Aston Villa wrapped up the pre-season schedule with a 3-1 win over Salernitana on Sunday afternoon, and Dean Smith will largely be pleased with what he saw from his side.
Goals from Danny Ings, Anwar El Ghazi and Ashley Young saw Villa come from behind to secure the victory, with all eyes now on our Premier League opener against Watford next weekend.
It has been a disrupted schedule for Villa and so preparations haven’t gone as smoothly as many would have liked, but it’s hoped that the players have got their fitness up to a high enough level and are ready for competitive action.
Ings impressive on ‘debut’
Aside from his goal, Ings will be pleased with his performance as he looked sharp and dangerous for the most part and was involved in some of most dangerous moments.
There was undoubtedly a focus on his role and how he would link up with his new teammates, and based on the early signs, it looks as though he’ll be a threat and will fit in nicely.
Naturally, getting straight off the mark is a huge boost for all concerned, and it’s hoped that the 29-year-old can gain confidence from that and kick on when the season gets underway.
Watkins injury concern
While it didn’t look to be anything serious as Ollie Watkins walked off the pitch and straight down the tunnel, we won’t know until further tests are carried out and they come back clear.
Given he was such a fixture of the starting XI last season, it would be disappointing to see him miss any playing time, particularly right at the start of the campaign, and so it’s hoped that it was just a precautionary move to prevent him from doing any real damage.
Having signed Ings this summer, Smith will have an option to replace him, but he’ll want his top goalscorer from last season fit and firing after impressing in pre-season prior to this outing.
Philogene-Bidace/Chukwuemeke continue to make case
One of the major positives from this run of games this summer has been the form of Jaden Philogene-Bidace as the youngster finishes with two goals and two assists.
He has undoubtedly made a positive impression on Smith with his influence in the final third, and he was on hand to set up our first goal to level the score in this one.
As for Carney Chukwuemeka, he looked really sharp after coming on in the second half as his strength, balance and technical quality allowed him to glide past defenders and break forward. Expect the pair to feature heavily for Smith this season.
The disappointing aspect of our last pre-season game was that there was no sign of either Emiliano Buendia or Leon Bailey.
Bailey will almost certainly start the game against Watford on the bench having had no playing time with us thus far, and furthermore he has had to self-isolate since arriving in England earlier this week.
As for Buendia, it has been reported that he has had some discomfort in his hip but that it was nothing serious. Having participated in the open training session at Villa Park on Saturday, it’s hoped that he’ll be available for Smith against Watford.
Nevertheless, we’ve not yet had a full glimpse of what our new-look attack will be like, and so that’s going to have to develop and gel in the early stages of the campaign which isn’t ideal.
Starting XI clues for season opener
This game arguably dropped several clues about how Villa could line up at Vicarage Road on Saturday, as Smith will no doubt want to go with players who are in the best possible condition.
Emiliano Martinez will get the nod between the posts, while Matty Cash and Ezri Konsa have banked plenty of minutes in pre-season. Tyrone Mings returned and looked solid, while Matt Targett has overcome an injury issue to now look like he’s almost at peak condition.
John McGinn and Marvelous Nakamba continue to be named in the starting XI and so that will surely be our midfield two, while Watkins, if fit, will be involved.
Bailey isn’t expected to be fit enough to start against Watford, while the hope is that Buendia’s fitness at this stage allows him to at least start and be taken off late on if necessary. Ings could be called into action to help form a 4-2-3-1 system, while it remains to be seen if Bertrand Traore will get the nod ahead of Philogene-Bidace.
Possible Villa XI vs Watford: Martinez; Cash, Konsa, Mings, Targett; McGinn, Nakamba; Traore, Buendia, Ings; Watkins.