1. Take a bow, Jack Grealish
Against Manchester United, Jack Grealish scored an outrageous goal to give Aston Villa the lead.
It was a very “I’m here, so get used to it” moment, and it really felt as though it was a true announcement of his Premier League capabilities. He is more than good enough for England’s top tier of football, and is getting better every single game.
A player of Grealish’s talent is going to help Villa in some very un-obvious ways. Not only will he be able to ensure that they play football ‘the right way’ in an offensive and aggressive manner, he’s also going to chip in with the type of incredible strikes that truly change the momentum of games.
His effort against United was one of those. He has almost no right to score from that position, yet the strike couldn’t have been better. It was truly a perfect hit, that wasn’t going anywhere but into the net. Understat afforded the shot just 0.02 xG. This is the exact type of shot that flips a game on it’s head.
2. Villa simply don’t win at Old Trafford
Historically speaking, Aston Villa don’t win games at Old Trafford and only once - during their absolute best - could they beat Manchester United away from Villa Park. Traditionally, no matter the manager or lineup, Villa don’t win here.
So it’s not a small thing at all that Villa managed to earn a point at Old Trafford and looked able to go toe-to-toe with Manchester United. With history behind us, this is massive.
While plenty of fans (and Dean Smith himself) will be a bit frustrated to emerge with a single point after such an impressive first half, I think it’s worth reflecting on the historical context of this particular fixture and how AVFC have defied that in no small way.
It’s not a win - and it’s certainly not three points - but it feels good.
3. Bad luck and bad errors aren’t helping
Tyrone Mings could’ve perhaps delayed Manchester United’s opener by planting his foot through the ball with a hoofing clearance. He didn’t and tried to play his way out from the back when Villa were under pressure and the move eventually led to Mings being beat in the air by a surging Marcus Rashford.
Mings is a player whom has earned the highest margin of ‘benefit of the doubt’ at this club, and any error made has been paid for by hours of solid and reliable production. He is playing defense the way he has been asked to, which includes meandering out of the back to cool pressure on Villa. It didn’t pay off this time, but it certainly has paid off plenty of other times.
United’s second goal came off a headed clearance by Wesley, which span backwards towards Victor Lindelof. More so than anything, this is poor luck. Wesley had been entrusted to block a cross zonally, and it was only due to his height and jumping ability that he managed to get a faint touch on the ball. That it spun into the path of a United player is not his fault - and he’d have been hung out to dry if he didn’t attempt to block it.
Ezri Konsa fell victim to Villa’s defensive style when he flat-out refused to punt the ball wide, only to be marshalled away from it by Anthony Martial - who missed in horrendous fashion from point-blank range spurning 0.57 xG. What goes around comes around, but Villa could’ve been seriously punished for their errors.
Sh*t happens, but it doesn’t help. Manchester United were probably always going to score, but Villa could perhaps have made it a little more difficult for them. Bad luck and errors are going to get punished 8/10 in the Premier League, and will - for a number of teams - be the difference between relegation and safety.
4. VAR is soul-crushing: Part XV
Aston Villa’s equaliser for 2-2 was scored from a position that looked suspect - but on closer inspection it was the inch-perfect run of Tyrone Mings that led to him finding the ball on a lone island in front of goal. He buried from point-blank range to restore order, but not without every single Manchester United player screaming ‘offside!’
Mings did look offside. As the camera found him, he was yards clear of anybody but David De Gea in goal. Due to the slight confusion, Mings simply jogged back to his own half instead of properly celebrating his goal, and mouthed a bit of a sorry ‘dunno’ to his colleagues.
This ain’t right - and it didn’t happen before VAR. Players celebrated illegitimate goals, and only cared about the reality afterwards. Our footballing experience now lacks spontaneity and has been neutered at the cost of being ‘objectively right all of the time’.
5. The offside rule is awful
Offside as a rule was established to prevent goal-hanging and the eventuality of low-effort goals. The rule is black and white - and reads like this: As an attacking player - you can’t be behind the defence - not your toe, not your nose, not your shoulder.
It’s simple - and it’s awful. It’s an absolute in a game that has become beloved for it’s fluidity.
Offside was tricky with pitch-side linespeople, who would sometimes flag incorrectly at guessing offside - taking away legitimate goals. Sometimes they would miss it as well. To fix this, Video Assistant Referee was introduced to overrule clear and obvious errors.
Jack Grealish’s trailing foot was flagged offside as he returned to his position. This ruled out a Trezeguet tap-in that would’ve made it 2-0 for Villa. Grealish was technically offside, and it was a hell of a spot by the linesman who, by letter of the law, flagged it correctly.
However, what benefit is given to Grealish’s back leg being offside? There is none. It’s a pointless and joyless strike against the attacking joy of the sport. Game-changing goals are being flagged away on the slimmest of margins, and it doesn’t seem right - even though it is.
6. Grealish’s miss
A lot was made of Wesley’s miss against Newcastle, but Grealish’s against Manchester United was a lot worse. We can point to great goalkeeping as to the reason why Wesley’s didn’t find the back of the net - Grealish’s was down to a poor finish and nothing more.
0.66 xG and a clear goal flew out of the window as Grealish slid into the ball at 1-1. It’s a game-changing goal, and thankfully Manchester United repaid that miss via Anthony Martial for a nice example of how the universe can balance out.
7. Enforced rotation
Frederic Guilbert has been on-fire for the past two games - and his vicious slide tackles have been inch-perfect. Unfortunately, the French full-back has picked up a yellow card that will see him miss tonight’s trip to Stamford Bridge.
Down the wing, Anwar El Ghazi collapsed to an early injury after playing Jack Grealish into position for his goal. He will miss tonight’s game as well.
Dean Smith was comfortable bringing Trezeguet on against United, but he’ll have to be a lot more savvy from the bench as these fixtures pile up. Unchanged teams will lead to disaster.
8. Trezeguet just doesn’t stop
After coming on for Anwar El Ghazi, Trezeguet scored a tap-in that was rightly ruled out for offside. After the match, he shared the image of that phantom goal as one of his highlights. That’s just - because Trezeguet does a lot of hard work that doesn’t often catch the eye. He’s always sprinting into space, collapsing channels and darting forward.
He’s the most direct player Villa have got and he can turn a counter into a chance within a few seconds. He’s extremely reminiscent of Gabby Agbonlahor in his best days - the good and the bad.
Plenty of fans were frustrated to leave Old Trafford with ‘just a point’ after Villa’s performance.
Doesn’t that show you how far we have come? That in itself is an accolade we should be holding on to, as it’s not often we are begrudged the win at Old Trafford against Manchester United. Savour this one.
10. John McGinn isn’t in a ‘bad patch’
For most of the season John McGinn has had to straight up drag Aston Villa through games. Like Trezeguet, he’s direct and simply runs at goal to create chances. A lot of Villa’s early success came through McGinn because of the chaos he was able to inflict on a game.
That has changed - but not because McGinn’s form has dropped. While to some extent that might be true - the fact that Villa are becoming more of a ‘team’ is obvious.
Grealish was criticised for some of his performances while McGinn was lighting things up earlier on in the season - and now the opposite seems to be true. Let’s split the difference here, a lot of players are starting to step up for Aston Villa. We don’t have to force ourselves to find ‘weak links’.
11. Next up
Villa’s schedule toughens up with a visit to Chelsea tonight. It won’t be at all easy to grab the win against a vibrant attacking team coming off a loss. However, Villa have proved that they can go to historically difficult arenas and grab something - and should relish this opportunity against Chelsea as it is somewhat of a ‘free hit’.
Up the Villa.