It was the battle of the apprentice versus his mentor. Thomas Frank had been appointed Dean Smith’s assistant head coach in December 2016 and when the latter was offered the opportunity to coach his boyhood club in October 2018, Frank took the mantle from Smith and 2 and a half years later, they battled it out together. Therefore perhaps fitting they shared the spoils. So what were the five things we learnt from this even contest?

1. Buendia Magic!

This was by far Buendia’s best game in a Villa shirt. He is still finding his groove and range but was far more skilful on the ball and his goal was sensational. When he picked up the ball from Ings inside the 18-yard box and flicked the ball inside his leg to take it outside of the penalty area, I wasn’t sure what was coming next. What did come was pure poetry in motion as he artistically curled the ball to Raya’s top left corner. It was the perfect view from the Holte End upper tier and connected an array of fans who had never met, into one big group hug! It is the type of goal that warranted these scenes and I expect to have many more raucous celebrations orchestrated by this Argentine maestro.

2. Axel Tuanzebe and Ezri Konsa generate a formidable partnership

Dean Smith’s fifth summer signing in Axel Tuanzebe, brought the fan favourite back to the club for his third loan spell. His previous appearance culminated with us winning promotion back to the ‘Promised Land’ and he played a huge part in that success, forming a robust relationship with Tyrone Mings. This was his first taste of playing with us in the Premier League and ironically deputising for Mings, who unfortunately had to pull out the day before with a cracked rib.

It looked like Axel and Ezri had been playing together for years, it was a seamless display from two brilliant modern-day central defenders.

3. Luiz is a unsung hero!

I felt Douglas Luiz was outstanding and is an integral cog to our team. His technical ability on the ball is vastly underrated, the ability he has to hold the ball up under pressure from the opposition in tight spaces is tremendous and he will usually find the right pass. As a holding midfielder, these attributes are not recognised enough but every great team has them, this is imperative. He protected the backline to great effect and produced a good number of progressive passes, which turned defence into attack in a matter of seconds. I was astounded regarding the rumours if we got a good price for him, he would be sold. If we’re going to achieve the aspirations of qualifying for European football this season, he has to be in that starting eleven every week.

4. Cash and Targett inconsistent

I thought ‘The Two Matties’ were terrific last season, typified by the second Matty – Targett winning player’s player of the season. You can’t get a higher accolade from your fellow teammates and it was deserved as I voted for him too. What set him apart from the rest as he played 38 games and was no less than a seven out of ten each time, Mr Consistent. Even after contracting Covid, where the team struggled, he was still immense. As for Matty Cash/Cashy (too many nicknames!), he also had a great season, especially with it being his debut from the championship, it was impressive.

This season, they have started indifferently. I felt during yesterday’s game they had good spells and other times you had to suddenly brace yourself, in particular with Cash either overplaying in dangerous areas or mid judging the flight of the ball and you weren’t sure if Brentford would be through on goal or he would have to give away a silly penalty. As for Targett, he fashioned a great ball, which lead to our excellent goal. He also produced a crucial block ensuring a vital cross didn’t come into our penalty area. However, his passing was sketchy where his decision making was slightly peculiar. Smith stipulated he was injured in the last game of the preceding season and was in a protective boot for six weeks, so that could be the reason. It could also be fans being back in the stadiums and he has let their grumbles affect him. I do hope it’s the former and we can have both Matties from last season back as soon as possible!

5. Carney Chukwuemeka!

What can I say about this 17-year-old kid making his full premier league debut, he is going to be a star. When you consider Smith was going to start with Ramsey and was only informed he tested positive for Covid after the last training session on Friday, this makes Carney’s performance even more remarkable. Take a moment to absorb the gravity of this occasion and what he must have been feeling when he was told he would have to step in last minute. The sheer delight must have also been met with butterflies in the stomach in equal measure. At least that’s what I would have felt but if he did, it didn’t show. From the moment the team was announced and he got by far the loudest roar from the Villa faithful he was calm, unruffled and showed some terrific driving runs from midfield. His stature is incredible for someone so young and he showed incredible strength to outmuscle the Brentford midfield.

It’s only natural with his age and work rate he was substituted just after the hour mark. This was met with a standing ovation from the crowd and rightly so. There is a reason why Carney was linked with the mighty Bayern Munich. German teams have had a habit in recent times of nurturing English youngsters and giving them the platform to shine in the Bundesliga. This is why we have to ensure he is given these opportunities when they arise, so he won’t be tempted by the lure of Bayern or Dortmund and he knows his only stage is in the Premier League with the Mighty Aston Villa!

Thanks to everyone for taking the time to read this piece. If you enjoyed it please leave a comment or message me on my Twitter handle, @Villa4LifeAlex.

Until next time, this is Alex signing off, UTV!


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