Tough start yields Villa positives

Date published: Tuesday 27th August 2013 8:10

Ninety days of anticipation stood between the final fixture of last season and the first one of this. But, like a bus, you wait for just one to pass by and three come along all at once!

It certainly felt that way when the fixture list threw Arsenal, Chelsea and Liverpool at us in the space of just eight days.

So when David Moyes cried ‘conspiracy’ over the run-in his side were given, you did have to have a little chuckle to yourself. Had he seen our start!?

Even before a ball was kicked at The Emirates on the opening day, there was always a feeling the fixture had the potential to earn us points – especially given our wins there in the past.

Our style of play has suited trips on the road and that is reflected by the strong performances away from home last season, where we would have finished 8th in the table based on away results.

Arsene Wenger felt hard done-by with the refereeing decisions that saw his side concede two penalties and as usual reserved his post-match interview for criticisms of the officials.

But the perennial misfortunes of Wenger are an endless list.

Alongside his injury absentees, the “disturbing” decisions that didn’t go his way were simply another way to detract from his side’s own shortcomings on the day.

As for us, conceding within minutes could have knocked our confidence but to come back and win the game showed tremendous improvement.

It also marked the first league victory under Paul Lambert where we conceded the first goal inside ten minutes. On the face of it this may seem insignificant, but it shows great development in character.

Of the six league games last season where the opposition scored inside the opening ten minutes, we went on to lose five – conceding 21 goals and scoring just 4.

That improvement is no further emphasised than the game against Chelsea just four days later. When Fernando Torres opened the scoring in just three minutes last season, we went on to concede a further seven.

Yet this season when Antonio Luna was unfortunate enough to score an own goal, we conceded just once and were unlucky not to have earned a draw.

Be it the penalty against John Terry, the soft free-kick in the build-up to Branislav Ivanovic’s offside goal or the failure to dismiss him for an elbow just minutes prior – it didn’t appear to be our day.

Whilst these decisions could have helped us pick up points had they gone in our favour, it was our inability to defend set-pieces that ultimately lost us the game as Ivanovic swept in with an unchallenged header.

The Liverpool clash was always going to see tired performances given the two previous games and an attempt to reduce the high pressing by altering the formation to 4-4-2 tried to combat that.

But without the 4-3-3 variant we usually play, we had no attacking outlet – especially on the counter attack, which is a large part in how we play.

As in the two previous games, the standout performer was Fabian Delph; a player who has always had the natural attributes to be the perfect all-rounded midfielder but struggled with injuries.

In home games such as Liverpool – where teams are more willing to sit back and soak up pressure as seen in the second half – we could do with a creative mind in midfield to unlock defences.

It seemed for a moment like Hiroshi Kiyotake could have been this man, although the club poured cold water on the rumours. Is this somewhere Leandro Bacuna or Aleksandar Tonev can fill in?

It’s far too early to pass judgement yet, but certainly this role would be a welcome alternative at home to the more defensive-minded Karim El Ahmadi or Yacouba Sylla when playing away.

But we are unlikely to face a tougher eight days of football this season and if an off-colour first-half performance against Liverpool was the only negative then we have reason to cheer!

You can find Tom on Twitter @tomdav1991 – and don’t forget to follow @FanZone too for links to all the latest blogs!

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