When you consider Aston Villa’s 3-0 defeat at the Etihad was the 10th consecutive Premier League loss at Manchester City (by an aggregate score of 33-4), it was never going to be an afternoon full of expectation. Villa captain Jack Grealish certainly found the league champions a level above a 10-men Brighton team, in terms of trying to impress the watching England boss, Gareth Southgate.
Grealish had half the touches he enjoyed against Brighton in the previous game, in a game where he saw the least of the ball of any game he started this season.
Villa started the game with purpose though and gave as good as they got in the first half, before being swept away in the second 45 minutes, although Dean Smith won’t be too impressed by the way Villa conceded most of the goals, including another debatable VAR decision.
Ultimately, it’s all part of the learning curve for Smith’s boys. The team certainly needs to discover a more clinical edge in the final third to have a chance of stealing points from such fixtures.
Here’s five reasons to be cheerful as Villa fans, as we head into back-to-back stern tests at Villa Park next week.
In it, to Win it
At half-time, Villa were looking very much in the game and carried on their form this season of never conceding a goal away from home in the first half of a game. It’s a decent stat, but as in this game, a lack of cutting edge let them down when they did get half a chance.
While Trezeguet flickers into life at times with a flourish here and there, he failed again to show a clinical side to his game. He’s not the kind of player that you’d back with a half-chance at the moment, and a despondent looking Wesley, also meant that Villa didn’t really have the cutting edge to punish City and give them something to think about.
Maybe this will come with more games, or via the January transfer window. Still, at least, as a team, they are creating a platform away from home to potentially be successful.
As we said on the My Old Man Said podcast from the start of the season, it was always likely that we’d see Marvelous Nakamba and Douglas Luiz line up together against Manchester City. They were successful in stopping City coming through the middle in the first half, although the hosts preferred route tends to be the flanks.
A work permit away from being a City player, the 21-year-old Luiz showed he can be lively and useful in the opposition’s half, and at times offered Villa’s best hope of doing damage at the Etihad.
Both him and Nakamba remain exciting prospects and should grow and contribute throughout the season, as they get more and more game time.
Off the Line
Yes, Tyrone Mings switched off, when Citeh went route one at the start of the second half. Allowing Gabriel Jesus to beat him to the ball and flick-on Ederson’s long kick to Sterling, for the opener, but the Villa centre-back soon made up for it.
First of all, with Heaton beaten, Mings managed to hook the ball off the line in full capoeira style, that even his Brazilian teammates Luiz and Wesley would have been impressed with. His second clearance was an instinctive header off the line, after the ball hit the bar, after Heaton was lobbed.
Some impressive athleticism by Villa’s England international.
Three Worse Teams
The only real way this season goes wrong is if Villa finish in the bottom three. The good news is Southampton this week threw their hat into the ring of being one of the ‘three worse’ teams, after they capitulated against Leicester City on Friday night.
Yes, the Saints went down to 10-men on the 12th minute, but they allowed the Foxes to make short work of them on their own patch. It’s not a good sign shipping so many goals, so easily, and will concern Southampton fans.
Watford still prop up the table winless after 10 games and there’s something of a frail look about Norwich City, with all their injuries.
Villa should still continue to look up, but if they do cast an eye down the league table, there is potential comfort.
November’s home clash against Newcastle, could be a pivotal game to win, although it’s hard to throw Newcastle into the ‘three worse teams’ mix just yet, despite their Steve Bruce handicap, considering they already boast wins over both Spurs and Manchester United, this season.
Result Masks Reality
Against City on their patch, keeping it tight and hitting them on the counter, was always going to be Villa’s recipe to have any chance of success. The first 45 minutes showed Villa were able to execute their game plan, but when they conceded so quickly in the second half, suddenly the game opened up for the hosts, as Villa needed to chase the game.
It was uphill from then on in.
When the team look at how they’ve performed on their travels at Spurs, Arsenal and Manchester City, this season, when in long periods they’ve been very competitive, they’ll know they’re not far away.
It should instil belief for away trips to come, when hopefully they’ll take their chances and also get VAR decisions going their way.