Aston Villa and the unfathomable mind

Villa win at Burnley to leave Dave Woodhall marvelling.

Unai Emery is starting to remind me of Brian Clough. Not just because he’s taken a team who were going nowhere and turned them into contenders, but he also has the sort of ‘eccentricities’ that have you scratching your head, wondering what he’s doing and whether he’s losing it, then they turn out to be masterstrokes.

Last week he persevered with Leon Bailey, who ended up scoring one goal and making another. In midweek he put out a virtually full-strength team for an early rounds European qualifier. Against Burnley he reacted to the loss of the best keeper in the world by sticking with a deputy who scarcely inspires confidence, having another couple on the bench and picking just six outfield subs. He also introduced a three/five at the back system and made “I’ll take a draw now” a popular opinion by ten past one.

Unai Emery is a genius.
By ten past two Villa were a goal up thanks to Matty Cash, another who’s been earmarked for replacement yet whom Emery seems happy to keep. John McGinn and Ollie Watkins were involved in the build-up for that one then Cash played a one-two with Moussa Diaby for the second after twenty minutes to celebrate his hundredth Villa appearance. I doubt if the manager was at all surprised at how this one was turning out.

Burnley pulled a goal back at the start of the second half, and while the injured Martinez would probably have stopped it, that’s more down to his ability rather than any mistake by Olsen. The home side put on a bit of pressure after that, which was only to be expected, then Villa broke and McGinn’s ball across to Diaby put the result beyond doubt. McGinn and Diaby combined to provide Ollie Watkins with a chance that he should have scored from, while Cash had a shot that could have got his hat-trick.

Our £50 million signing went off and was replaced by an Italian international making his debut, which is the sort of thing that used to happen to other clubs but we’re getting used to now. Nicolo Zaniolo could have scored but his shot was deflected wide and in the time he was on the pitch showed that here’s another Villa player who could be a handful for Premier League defences.

There were three other substitutions, although they seemed to be made with the intention of running down the clock and giving an outing to some other players rather than due to injury, which makes a change. The formation was changed, which was very likely another of Emery’s mindgames for any upcoming opponents who might have been watching.

It was three-one at the final whistle, which rounded off a particularly successful three out of three week, and in all three games Villa could have scored more. Next up is the formality of the return with Hibs, and whether Emery goes with an unchanged side, picks eleven youth players or has four keepers on the bench, nobody knows and nobody should doubt. You don’t question genius.