Aston Villa fell to a 1-0 defeat to Villarreal in a mid-season friendly on Thursday night, as we continue our preparation for the return of competitive football.
Following our warm-weather training camp in UAE, the Villa squad returned to -3C at Villa Park in midweek on a bitterly cold night where we were unable to find a breakthrough.
Unai Emery opted to name a strong starting XI as expected and made several changes in the second half, which naturally disrupted the flow of the game in the latter stages.
Nevertheless, it was another good runout for the players and a decent game in difficult conditions, and it was interesting to see the work being done on the training ground continue to influence our play on the pitch.
Villa will continue to play out from the back
Given we’ve conceded off the back of mistakes while playing it out from the back, there will naturally be calls from some fans to move away from that approach.
However, if that’s the way Emery wants his side to play, it’s right that he sticks to his principles and the players must ultimately adapt and show they can execute his gameplan.
Another error led to the only goal of the night, but it was clear over the course of the 90 minutes that Emery wants his Villa side to continue to patiently build out from the goalkeeper and if those at his disposal can’t do it effectively, he may well look for other solutions.
Digne, Cash have crucial role to play
It was all very narrow on Thursday night as we struggled to play through Villarreal’s lines through the middle but we did look dangerous at times when spaces opened up.
However, it’s vital that we stretch the pitch and have width to create those pockets of space elsewhere, and so while Lucas Digne had a good game and was constantly pushing up into Villarreal territory, it’s pivotal that both he and Matty Cash provide quality from out wide.
The deliveries into dangerous areas have to be on point, and if we can get that bit right, we will be a dynamic and threatening attacking unit capable of causing problems in various ways.
Luiz, Kamara building important partnership
Douglas Luiz in particular put in a classy shift in this one as he showed good physicality and strength on and off the ball, and paired that with accurate passing and an ability to dictate the tempo of the game.
Combined with Boubacar Kamara – who was equally as effective in winning the midfield battle but was sloppier with his distribution at times – they are starting to build chemistry and look a great midfield pivot.
That will be a key factor for Emery moving forward, as he’ll want his midfield duo to dominate possession while also offering protection in front of the backline.
Buendia our creative spark
While there wasn’t a killer final ball or a decisive contribution on this occasion, it’s clear that Emiliano Buendia has a major role to play in this side as our chief creative playmaker.
The 25-year-old continues to buzz around the pitch looking for pockets of space to make an impact, and his movement and running off the ball is key in providing an option and opening gaps for others to exploit.
He will know better than anyone that he needs to start adding goals and assists to his game to be a leading figure in this side, but his energy, tenacity and technical ability all make him a stand-out player for us.
Watkins needs to find goalscoring touch
It’s a really difficult one with Ollie Watkins as while we should praise his work ethic, desire and movement off the ball to give us options in the final third, his finishing just isn’t at the standard we need it to be.
We know he has it in his locker – as we saw in the Carabao Cup game vs Man Utd – but it needs to be more consistently ruthless if he wants to lead the line for Emery long-term.
While it was just a friendly, these games are giving the Villa boss important answers as he continues to learn more about his squad. He’ll love certain aspects of what Watkins brings to the side, but there are other flaws that needs to be ironed out from his game in order to remain as our leading man up top.