Villa win in Alkmaar to leave Dave Woodhall happy.
A comparatively small number of away supporters inside the ground after demand vastly exceeded supply, some scattered around the rest of the ground, a good few milling outside without tickets and a load more watching on TV in the capital. Villa are catching up Manchester United in more ways than one.
The proximity of Amsterdam meant that Alkmaar was always going to be the big one in the group as far as numbers travelling was concerned but the way the results had gone meant that the match itself was perhaps the most important as well. if Villa had lost it would have made finishing top difficult, which meant that the team Unai Emery picked was going to be an interesting one.
The result, of course, meant he was vindicated and added further evidence that we’ve got one of the best managerial brains in football. There were a few changes from the usual league team, with a new central defensive pairing of Clement Lenglet and Diego Carlos to worry about. We also had Youri Tielemans starting and Leon ‘Mr Inconsistency’ Bailey on the wing.
The defenders did what they had to do, a job that was made easier by the start given by those others. After thirteen minutes Ollie Watkins made a good interception and a couple of passes later the ball fell for Bailey to open the scoring. It briefly silenced Alkmaar’s little drummer boy and ten minutes later he was even quieter when John McGinn intercepted another loose Alkmaar pass, his ball was perfect for Tielemans to run onto and put between the keeper’s legs.
A rare Alkmaar attack saw a goal disallowed for offside and they started the second half looking livelier but Villa soon put paid to any ideas with a further two goals in five minutes. Tielemans put Bailey through and although his inital shot was saved, the ball fell for Watkins to get Villa’s third. That showed our England striker’s ability as a goalscorer; Villa’s fourth showed what an all-round player he is as he won the ball inside his own half to release Bailey down the wing and John McGinn breaaking through the middle was able to get a goal of his own.
There were five ‘Give them a few minutes’ substitutions so perhaps it was no surprise when Alkmaar pulled a goal back although that was more of an irritation than a problem. Villa saw out the game and got three points as well as a result that will make the rest of the group realise that we might have got off to a poor start but we’re back on track now.
We’ve seen enough squad players failing to take their chance in cup games so well done to the defensive pairing, who performed without much fuss, and also to Tielemans, who finally looked like the player who was being linked with a big money move a couple of years ago.
Halfway through the group stages and we’ve played away at the two most difficult teams (ie the ones you’d heard of). Qualification might not be easy but it’s up to us now, and you can’t ask for more than that.