The three moments that defined Aston Villa’s loss to Burnley at Turf Moor...
#3: The biggest waste in front of goal
Villa’s first half performance was excellent. Time and time again they got at the Burnley back line with beautiful, intricate, one touch passing through the midfield with Jack Grealish in particular wreaking havoc. This paid dividends with a lovely crafted opener for Ollie Watkins in the opening quarter of an hour. A second goal before half time would likely kill the game off . . . and it really should’ve come with four minutes remaining. John McGinn showed great strength to keep possession in the middle of the pitch and greater vision to send Watkins clean through with just Nick Pope to beat. Having already scored his 2nd goal in as many games, all expected the net to bulge, but a poor first touch meant Watkins was not properly set to score, especially when Pope made himself big to produce another vital save. The rebound fell to Ross Barkley, whose effort just wouldn’t dip quick enough and instead came crashing back off the bar. That moment left many fans hoping Villa wouldn’t rue these missed chances come the second half….
#2: McNeil’s equaliser
As feared, Villa’s failure to capitalise on their first half dominance was duly punished by a revitalised Burnley—who no doubt received an absolute rocketing from Dyche at half time—with Ben Mee’s towering header. However, Villa galvanised themselves and regained the lead through yet another expertly crafted goal from Super Jack. Having got into a winning position again, all Villa needed to weather the inevitable storm that was to follow for ten minutes or so before the game settled again again. Unfortunately, a combination of poor defending and poor luck put paid to that notion. Burnley’s one real creative spark, Dwight McNeil, was afforded too much time and space on the edge of the area and his cross-cum-shot (it was a cross!) somehow managed to evade everyone and squeeze its way in at the back post. Coming from behind twice, especially so soon after Villa retook the lead, completely shifted the momentum of this game.
#1: Double substitution—too little too late
First, Dean Smith is doing a superb job this season; along with his coaching staff he’s led Villa to play some excellent football this season. For the most part they have got things right on and off the pitch. However, no manager is perfect and even the most diehard fan must question certain decisions. Some argue that when it comes to substitutions, Smith can be slow to read the flow of the game and therefore makes reactive rather than proactive changes. In the 2–1 defeat to Manchester United at the start of the month, Smith didn’t bring anyone on until the 79th and 84th minutes, leaving little time to make an impact. It was the same issue again versus Burnley. After going 2–1 ahead, fresh legs were needed. Barkley and Bertrand Traoré were becoming less and less involved in the game and there was a sense that Burnley were building up steam. A well timed sub not only would provide Villa with fresh legs, it could also disrupt any momentum the opponents are gathering. Making a double sub five minutes after falling behind just felt like a move that should have happened ten minutes previously.
I get that Smith likes to be consistent with his starting eleven and personally I’m all for that as it gives us a settled, balanced, cohesive unit which for the majority of the season has worked in our favour. There’s nothing wrong though with mixing it up during the games without waiting until the 75 minute mark. Considering how little the starting line up has altered, the large amount of games in such a short space of time – plus the unexpected 2 week lay-off due to the Coronavirus outbreak – some of the players are going to be feeling it right now, and the management team need to recognise this quicker at times during the match. Whilst this was by no means the sole reason this game got away from Villa, it’s something to look at to make sure we don’t throw away 3 points in future games as carelessly as we did last night.