Aston Villa completed our pre-season schedule with a 2-1 win at Rennes, with Leon Bailey and Diego Carlos scoring the goals in our victory.
Villa suffered an early setback as the visitors took the lead following some poor defending from a corner, while we struggled in the early stages after a slow and shaky start to the game.
However, as the first half went on we began to settle, and Bailey bagged his third goal in pre-season to ensure that we went into the half-time interval on level terms.
Following some tidy build-up play involving Ollie Watkins and Lucas Digne, the latter squared the ball back for Bailey in the box, and while it wasn’t a perfect connection, his effort bounced up and over the goalkeeper to find the back of the net.
Villa boss Steven Gerrard opted to make changes in the second half around the hour mark, and while we continued to enjoy some good spells of possession, the game was a little disjointed and lacked rhythm with our substitutes getting valuable minutes.
However, there was one bit of quality left in us as after a smart corner routine involving Philippe Coutinho and Ashley Young, and the latter produced a top delivery into a dangerous area as Carlos rose highest and sent his header towards the opposite side of the goal to bag our winner.
While there are still some key aspects of our performance that need to improve ahead of our Premier League season opener against Bournemouth next weekend, this was another good run out and test and Gerrard will be buoyed by some of the things that he saw from his players.
The hope now is that we’re fully fit and have got that all-important match sharpness heading into next Saturday, as it’s imperative that we make a strong start to the new campaign.
Diego Carlos a rock in Villa defence
This was another top performance from the Brazilian defender, as he was solid defensively with his physicality and excellent reading of the game, while his distribution was accurate and made to look effortless.
To wrap things up, he added the winning goal to cap off a brilliant display and it’s clear that his mere presence as well as the quality that he adds to this Villa side will make a significant difference to our play in both phases of the game.
Bailey on the mark again
Pre-season was all about the players reaching peak fitness levels and impressing Gerrard to earn a place in the starting XI.
Bailey has done both as he has been heavily involved in the last two games in particular, and with three goals to his name in pre-season, the Jamaican winger has certainly given the Villa boss something to think about.
His pace, movement and goal threat have added a fresh dynamic to the Villa attack, and so it remains to be seen if he has played himself into the starting line-up against Bournemouth next weekend, but clear he’ll have a big role to play.
Watkins struggling for clinical edge
While he deserves praise for his work ethic and elements of his play, Ollie Watkins must be more ruthless in front of goal and in the final third in general.
Villa have lacked a cutting edge in the final third in pre-season, but the creativity will come as the likes of Philippe Coutinho and Emiliano Buendia will create openings for our strikers.
However, Watkins was wasteful on a couple of occasions on Saturday, and having fired a blank again, he knows he has to be much more influential in terms of goals and assists moving forward. If not, Gerrard may well be forced to reassess that position.
Disappointment over Buendia’s absence
While it’s been reported that Buendia was involved in our win over Fulham in a behind-closed-doors friendly on Friday, it was disappointing not to see him play in this game in what was close to our strongest XI.
The Argentine playmaker has impressed this summer again to follow up a strong end to last season, and it’s questionable as to how Gerrard hasn’t been convinced to give him a bigger role already.
It’s hoped that quickly changes as we’ve seen on countless occasions now that we’re a better side with him in it when he adds intensity, urgency and creative quality, and so we must find a way to integrate him into the XI either alongside Coutinho, or in place of him if he struggles to have the level of influence we need from the Brazilian international.