bailey has yet to start but has looked good in two sub appearances.
Emi Buendia was starting to play well before missing the last game for Argentina quarantine rules. On-loan defender Axel Tuanzebe made his first start as part of a back three against Chelsea and looked a bit rusty and can be blamed (or at least blamed in part) for the first goal. I don’t expect Tuanzebe to play every game, but the rest need more time together to see what they can do. Ashley Young is an ageless wonder who appears to be able to play anywhere. So far he has started games at left wing, left back, and central midfield and performed fairly well. That may say more about the injury/quarantine issues at the club though.
RBM: With the departure of Jack Grealish this summer for Manchester City, what options does Dean Smith have to go about making up for the loss of that offensive and creative ingenuity?
In a video released when the Grealish transfer was confirmed, the Villa CEO explicitly said the goal was not to replace Jack but to replace his attributes on the pitch. Emi Buendia for playmaking and creativity, Leon Bailey for speed and dribbling, Danny Ings for goals. If your readers haven’t seen the video it is worth looking up. Not very often is a leader within a club so clear in terms of why the transfer happened and what the team is doing about it. Buendia and Ings know the Premier League and look comfortable. Leon Bailey — especially with the injury setback(s) — will need more time to adjust but I have high hopes for him as a winger or possibly a second striker.
RBM: How do you expect Villa to set up on Saturday, and who do you think could cause Everton the most problems?
This is hard. Players may or may not be available. The Emi’s (Martinez and Buendia) are set to rejoin the team Saturday morning so not sure they will feature. Villa have played three different formations in four matches. So, I’ll make the guess that Smith sticks with three at the back because it looked positive against Chelsea, despite the end result.
Martinez, Cash, Konsa, Mings, Hause, Targett, Luiz, McGinn, J. Ramsey, Watkins, Ings.
I like playing our own defender (Hause) versus an on-loan defender (Tuanzebe) but that will probably not be correct.
The one player for Everton supporters to watch that they don’t know is 20-year-old Jacob Ramsey. He will play in midfield next to John McGinn and ahead of Douglas Luiz. Last year he was a raw bench player with a good pass who could add a spark near the end of the match. He has added the ability/confidence to dribble and will take a few good shots. He is growing into himself and will be tough to get out of the starting lineup even with players getting healthy again.
RBM: Finally, what’s your prediction for Saturday’s match?
I’ll say 1-1.
Our thanks to Phil for his time.