Villa lose to Leicester City. Dave Woodhall watches.
The pre-match rumours were proved correct and Jack Grealish was injured for the visit of a Leicester side who have infuriatingly got back to some decent form and are looking good for a top four finish. I’ve lost count of the number of times this season when a side has looked dreadful for weeks, then turned into world-beaters in time to play the Villa. Grealish being out made the job even harder but it’s something we’ll have to get used to – you’re never going to get a player who comes in for so much attention from opponents going through a season unscathed.
With Matty Cash also unavailable, the team was naturally weakened and the bench even more so. Ross Barkley started again, which leads to more rumours about clauses in loan deals and such things that the internet was built for.
The last time Grealish was missing for such a game was at home to Liverpool last season, where Villa gave their all throughout only to fall heartbreakingly short with the last kick of the match. Hopes of a repeat of that performance were soon dashed as Leicester proved why they’re such a good model for clubs to aspire to.
What they did five years ago might have been a one-off but since then they’ve proved to be one of the consistently best teams in the country, and they’ve achieved that without spending fortunes. A couple of inspired signings helped but more than anything they’ve had the ability to bring in new players to fit into the team rather than the other way round. I hoped we’ve learned from them. You certainly can’t expect to give them a two goal start and get anything but that’s just what Villa did. The first came from allowing too much space and the second was a bit of a spill from Emiliano Martinez, who’s allowed one of those once in a blue moon.
If Villa were poor in the first half they were better after the break, Bertrand Traore scoring three minutes into the second period, and there was a further improvement once Jacob Ramsey had replaced the ever-disappointing Ross Barkley. I had hoped that Barkley might step up with Grealish missing but he was his usual ineffective self and seems determined to prove the Villa adage that the better the debut, the worse the subsequent career.
We might have sneaked a point although it would have been lucky rather than hard-won. It was another of those ‘beaten but not too despondent’ afternoons that come when your team don’t play particularly well and as a result lose to better opposition – and it’s worth making the well-laboured point that not so long ago Leicester were winning the league at the same time as we were breaking all sorts of the wrong kind of records.
Villa have now got a run of games against teams that are inconsistent at best, before we visit Liverpool, who will doubtless be back to last season’s form by then. There’s no reason why we can’t put another good run together, although to do that Dean Smith needs at the very least to revamp a midfield that is starting to look jaded, if not downright exhausted.
That’s understandable given that we have both the youngest and the least-changed team in the Premier League and if it were down to me I’d get back to the basics of making them harder to score against for the visit to Leeds next weekend. I’d be thinking about playing Marvelous Nakamba alongside Douglas Luiz and either pushing John McGinn further upfield or bringing in Morgan Sanson. Trezeguet would come in for his workrate and as Sir Graham once put it, me nor any other supporter has ever picked a team that then went out and lost.