Aston Villa experienced the delight of victory once more, with a resounding victory over Norwich. This lead - and the three points - now takes Aston Villa into the international break. We end this chapter on a good point, and here are the talking points after Aston Villa put five past Norwich.
1. Wesley really is something
Wesley is only human - and he had the most human of games. Who else could score two and perform the old ‘deer in the headlights’ act while taking a first-half penalty to bag a hat-trick. It’s a freebie, Wes!
It was a crazy game for Wesley, who racked up 2.62 xG, two actual goals and an assist - all while looking lost. Madness!
A lot of criticism came Wesley’s way last week after he failed to dig in against Burnley’s defensive line. He lost a lot of duels and offered no threat - and people were calling for a change. I fielded a few questions about my refusal to discuss his performance in the last ‘First Eleven’ piece. My reasoning for that is that I wanted to see what happened to Wes when the world was heaving it’s pressure onto him. It’s safe to say that he responded before collapsing during that penalty. The penalty by the way was awful. It was so, so bad!
He had a game to remember in plenty of ways, and I still don’t know what we have in Wesley. He’s got four goals in eight games, he looks disjointed with the rest of the team - but can burst in and change things. He’s not lazy, or fragile - but he can lose his way before going out of his way to kill a team off like he did today.
His goals couldn’t have been more different as well. The first seemed to happen by accident as Anwar El Ghazi drifted an off-balance cross in. The second was peak Wes, who ghosted into the near post to slot home the end product of a dynamic move.
It begs the question: Which goal (or miss) does Wes want to be represented by? The sloppy chaos of the first goal, the killer instinct of the second, or the disastrous penalty miss where he poured pressure all over himself when there was none?
At the very least, he bounced back in a big way and has sealed his place in the team. Well in, Wes.
2. Villa dealt out the xG on Saturday
Villa posted a single-game expected goal tally of 3.68 against Norwich - and delivered five actual goals. They were the team of the day in many ways, and were only behind Liverpool in xG according to Understat.
In some ways, this is meaningless. Villa dunked on a awful Norwich defence that allowed Big Wes to shoot too many times from close range. It’s single game xG as well, and you can’t lean too heavily into that without using the context of the game.
However, it’s a bloody nice thing. It means Villa are creating chances. It means Villa can create in the Premier League and that is so important. Long may that continue!
3. Norwich’s defence didn’t want to deal with Wesley
Villa posted five goals past Michael McGovern on Saturday, but the first shouldn’t have happened. There is no way that a slow, looping, no-look, off-balance cross from Anwar El Ghazi should be allowed to float to the giant striker in the middle of the box. If that happens to Villa, a Tyrone Mings would appear to head that ball to the moon. It’s low-hanging fruit, and it shouldn’t result in a goal - because if that ball drops through, the striker gets a big chance.
Wesley got to the ball, was allowed to control it, turn, and shoot. These are three actions additional to the first that should not have happened in the first place. That’s how you lose games, and the match doesn’t fall away from Norwich if they deal with this ball. But they didn’t and so it goes. The penalty miss might have ended up being a form of divine retribution for Norwich after the first goal, but it hardly mattered. They fell away too easily and too often.
They failed to deal with another point-blank Wesley chance, shortly after the goal, and then conceded another big chance. The second half came, and Norwich had to push forward and leave themselves open. That’s a game situation that they had to perform - they had no choice, and were well beaten in the second half.
They definitely didn’t need to concede the first though, and as good as Wesley is - that first effort was a freebie.
4. Marvelous Nakamba might be Villa’s best signing of the summer
Aston Villa didn’t exactly need another midfielder when they opted to finalise the signing of Marvelous Nakamba. I think I speak for us all when I say that I am glad that they did. Villa always wanted Nakamba, and for good reason.
Why is Nakamba so good? Look at Villa’s formation, for one. He’s forced Conor Hourihane away from a defensive midfield slot, and kept Douglas Luiz - the Brazil U23 captain at bay. To keep Hourihane in minutes, and happy, Villa’s captain Jack Grealish has been moved to the left-flank. This all circles back to Nakamba, a player who made his first league appearance just a few games back.
Forget the stats and the heatmaps for a second - they are good enough for Marvelous - and look at the field. It is Nakamba’s domain. He looks upon the plains and decides up on his actions and he makes it happen. Everything that Villa do is built upon the foundations created by Nakamba - and Villa’s third goal was a finished moved by Jack Grealish that ticked off when Nakamba won the ball and directed him forwards. He plays a boring position with a smile on his face, and defensive actions are as good as golddust to him - he’s an addict.
It has come to the point now where I fear an injury to Nakamba more than an injury to anyone else. And to think that a fair bunch of Villans didn’t want him to join the club because they fell for the rumour that he went on ‘strike’ to ‘force through a move’.
5. Villa improved their points pace
Last week, Villa were on pace for an awful haul of 2 points. Now, with 8 points in the bag through eight games, Villa are on pace for the 38 points that will probably keep them up. What’s more, Villa have improved to the xPTS margin they set last week - of 38 points, increasing this weeks xPTS tally to 44 points. If Villa can keep their performances to a decent level, this will shoot up and up and increase the ‘mean’ for the team. They are setting a better standard, and if 44 points is achieved by this team, it’ll be more than good enough for them to stay up.
6. Jack Grealish runs the show on the left
Jack Grealish being shunted out to his old position on the left-wing hasn’t turned out to be a problem, in fact - it’s been a boon for the Villa captain who can now do whatever he pleases on the pitch without being chained to the centre with John McGinn.
Jack will cut-in, drift wide, drive centrally, hang right. He’ll do anything - and this showed in a funny moment when he drove to the right and crossed in a ball for the left-winger. Obviously, nobody was there, because Jack was the left-winger - but it showed his positioning off quite well. He was a real menace, and worked his socks off all-over. With the disciplined Conor Hourihane filling in as Jack’s understudy and supporting him, Grealish’s free-role means that he is able to take the spotlight once more.
And Villa are all the better for it.
7. Villa’s defence stood tall
Compared to Villa’s violently high xG tally, Norwich weren’t able to muster much attacking threat - their decent chances fell to Villa’s defense, who pulled out that old ‘block that shot’ ace from their sleeve. So, when we breakdown Norwich’s chances, we should look at how Villa nullified some decent shots into ‘nothing shots’:
A bunch of the shots sprayed directly at Tom Heaton were blocked by the defenders - and that has a been a theme for Villa all season. Tyrone Mings, Björn Engels and others are able to take away chances by blocking more shots than anybody else. This turns regular shots on goal, into blocked shots - and in game, that prevents a clean shot reaching Tom Heaton.
Is this happening by luck, instinct, or tactical design? I’m hanging between the first two answers. Blocking shots is a player move, and I’m finding it hard to see how we could write that into a plan - Dean Smith’s instruction will end at ‘create a narrow structure in the box’ - he can’t call for blocked shots on every occasion, as blocked shots.
Most of Norwich’s recorded xG came from a mistake by Villa - and a 92nd minute shot in the face of goal when they were four goals down. The rest? Blocked. You’ll forgive Tom Heaton and Tyrone Mings as well as McGinn for the mistake because of their work throughout the game. On the mistake itself, Norwich probably deserved a goal, and if there was a game where Tyrone could freely commit a mistake, it was this one - he’d saved Villa by falling onto the ball (and possibly handballing it multiple times in the face of a definite goal), and he was as commanding as ever. I’ll give him this one, it restored a little bit of balance at the cost of his clean sheet bonus.
Norwich had the same amount of chances, and shot from the same amount of positions as Aston Villa - but one team won 5-1. We have to give credit to Villa’s defence. Without them, Norwich have cleaner shots and better chances. They rack up the xG and go toe-for-toe with Villa. After a week of attacking transition, it’s good to see both sides of Villa’s team stand tall to gain an important three points.
8. Douglas Luiz did it again
A curling shot from nowhere into the top corner? It could only be Douglas Luiz.
Tá lá! Mais um GOLAÇO do meu menino!— Hermes Amaral (@hermes_amaral) October 5, 2019
Cria de São Januário!
Douglas Luiz brinca de gol de fora da área na Premier League. pic.twitter.com/pTvOQZ2H4W
He’s performed this type of shot twice, and scored twice now. It’s a regular thing at this point, and both are just as sweet.
Douglas Luiz’ goal btw by far the best goal of the weekend lol but im guessing not many have actually seen this one pic.twitter.com/EtlWX2neLc— Bakkz (@Bakkz007) August 19, 2019
The way the ball leaves his foot? Magical. The loop in to the net? Magical. He’s a magician - and Villa have a number of players that can really strike the ball.
He knows it as well - he’s reposted the goal to his Instagram about six or seven times.
9. This doesn’t seem like a relegation result
Standing tall against a Norwich attack, winning a six-pointer, scoring five goals. It’s very early yet, but this doesn’t seem like the type of performance that a team puts out if they are going to be relegated in May. It’s a long way away, but there’s a lot about Villa to like and they are performing well.
Have Villa found their balance? Only time will tell. They must beat Brighton at home - because potential and expected beatings against Manchester City and Liverpool will leave them gasping for air heading into November.
Right now though, this doesn’t look a team heading for the drop - the performances have paid off and they need to continue. Relegation doesn’t care about how good you can be, it cares about the points tally.
10. Conor Hourihane runs the English league
Goals in League Two. Goals in League One. Goals in the Championship. A goal in the Premier League. Conor Hourihane (much like Wesley, actually) always has his doubters. They might want to look again - Hourihane has been a good addition to Villa’s Premier League squad and offers a long-range threat and passing ability.
His goal was sweet as well - he plucked the ball off of poor Matty Targett before slamming it home. You’ve seen it all before and you’ll see it again. We just need Conor to score his trademark free-kick and he can probably retire in happiness. He’s stepped up to the plate, seen himself written off, and stepped up again. Players don’t usually do this - they find their level and master it. Hourihane has pushed himself so hard, and he’s a part of this team - again.
11. Just enjoy John McGinn
McGinn makes plenty of bad decisions - he’s human - it’s what we do. He has earned the right to do so though. After putting everyone else first last season, Villa’s superhuman midfielder has thrust himself into the main spotlight - and he’s being greedy.
Villa could’ve had a first goal easily when McGinn had Grealish through - but he took a shot. The same happened soon after with Villa piling the box - but McGinn took a shot.
Here’s the thing - Villa work because McGinn forces the gamestate to change by running at teams. He’s usually the furthest player up the pitch, and he’ll win the ball when he has no right to do so.
He’s earned the right to do whatever he wants. Let John be John and enjoy the delights of the season of McGinn: