Aston Villa battled to a 1-1 draw with West Ham on Sunday, in what was arguably a fair result on the balance of the game with both sides having chances.
Villa opened the scoring through a fine header from Ollie Watkins early on, but a Said Benrahma penalty cancelled it out as the two sides went into the break level, with Villa perhaps shading it in terms of possession and chances created.
READ MORE: Villa player ratings vs West Ham: Watkins decisive, key duo struggle
However, the home side improved in the second half and looked more threatening, and so particularly given our poor form against West Ham in recent times, this was an important point and certainly can be seen as progress as we continue to become harder to beat on the road.
Villa face Bournemouth at home next weekend and there were both positive and negative aspects of the performance on Sunday, with Emery likely to have key decisions ahead in terms of team selection for that game to find the right balance.
Signs of progress in satisfying key Emery demand
Since taking charge at Villa, Emery has consistently spoken about, and demanded, that his side learn to control games better and manage them with ball possession and positioning.
We struggled with that in the early months, leading to back-and-forth encounters that were perhaps entertaining for the neutral, but not enjoyable as far as the Villa boss was concerned.
There were further examples of that against Arsenal and Leicester City at home, but as we’ve seen in recent games and particularly in this one, we saw a patient, composed and measured Villa look to dictate possession and tempo, and that is something that will surely please Emery, albeit we were much more effective in our approach in the first half compared to the second.
Watkins continues fine form
That’s now six goals in his last seven Premier League games, and four consecutive away games with a goal for Watkins, as he continues to shine and impress leading the line for Villa.
He will be disappointed that he didn’t add to that tally after missing a big chance in the first half to grab a second, but he is continuing to make a decisive impact in front of goal and long may it continue.
Watkins is scoring in a variety of ways too which makes it all the more impressive, and it’s hoped that not only can he continue this rich vein of form, but others step up too and support him to lessen that burden.
Bailey struggles go on
It was another underwhelming performance from Leon Bailey, as he is unfortunately struggling to have any real impact or influence in games and on our displays, despite continuing to receive chances from Emery.
While it could be that we’re struggling as a team to utilise his strengths and attributes in the way we set up and what he’s asked to do, he has to offer more and show more quality.
The penalty decision was harsh as it looked very soft, but it was clumsy from Bailey too and as he never really looked like making amends for that mistake, his minutes may well be impacted moving forward.
Moreno balance needed
Particularly with the delivery for the goal, Moreno showed his attacking qualities on Sunday as he was a constant threat down our left flank with his running and composure in providing crosses into the box.
However, the Spaniard has to find a balance between that and improving his defensive work, as we looked vulnerable on that side too and he was eventually replaced by Lucas Digne.
Boubacar Kamara’s absence hurts us as although he wouldn’t deal with everything, he provides cover and can step across to help out defensively if needed, but Moreno needs to get it right in both phases if he wants to keep Digne out of the XI.
Diego Carlos boost
While there were other landmarks and talking points – Emi Martinez reaching 100 Villa appearances being one of them – it was also a huge boost to see Diego Carlos back on the bench.
Naturally, he didn’t get minutes on Sunday and he will no doubt be gradually integrated back into things, but having been sidelined since August with a ruptured Achilles tendon, it was great to see him back in the matchday squad.
Time will tell when he’s ready to feature in a significant role, but it’s undoubtedly a real lift for him too having come through what has surely been a gruelling rehabilitation process.