Despite a smaller crowd at kick-off than many would have liked (thanks in part terrible traffic in Birmingham), the atmosphere at Villa Park was electric for the home opener. Using the same starting XI that he did against Bournemouth on Saturday, Tim Sherwood had his team playing unintimidated football against a Manchester United team who have not lost at Villa Park since 1995.
For the opening ten minutes, Villa actually looked tempted to bring the match to United and seemed to control the pace. Nevertheless, they couldn't find an opening as United's defense collapsed and filled the box at the first sign of an attack. Eventually, by around the 15th minute, United started controlling things again.
This led to Adnan Januzaj scoring in the 29th minute. Juan Mata sent in an absolutely beautiful pass, and Micah Richards tried to stop things with a slide tackle. Unfortunately, he totally missed and Januzaj got a shot off that deflected off of Ciaran Clark and into the goal. Had Richards stayed on his feet or the ball not deflected, it probably would not have gone in. But that's asking for a lot of ifs, and some shaky defense let down Villa.
In the final five or so minutes of the half, Villa looked to assert themselves and actually put together a few nice attacks. Unfortunately, they kept trying the "send in crosses" approach, which doesn't work well with Gabby Agbonlahor, Scott Sinclair, and Jordan Ayew up top.
The second half saw Villa start more brightly, but two issues seemed to plague them throughout. The first was sloppiness: when they would get chances, poor balls in would waste them; and when they were in possession in the middle, sloppy passing would lose it. There were some really bright moments, though, with Jordan Amavi and Scott Sinclair spurring some fantastic chances up the left side.
The second problem was fitness. As the half wore on, Villa began to tire quickly. By the final 10 minutes they looked absolutely exhausted. That only compounded the aforementioned sloppiness.
Also rather strange were Tim Sherwood's substitutions. Rudy Gestede came on, and that was an obvious choice. But he came on for Scott Sinclair, who was looking lively and very good. A move to replace Gabby Agbonlahor (still junk!) or Jordan Ayew (much better today) would have been better. And then Carlos Sanchez came on for Jordan Veretout. That sub made perfect sense except for the fact that it was the last one of the day. With the team struggling, why not bring on Libor Kozak and let players just hoof it into the box and hope that one of Gestede/Kozak can get a head on it?
But, it's an 0-1 loss to a title contender. I'm not too worried. At no point did Villa look like a disaster and there were plenty of moments where you could see the promise that this side holds. With plenty of winnable matches coming up, this shouldn't worry us for long.
Some quick notes:
- Jordan Ayew looked much better in the first half than he did against Bournemouth. He was getting involved and seemed to be gaining confidence. I think he'd be better served by playing a more central role just a bit behind someone like Rudy Gestede or Libor Kozak.
- Jordan Amavi is still amazing.
- Mike Dean is an atrocious official.
- Really unsure why Tim didn't use all three subs. We needed fresh legs. Maybe he just wanted to sit back, but why not bomb forward and go for it? Who cares if you lose 0-1 or 0-2?
- Ashley Westwood was, once again, a really solid and quiet player.
- I said this above, but Gabby Agbonlahor is junk. He had Villa's best chance of the day when he put his head on a corner... and sent it right into the keeper's hands. Ugh.