Alas, the preseason is finally over for Paul Lambert's Aston Villa side as they played out a scoreless draw with Serie A side Parma on Saturday at Villa Park. The home side had a goal from Philippe Senderos disallowed on a quarter of an hour but overall looked the better side throughout the match. If you didn't catch the match, here's what you need to know.
- Villa deployed a 4-2-3-1 for just about the entirety of the match. Brad Guzan started in goal with Edna Stevens, Nathan Baker, Philippe Senderos, and Alan Hutton in front of him. Fabian Delph and Ashley Westwood played alongside each other in the defensive half of midfield while Kieran Richardson, Andi Weimann, and Charles N'Zogbia made up the attacking midfield line and Gabby Agbonlahor started up top.
- The first half was pretty even with the best chance coming to Villa on 11 minutes when Weimann saw his first-time effort saved by a diving save from Parma keeper Antonio Mirante.
- It took Nathan Baker 17 minutes to get booked for a poor challenge on Raffaele Palladino. Depending on your bookie of choice, that might have been the over or the under. Let us know in the comments.
- Ron Vlaar came on at halftime to make his first appearance for Villa this preseason, coming on for Nathan Baker.
- The match remained a dull and generally even affair until Villa made their first round of subs on 64 minutes. Darren Bent came on for Weimann, Jack Grealish for Richardson, and Jores Okore for Senderos as Villa set up to maintain the 4-2-3-1.
- Of everyone who came in, Grealish easily had the best day. He more than looked like he belonged against last year's sixth-placed Serie A finishers and gave defenders fits. Unfortunately, from time to time, he tried to pass the ball to other players though.
- Joe Bennett came on for Stevens and Leandro Bacuna for N'Zogbia on 75 minutes as Villa continued to hold the 4-2-3-1 shape.
- On 77 minutes, Villa were able to break free on a counterattack through Agbonlahor. However, as has become common with Gabby and counters, he made the wrong decision altogether, deciding to try and slide the ball across the box to Bent despite the fact that there was a defender right between the two.
- Grealish did well to beat a few defenders on 80 minutes before finding Joe Bennett who had made a run from left back. He then found Agbonlahor sitting in the middle of the box who shanked his effort horribly, horribly wide.
- Fabian Delph's last involvement came on 82 minutes when he just fired over from 25 yards. He was named Man of the Match.
- Delph was joined leaving the pitch on 82 minutes by Agbonlahor, Hutton, and Westwood as Matthew Lowton, Gary Gardner, Karim El Ahmadi, and Chris Herd entered.
- From the time Grealish came on really, Villa controlled play on the pitch and had the last chance early in injury time when Grealish found Darren Bent who clipped off the crossbar on a solid strike from 15 yards out.
- Unlike in the past, Villa actually kind of sort of played football today. While the runs weren't necessarily the greatest in the final third, Villa by and large kept the ball on the ground and tried to play a possession game.
- Villa may very well have found that creative spark necessary to push forward in 18-year-old winger Jack Grealish. He completely changed the game when he came on with just under half an hour to play and might just be that guy that will allow Villa to play more of a possession game.
- Ciaran Clark and Shay Given were the only two Villans named to the 23-man squad today to not play a role.
- Brad Guzan looked extremely solid when called into action. Nothing to worry about there.
- In loanee news, Jed Steer kept a clean sheet for Doncaster Rovers today as they defeated Yeovil Town 3-0.
- In former Villan news, Nathan Delfouneso started for Blackpool today as they lost to Nottingham Forest 2-0. Blackpool named four players to the substitutes bench. #PrayForBlackpool
- I probably haven't mentioned enough how good Jack Grealish looked today.
- On the flip side, Jores Okore looked a little suspect in defense and a little nervous on the ball. Don't be surprised to see Senderos start against Stoke next weekend.
- New signing Aly Cissokho wasn't involved for Villa today though one would expect him to be out there making his Villa debut in seven days.
- Villa stuck with the 4-2-3-1 for about the entire match, preferring to play Andi Weimann and then Gabby Agbonlahor in the central attacking midfield role. While they aren't true midfielders, it's a lot better than playing either of them on the wing.
- Speaking of the wings, Villa actually seem to have competent wingers this year. This is good.
- Roy Keane actually smiled.
- Villa could probably still use a proper defensive midfielder. Fabian Delph made some good runs forward today but when he does, it leaves Ashley Westwood sitting in front of midfield and he's not necessarily the strongest on the ball.
- I wouldn't be surprised if Lambert only makes two or three changes from this squad going into next weekend's opening match. Vlaar will certainly be in for Baker and I'd be surprised to see Cissokho not start in place of Stevens. Darren Bent might have a shout to take Agbonlahor or Weimann's spot in the XI while Jack Grealish certainly made his case to replace Richardson (or one of the two strikers in the central attacking midfield spot) with a strong performance.
- While there was nothing to illicit blind top-half beliefs today, there was nothing to suggest that Villa is doomed to any relegation fate. While they're still three weeks out from opening the season, Parma are a good side and over the course of the match, Villa controlled proceedings. While they'll need to take their chances when the season proper gets underway, there were signs of promise on display Saturday.
Get a chance to watch the friendly? Tell us what you think of the performance in the comments!