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Villa's first test against England's elite showed signs of promise

Yes, Villa lost - but there is room to grow.

Tottenham Hotspur v Aston Villa - Premier League Photo by Visionhaus

Before I start, I want to point out that I don’t think for a second that Villa deserved to win the game versus Tottenham given how much pressure they put us under.

Perhaps some Villa fans will be saying otherwise because of our terrific efforts but we were outclassed.

Maybe, just maybe, we deserved a point out of the game given how valiantly we defended for most of the game mixed with some heroic goalkeeping from new-boy Tom Heaton. But ultimately, we succumbed to their relentless attacks. The better team, in terms of skill and incisiveness, won.

The gulf in class between the Championship teams we were playing last season and the Champions League runners-up can’t be understated. It was a useful test to see what level we are currently at, with supposed easier fixtures in sight.

Wesley, our new number 9, has come in for a touch of criticism online. This is totally unfair in my opinion. First of all, it’s his first competitive game in England – give him a break. He needs time to settle, as any new signing does. They don’t all come racing out of the gates. Secondly, just look at the quality of the opposition we faced; only two teams in the Premier League conceded fewer goals than this Spurs defence last season so they’re no push-overs. Also, are we forgetting the contribution he made to McGinn’s goal? It may have seemed inconsequential but if it weren’t for his hassling of Davinson Sanchez, the Colombian defender would have been better positioned and unhindered to possibility intercept Tyrone Mings’ long ball. Wesley dropped deep throughout the game to try and link the midfield in to our forays forward and, even though not every piece of control was perfect due in part to the quick closing down from Spurs defenders, he utilised himself well. I have no doubt he can grab goals and earn us valuable points against lesser teams, respectively.

Yes, Grealish made a mistake for Tottenham’s second goal. There’s no hiding from that. He knows himself that he should’ve just punted the ball away given how dangerously close he was to our own box. He probably would’ve got away with dallying on the ball like that in the Championship but certainly not at this level. This is something he, and the whole team, needs to adjust to; the tempo and time on the ball is much different now. As highlighted on Match of the Day, he had a good game overall so we can’t chastise him for one mistake. He’ll learn from it and take precautions in upcoming fixtures. Hopefully more of those marauding runs, which almost led to our second via Trezeguet, will be on show and that’ll be the topic of discussion in future.

John McGinn is Premier League standard but that’s no surprise to the Villa Park faithful – he was Premier League standard last season. His goal at the Tottenham Hotspur Stadium typified his drive and desire. Considering how deep we were set for most of the game, to see such an explosive run, admittedly only nine minutes in, from a centre midfielder as the furthest man forward underlines everything he’s about. Nobody’s determination comes close to Meatball’s. Players like him get fans off their seats with their combative style. What a coup it was to contract him to a five-year deal, arguably our best piece of business all summer. Should he have been awarded a penalty too? Video replays show Davinson Sanchez clumsily barging in to McGinn in the Spurs box, a tackle (to use the term lightly) that was nowhere near the ball. The incident was referred to VAR and they decided it was fair. The more I watch the replay, the more of an injustice it looks.

Tom Heaton looks like a steal at £8m. Okay, he let in three goals but his cat-like reflexes are superb. A couple of brilliant saves to deny Spurs from running riot late on. I think it’s fair to say that Kalinic nor Nyland would be capable of such shot-stopping. Steer, on the other hand, made some wonderful stops towards the end of our last campaign but Heaton has done it in this division for some time now, he’s the safest option between the sticks.

Special credit also goes to Neil Taylor. He’s never been a fans favourite. In fact, he’s often been on the wrong end of criticism when things haven’t been going our way. A man who has always gone under the radar yet does his job steadily. Of course, he’s not the most dazzling full back when attacking but his defensive work shouldn’t be underestimated. I’ll be the first to admit that I was very surprised to see his name in the starting line-up – we’d just spent around £13m on Matt Targett! But credit where it’s due, he played more than capably during the 90 minutes, taming Kyle Walker-Peters for the majority of the game. Maybe Dean Smith knows more than me about who to play in his Villa team… who knew?!

The pertinent question approaching the Bournemouth game this weekend will be who starts as defensive midfielder? Conor Hourihane made his case pretty well in our opener. He’s never been thought of as a natural defensive midfielder but he’s slowly become Mr. Reliable around these parts, not to mention his lethal free kick ability being a priceless asset. Has Smith witnessed something behind the scenes to change things up? We’ve spent enough money on both Marvelous Nakamba and Douglas Luiz to argue that they should be in the starting eleven. However, Smith stated that it’s the position of the players who got us promoted to lose, meaning the new boys won’t simply walk in to this team on name or value alone.

We did ourselves proud on Saturday. The away fans staying until well past the final whistle to applaud the players off showed how much we appreciated their endeavour. Yes, there are sloppy errors to cut out but am I right in thinking we’re better off with these teething troubles in games where we’re not expected to pick up a result? Anything other than a loss would’ve been surprising at Spurs so maybe it’s good to learn from these lapses before we play the teams that we’re likely to be battling with come the end of the season. Only time will tell how much we progress but the signs are encouraging and there are plenty of positives to take from this defeat.