Andddddddddd breathe… That was a massive 3 points today and, significantly, a much improved performance. After a few torrid performances, getting back to winning ways was a necessity and today’s win should give the players a much needed boost in confidence.
In addition, seeing Paul Lambert leave Villa Park with three points would have made my eyes bleed and reopened wounds that his insurmountably boring football etched into the depths of my memory. Unsurprisingly, the Scottish manager blamed the referee and two very poor decisions for his side’s defeat. Perhaps he should take a look at the dire football his side played and the fact that, as Dean Smith argued: “We could have won 5-0.”. With all of that said, here is my account of today’s 2-1 home win and the improvements that were pivotal to our victory.
We looked far more assured when in possession today. I have criticised Glenn Whelan a lot recently but today, the man deserves credit. He used the ball effectively and ensured that it routinely made its way out to the flanks. Hourihane, McGinn and Whelan played like a unit today and this, as one would expect, made a huge difference. It actually looked like they knew their roles and this led to us deploying an effective press throughout much of the game. The difference between today’s game and the two 3-0 defeats could not have been bigger in this respect; Ispwich had to fight hard to get the ball through the middle of the pitch, Swansea and Wigan had been able to waltz through us. Although Grealish is still a miss, it was nice to see our other players prove their worth. McGinn has been brilliant whenever I have seen him play, but Hourihane and Whelan were also useful assets on this accasion and earned the right to wear the famous claret and blue.
In addition to the central midfielders, our wide players also need praise for their performances as they were also quintessential to our possession. The first thing today showcased is that Alan Hutton is a much better fullback than James Bree. I understand the age gap and the fact that Hutton is error prone, but, he actually holds his width and his use of the ball is excellent at this level. Having full backs who are comfortable on the ball is vitally important if you want to maintain possession for large parts of the game. This has become evident across the upper echelons of football, players like Robertson, Marcelo and Dani Alves are prime examples of this. Pep Guardiola’s Barcelona team had Alves and Alba as their full backs; if you replaced these players with Ally Cissokho and Habib Beye then their possession stats would have been nowhere near 80% (I’m not sure if a swap deal with Barcelona was ever actually on the cards…). Thankfully, Neil Taylor held a closer resemblance to a footballer than Shrek’s talkative best friend on this occasion. He still gets a nosebleed whenever he gets into the exact sorts of positions that a modern fullback should live for, however, he did use the ball tidily and he was not exposed so, begrudgingly, I will give him some credit.
An improvement in the full back department inevitably led to El Ghazi and Adomah getting more of the ball and they also impressed me, especially the former. El Ghazi was back to the player who terrorised opponents with his effortless control and trickery at the start of Smith’s tenure. Their left back simply could not move his legs quickly enough to deal with the Dutch Wingers spellbinding feet and we enjoyed a lot of joy when he cut in. His final product could be questioned slightly but, he did win the free kick that Hourihane whipped in deliciously to the typically anticipating Abraham, who only had to stretch out one of his mile long legs to convert the chance. Adomah can be frustrating at times as he often gives the ball away incredibly easily. That said, he formed a good partnership with Hutton and in general, had a very positive effect on the game. The zeneth of his performance came when we were breaking and he cut in from the right and placed an inch perfect pass in behind their full back to Tammy Abraham, who could have done better. All in all, I am glad he is back into the starting eleven and do not think Bolasie’s departure will damage us in the slightest. Possession and width will always lead to chances at this level, this is a combination that Fulham used to great effect to get out of this division, and we should utilise far more. We have fantastically talented wide players and if we play like today and get them the ball, the Tammy Abraham could bag over 50 goals by the end of the season.
Sent to me from heaven, Tammy Abraham, you are my world.
As my edited version of the Stone Roses classic suggests, Tammy Abraham is the last thing I think about before I sleep and the first thing that I think of in the morning. He is simply a delight to watch and as Dean Smith eluded to in his post match press conference, he is playing far below his level. As the divisions top scorer, he now has 19 goals in the league this season and the most bemusing part of this statistic is the fact that he could have scored so many more. His positioning and ability to read the game is almost frightening for someone still in the infancy of his career at 21 years of age. Tammy scored from a penalty and a dead ball against Ipswich and has converted a lot from both of these situations since he arrived at Villa.
Once Abraham brings the composure and clinicality that he displays when taking penalties into the chances he gets in open play, he will be a top, top class striker. It feels ridiculous to describe the leagues top goal scorer as slightly wasteful in front of goal, but, he could have scored four or five again today. This is not an attack on him, because it is only the graceful and effortless ability he has on the pitch, combined with his terrifying mix of pace, height and strength that allows him to get into so many dangerous positions. This was arguably best highlighted today when we were 2-1 up near the end of the game and, with a single touch, he plucked a hopeful ball out of the sky and put himself through on goal. After the game, I noticed that he took the time to appluad all the fans and really soaked in the love that us fans were gleefully bestowing upon him. The eternal pessimist inside me felt a tinge of fear that he was saying his goodbyes as it was quite drawn out, after Delph, Milner, Young, Barry, Downing and Benteke, can you blame me? If we somehow manage to get promoted, I would love to see Tammy signed on a permanent deal as he has a massive future and a clear connection with our own Jack Grealish.
The away match at Wigan was a 6 inch veggie patty and today was a footlong meatball marinara, such was the difference in the quality of subs we made. Elmohamady can be factored out of this equation as I still fail to understand him. When he is in right wing, he looks and plays like a right back and when he is in right back he looks and plays like a right winger. To me, he makes about as much sense as a soluble umbrella. In contrast, Kodjia did a great job of holding onto the ball and ensuring that the ball was at the correct end of the pitch, given our slender lead. He also looked reasonably threatening and he should easily have scored after he entered the field. The sub that relaxed me the most though was the introduction of Jedinak. I think this is because he offers exactly what Elphick and Chester do not and wins the long balls. Ipswich’s number 45 (Collin Quaner) had looked dangerous since he came on and was being very physical across the pitch. He had already been on the receiving end of a few vintage John McGinn pivots but seeing Jedinak cynically clear him out moments after he had come onto the pitch did entertain me a great deal. Jedinak could be a fantastic substitute to bring on for the rest of the season and this will hopefully result in us seeing out more narrow victories when we have to.
It has been an absolute joy to write a positive article today, I honestly think that writing about a third 3-0 defeat would have led to an article that could make the start of ‘UP!’ seem like a feel good 10 minutes of cinema in comparison. However, that said, there were still a few cracks that our win has papered over.
The first one of these is Elphick and Chester; they just do not seem to be a comfortable centre back combination. This is possibly because Chester is on the left side of defence, he was dispossesed by Ipswich’s striker on a few occasions today and seemed to struggle with the ball on his left side. Additionally, neither him or Elphick dominate aerially and this can lead to an easy out ball as opponents have been enjoying a lot of success from long balls and knock downs against us recently. This undermines the high press that our midfielders and Tammy have been applying reasonably well. Recalling Elphick was a good decision, especially given our defensive frailties, but in the long term we need a centre back who Chester is comfortable with. When he is at his best, Chester is a brilliant centre half and, for this reason, Tuanzebe’s injury remains a massive shame as they appeared to be forming a partnership.
The other much smaller crack, yet a crack nonetheless, is the distribution of Kalinic. Let’s just say it needs work… My point here was perfectly demonstrated when, in a dazed state of confusion (I assume), he mistook himself for Ederson and upon receiving a backpass, he tried to gently loft the ball over the attacker to Taylor. Needless to say, someone a few rows up in the Trinity had the joy of catching the match ball. Apart from this episode, his goal kicks are just very inconsistent. Most surprisingly, many of his kicks out of his hand seem to baloon almost vertically upwards and thus not reach Tammy. We have a big striker who can win the headers, I would like to see him have the opporutnity to do so. That said, Kalinic is still a faily new addition and I believe he could yet become a very good goalkeeper for us as in general he is pretty solid.
To conclude, we won 2-1 today against a bad Ipswich side and a cynic (or the Scottish fraud currently managing Ipswich) would point out that the referee played his part. However, this would be a misleading summary of the game to tell the least. We were leagues above Ipswich today and anything apart from a win would have seen the local police investigating one of the biggest robberies in footballing history. The confidence and control that we asserted onto the game led to a freeflowing and expansive game of football in which our wingers flourished. John McGinn was once again an absolute animal in the middle of the park but, Tammy was certainly my man of the match today. He scored the two goals and the sheer quality that he displays on the ball is incredible. He even dropped back and helped defend on occasion and this was symbolic of his workrate all game. Today was a firm step in the right direction and gives me hope that we will soon be the exciting team thateasily outclassed Middlesborough and Derby.
Up the Villa and thanks for reading,
By Callum Richardson