I don’t think I have ever been as excited as I am sitting here right now about Aston Villa going into a new football season. Dean Smith gave us our Aston Villa back. Unai Emery is taking our Aston Villa to a whole new level and I believe he will take us to a level we have not been in – certainly in my lifetime anyway!
Villa finished off their preparations yesterday in Valencia. It was their sixth and final friendly before they take on Newcastle United at St James Park in the opening game of the Premier League season next Saturday.
The excitement is there and I believe we now have a squad that can compete on more than one level. Emery will demand high performances game after game and the players will have to step up or be left behind.
Aston Villa kicked off their pre-season campaign with a 1-1 draw against Walsall at the Bescott Stadium. Villa fell behind when Danny Johnson reacted quickest to a loose ball following a corner to give the hosts the lead. Ollie Watkins pulled Villa level from the penalty spot after Jaden Philogene was brought down in the box.
The Villans then jetted to the States for the first-ever Premier League Summer Series.
Just as they will in the Premier League next week, they came up against Newcastle in Philadelphia. The two sides played out a 3-3 thriller with Villa taking the lead after just 7 minutes through Watkins. Villa didn’t take long to double their advantage, this time through Emi Buendia. The Geordies got themselves back level with two goals late in the first half through Elliot Anderson and Alexander Isak. Buendia reinstated Villa’s lead early in the first half but it didn’t last long as Callum Wilson made it all square.
Up next in the Summer Series was Fulham in Orlando. New signing Moussa Diaby marked his debut with a goal after being introduced at half-time. The first goal came through Philogene who has arguably been the surprise of pre-season with Emery stating he will be in and around the squad this season.
Villa wrapped up their summer series with a 3-3 draw against Brentford in Landover, Maryland. Emery’s side found themselves 2-0 down very early from Bryan Mbeumo’s early penalty and Josh Dasilva’s long-range strike. Villa bounced back though with 3 goals in 10 minutes. Ezri Konsa scored against his former club with a superb solo effort, Diaby made it 2 goals in as many games with the equaliser and Matty Cash completed the comeback with a left-footed effort. The Bees pulled it back level midway through the second half through Shandon Baptiste.
Villa then headed back to the UK to take on Lazio at the Bescott. The Italians were runners-up in Serie A last season and will play in the Champions League this season so it was always going to be a test for Villa but they eventually ran out comfortable winners following a commanding performance. Watkins gave Villa the lead after 36 minutes and also missed a penalty earlier in the contest. A fantastic finish from John McGinn in the second half doubled the lead and then youngster Seb Revan’s cross was turned in by Lazio defender Mario Gila with 7 minutes left on the clock.
And to wrap things up, as previously mentioned, Villa’s final game of pre-season was a 1-2 win over Valencia. A goal in each half was enough for Emery’s side as Watkins scored his fourth goal in pre-season to give the visitors the lead. Buendia scored the second after some fantastic link-up play with Phillip Coutinho. The hosts pulled one back late on when Calum Chambers turned a corner into his own net.
I think Villa will be concentrating on offloading some players now before any more players come in. Decisions will need to be made over younger players, do they go out on loan or be moved on permanently? And then you have the likes of Kortney Hause (remember him?) and Keinan Davis who will need to be moved on.
I don’t think Emery would be too upset if Villa were done on the incomings because we were unable to offload as many as we would like. I believe is happy with the tools he has after strengthening in defence, midfielder and attacking.
But at the same time, I wouldn’t be surprised if someone out of the blue joined before deadline day!
One thing is for sure, we are in a healthy position and now all the talking has to stop and we have to get off to a strong start to our Premier League campaign.