Clark rises, Tonev misfires and Grealish success
With three consecutive defeats in a row, Paul Lambert took his Aston Villa squad to Carrow Road in search of a much-needed win. The result rather than the performance was the most important objective in yesterday’s game, and Villa were delighted to come away with all three points after a debut goal from Libor Kozak. Here’s what we learnt this week….
Ciaran Clark is improving
The former academy Captain came in for some rough treatment from fans last season as he made several mistakes during a stuttering Premier League campaign. In Clark’s first full season as centre back he was prone to be too tight to players, but this season Clark has shown more responsibility and maturity. Against Norwich, Clark was the dominant centre back with 13 effective clearances, 3 blocked shots and 2 interceptions. Ciaran Clark now has the chance to have a run of games alongside Ron Vlaar following Okore’s long-term injury and his commanding performance against Norwich will help ease the disappointment Villa fans were feeling at the loss of Okore.
Collective groans rang out from all Villa fans when Christian Benteke was helped off the pitch at Carrow road with a suspected hip flexor injury. Accused of being a one-man team, Villa were not expected to win the match once their Belgian talisman had left the field. However, a dogged display saw Paul Lambert’s men sneak a 1-0 win after Kozák steered home from close range. Kozák’s goal was an important one not just for the team, but also for the manager whose credibility rested on Kozák being an instant success. Not as fast across the pitch as Benteke, Kozák lumbered a little at times but his clever movement enabled him to have three shots on goal. Kozák will need to improve his passing however if he wants to make a similar impact against bigger clubs.
Creditable mention also goes to Nicklas Helenius, who enjoyed an elegant cameo appearance where he completed all six passes and generally looked very comfortable with the ball at his feet.
One of the most positive aspects of the team’s performance against Norwich was the energy shown in the beginning of the match. Previously, in sloppy openings against Liverpool and Newcastle, Villa had started slowly and were punished accordingly. A deliberate attempt was therefore made to claim the early initiative as Villa impressed in the first twenty minutes. However, once Kozák had slotted home on the half hour mark, Villa’s defensive block dropped worrying deep.
Villa did not press high in the second half and Villa’s forwards only made four tackles between them during the match. This tactic resulted in El Ahmadi having to make numerous tackles in front of the back four as Lambert reverted to a low block, counter attacking system in the second half.
Antonio Luna was often at fault for not tracking the runs of Bennett, but in his defence, he received little help defensively from Weimann. Paul Lambert may argue that winning was the main priority yesterday, but he will not reflect with pleasure on Villa conceding possession to one of the Premier Leagues weaker sides.
One low point in yesterday’s match was the full debut of Alex Tonev. Villa fans have learnt to have the patience with Lambert’s new signings and patience will again be required with the young Bulgarian. Tonev had five shots for Villa on debut, but only once hit the target against Norwich which drew the mirth of Villa fans. With Halloween fast approaching Tonev’s horror show was also magnified by some sloppy back passes which put the team under pressure.
The winger’s decision-making might be a consequence of nerves or wanting to impress on debut, but on the counter attack Tonev should have been more intelligent. Weimann and Gabby are adept at making clever runs forward, but too often, Tonev chose to shoot himself rather than pass. In wide open spaces Tonev was creatively poor against Norwich, and the best pass of the match actually came from Andreas Weimann, rather than Tonev himself. Improvement needed.
Villa’s teenage starlet Jack Grealish earned special praise against Tranmere with an exhilarating performance in his home debut. Notts County fans were amazed by the youngster’s dribbling skills and Grealish was thought by many to be man of the match. Notts County fans were predicting big things for Villa’s young Irish midfielder as Grealish twisted and turned Tranmere inside out in a 2-0 win for the league one team. Playing high up the pitch, Grealish was able to have several shots, but was unable to get on the score sheet himself. Hopefully Jordan Graham will also have the opportunity to develop through the loan system once he recovers from his injury which has lingered from last season.
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