Five Reasons to be Cheerful at the Season’s Half Way Point
By Armen Mirzoian
It is getting easier and easier to find reasons to be cheerful under Unai Emery. FA Cup disappointment aside, the league form has brought life back into Aston Villa’s season. Here are the latest five reasons to be cheerful:
Winner, Winner, Chicken Dinner
The home win against Leeds wasn’t the prettiest sight to behold but after a battling performance and three more points on the board, it is difficult to worry too much about that. Leeds’ most recent league away games include beating Liverpool, putting three past Spurs in defeat and drawing at in-form Newcastle, so it was by no means going to be a straight forward contest.
Of course there is still work to be done; the team and individuals still show some frustrating qualities in attack and in defence. In previous years, after a genuinely shocking home defeat to lower league opposition like the one Villa suffered last weekend, Villa would continue the rot in the league. How refreshing to see the team rally together, huddle up before the game and battle for 97+ minutes. The back five all had big moments keeping the ball out, Bailey contributed a superb goal and created the second for Buendia. Kamara looked every part the midfield we have been missing for many years. Finally, Villa are showing grit and grinding out results despite not yet being at their best.
At the best of times, Leeds are a tricky customer, so to be thrown in within ten minutes after a solitary training session was a tall order for new boy Alex Moreno. Understandably, directly in front of Leeds’ away fans, he struggled in the opening stages adapting to the game and a very aggressive Leeds side. However, he unquestionably grew into the game, offering an outlet on the left and linking nicely with the midfield, while also making a crucial goal-line clearance in the first half. With Villa’s left backs dropping like flies, the signing now looks like an inspired one and fans have had a taste of what he brings to the team.
A telling statistic emerged after the win against Leeds, which highlighted just how impressive a start Unai Emery has made at Aston Villa. Six games into his reign and he has already surpassed Gerrard’s points tally from 11 games for the 2022/23 season. Add the fact that in his first six games, Emery has faced Manchester United, Brighton, Liverpool and Tottenham and the progress becomes even more commendable. From the last three performances, it is unquestionable that we are still a work in progress, but there are clear shoots of progress.
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You wouldn’t have been blamed if you found Ashley Young’s return to Villa a little bit underwhelming in 2021. Despite having won the league at Inter, his age and his antics for Manchester United divided fans. His form over the past twelve months, however, has been fantastic. So much so that some fans would prefer him starting ahead of Matt Cash currently; but it is his attitude and influence that have been priceless to this Villa side. In the match against Leeds he began the break for the opening goal with a sublime and measured pass to Kamara, whilst later providing some crucial defensive moments too. He recorded the most tackles on the pitch to add to the impressive display. Credit to Young, he has certainly reminded Villa fans why he became a fan favourite in the first place.
Purslow’s Aggregate Trio (Bailey, Buendia and Ings) have rarely found themselves on the same pitch in their first 18 months at Villa Park. When Ings was put through against Leeds in the second half, for a moment it seemed the unthinkable was about to happen… could they really all be on the scoresheet together? Alas, no. However, with Watkins’ injury, it may give the Aggregate Trio a chance to finally develop an understanding and keep up the goal contributionsIn Emery’s first six league games, Ings has netted three times, while Bailey and Buendia have two goals to their name. Hopefully more goals will follow in the important upcoming games against Southampton and Leicester.