Yesterday we witnessed a Villa Masterclass against Crystal Palace. This was a game we all expected we should / could win but I think everyone had little doubts. But what unfolded was a masterclass in psychology, tactics and game management. There was also some very good football too. Throughout the game, we played our usual attacking football with a rock-solid defense. The predictability of our performances is a joy to most Villa fans with the necessity to hide behind the sofa becoming a distant memory.
I know we are playing lovely football and have some really exciting attacking players with lots of pace. But the things that impressed me most yesterday were the psychology, tactics, and game management. We lost a key CB with about 5 minutes remaining in the first half. With a one-goal lead I think most teams would park the bus and see can they hang on and escape with a 1-1 draw. But not Dean Smith’s Aston Villa. The players showed the mental toughness to play on and not dwell on playing with a man less than Palace.
With a man down it is imperative that the manager gets the tactics right otherwise a good thrashing is on the cards. Traore was sacrificed for a Centre back allowing Villa to keep their shape at the back. Luiz and McGinn marshalled the midfield and it was left to Grealish, Watkins and ElGhazi to try and keep the Palace defenders from venturing too far forward. This worked perfectly and our front three excelled demonstrating skill, work rate and intelligent play.
It is difficult to single out one player as the whole team were excellent but Ollie Watkins played an absolute blinder of a game. He worked so hard off the ball and caused the Palace backline no end of problems. How he didn’t get on the score sheet is beyond me. It was such a breath of fresh air to see positive tactics as opposed to simply parking the bus. Rue the day!
Game management played a huge part in the Masterclass performance by Villa. With a man down we didn’t do anything stupid. We were slightly less attacking and slowed the game down a little to defend our one-goal advantage. Martinez was brilliant between the sticks but importantly he managed the game differently in the second half. Gone were his customary attacking throwouts as soon as he collected the ball. He collected the ball and took a little pause. This slowed the game down and gave our outfield players a much needed few seconds to take a breath. We used our pace and wizardry on the wings to stretch the game wide which gave Watkins space to cause havoc.
We were patient and our mental toughness helped to rattle Palace. As the clock ticked Palace became under increasing pressure to assert their numerical advantage on the pitch. They became nervous and a little shell shocked at how Villa was approaching and dominating the game. This in turn just fed the confidence of the Villa team. If Liverpool’s front three (Salah, Firmino and Mane) played with 10 men like our front three played they would have been first up on MOTM. So congratulations and thank you Dean Smith, this was arguably one of the best team management performances of your very successful Villa career to date.
Aston Villa has the best defense in the Premier League. Villa has kept 8 clean sheets this season from 13 games. Manchester City is second with 7 clean sheets and they have played a game more than us! Then Saints and Chelsea with 6 clean sheets. Further, Aston Villa has only conceded 13 goals, Manchester City has conceded one fewer with 12 goals, Spurs with 14 goals, and then it is up to 19 goals conceded by Liverpool, Everton and Leicester. If you want to laugh at our neighbour’s they have conceded 29 goals. Note: that is 29 goals at the time of writing, Baggies are away to Liverpool later this afternoon so I expect the 29 to increase significantly 😁.
Having the best defense clearly shows, even to people that don’t understand football, that our defenders are good and our playing well. There is not one single player that can be criticised. Yes, Mings had a shaky game yesterday and the sending off was as a result of naivety rather than poor defending. But Mings has been at the heart of our defense since the start of the season and is a very important and valued member of our squad. To suggest he is not good enough for Villa is ridiculous beyond belief. However, I would sell him if the price was right and upgrade him for a younger model (purely a financial decision).
Our full-backs are playing better than a pair of Villa fullbacks have done in a very long time. Cash gets better and better with each game. Targett is a revelation this season. He has now added defensive bite to his attacking play and some media reports gave him MOTM yesterday. Konsa, a bargain at 10.8m and looking like a 30m+ defender now and surely a future England international. Kortney Hause. What can I say about Kortney? Bought for 3m and very often derided by many Villa fans. The lad hasn’t put a foot wrong when called upon and chipped in with a goal yesterday. I don’t think anyone could ask for more from him. Well done Kortney, you are wearing the shirt with the pride it deserves.
Normally, when I look at the fixtures there are games that look winnable and games that I expect a loss. Chelsea away is one of those games I expect to lose. But this season is different. We have attacking flair. Our defense is the best in the league. We have the best player in the Premier League. And we have a head coach that is getting the tactics and game management right. Maybe I should be looking at tomorrow’s game as one of those winnable games?
Chelsea has lost 3 of their last 5 games picking up 6 points. Yesterday, they played an Arsenal side that last tasted victory on November 1st. They lost! Villa has 10 points from their last 5 games with only one loss. Also, that loss, which really should have been at least a draw was 5 games ago. We are the form side and should be going to The Bridge full of confidence and taking 3 points back to B6. Without doubt, and results this season have proven, we have the quality and ability to win. The key to winning tomorrow will be if our players demonstrate the same mental toughness as against Palace and Deano gets the tactics right.
What The Bookies Think
Chelsea win 3/4
Villa win: 4/1
The bookies clearly favour Chelsea for this win. I think 16/5 is very good odds for the draw but looking at form with my claret and blue glasses on I think 4/1 is the bet of the day. Stick 25 quid on us to win and you will have 100 quid to spend in the pub if they ever open again.
Just looking at some other Villa odds and only 3 bookies are still offering odds on Villa going down and that is a whopping 350/1. Does this mean any thought of relegation this season is well and truly gone? If you want another laugh at our neighbour’s expense, Baggies are 1/4 to return to the Championship.
For a top 6 finish the longest odds available are a miserly 4/1.
Where and When to watch
For UK and Ireland viewers the game is a evening kick off so consumption of beer is acceptable. Kick off is at 5:30pm and TV coverage starts at 5:15pm. The game is broadcast on AmazonPrime in the UK and on PremierSports in Ireland. If you don’t have an AmazonPrime account they are offering a one month free trial and the free trail includes access to sports.
For our friends on the West Coast of Canada kick-off is at a respectable 9:30am so beer is not really acceptable. Depending on how negotiations with the Mrs goes, maybe some crispy maple-cured bacon and a big mug of tea would be acceptable. After all, it is Christmas.
And finally, I hope you all had a wonderfull Christmas!