Villa's quest to win the NextGen Series did not begin as well as we'd all have liked. After some very promising early play from the Villa attack - play that led to a 1-0 lead after 30 minutes - Lisbon took over and scored three unanswered goals. It's a bit hard to write a standard narrative for a match like this, since I'm not familiar with the Sporting Lisbon players at all, and only half-familiar with most of the Villains. In that spirit, here are some slightly elaborated notes I took during the match! If you were there or watched on AVTV, chime in with your thoughts in the comments.
One of the things that most struck me was some really solid play on both ends of the pitch. Jack Grealish and Mikey Drennan were linking up in the early going and they looked like a dangerous pairing. The first attempt (Grealish cross to Drennan) was a strong shot but went straight to the keeper's arms. The second was a wonderful cross from Grealish on the left that Drennan headed just over the bar.
The first goal came on Drennan's third attempt when he connected a header on a cross from Josh Barton in the 30th minute. Barton had done well to get in position on the right side. Nice to see service coming to Drennan from everywhere.
Unfortunately, the players seem to have relaxed a bit too much as Lisbon answered in under a minute with their first goal, on a strike by Ecklino Le. They tacked on another about 9 minutes later when Carlos Mane put one in in the 40th.
In between, Lisbon had a free kick from about 25 yards in the 35th minute. They took a beautiful curling shot over the wall that keeper Calum Barrett did well to save by diving to his right and palming the ball away.
In the second half, we saw some more examples of Calum Barrett's smart play. He wasn't great in this match, but he showed signs of maybe being someone worth watching. In this case he came off his line to corral a loose and dangerous ball. Better than just sitting back.
In the 59th minute, the referee called for a penalty kick after Liam Bateman softly fouled Mane in the box. Tobias Figneinedo (whose name makes me think of this) struck the ball exceptionally well into the upper left corner and made it a 1-3 Lisbon lead.
Around the 65th minute, Villa began playing some sloppy football and it got awfully frustrating. Hard to remember sometimes that this is in fact a youth team and sloppy is to be expected.
After that point, things got dreadfully boring. Not a great half by either team, really.
I mentioned this on twitter, but watching Grealish makes me even more excited to see what he can do. He's got a pretty instinctual style with a great attacking presence. He could use some work going back, but he's a gem going forward.
One thing I noticed is how susceptible to the counterattack this team was. The defense was pretty stout, and the attack (at least in the first half) was pretty skillful. But the midfield seemed to be coming up too quickly - or something of that sort - and Lisbon had numerous chances on the counter. The sort of thing that makes you want to yell at the screen.
The crowd wasn't bad, but it was strange that they all seemed to be sitting in the second tier. Maybe there was a reason, but it seems like it would be better for the players if the fans were allowed as close to the pitch as possible.
Overall, not what we wanted, but there were some bright moments. Hopefully Villa can turn things around and get some points so they can advance to the knockout stages.