Analysis: Aston Villa fail to learn lessons as mistakes send them tumbling to Bournemouth defeat
Villa may be a much-changed club from the one relegated three years ago but for a brief time on Saturday supporters would have been forgiven for thinking they were back in the dark days of spring 2016.
Fewer than 12 minutes were on the clock at Villa Park and already the home team trailed 2-0 to Bournemouth, with an atmosphere which had crackled with anticipation in the hours before kick-off stunned into trepidation.
Things did, thankfully, get a little better after that. Douglas Luiz injected life back into his team and the stands with a stunning goal and though Villa’s Premier League home opener ended in defeat, the hosts showed enough over the whole piece to offer hope for the weeks and months ahead.
Yet it would also be wrong to pretend some of the optimism which greeted the club’s top-flight return hasn’t already been eroded, or that the pressure isn’t very much now on for Friday night’s visit of Everton, after a loss which bore a few too many hallmarks of their first at Tottenham seven days earlier. Just as then, Villa were the architects of their own demise.
Dean Smith’s new-look team, the majority of whom are experiencing the Premier League for the first time, are learning of its unforgiving nature the hard way.
Or rather, on Saturday’s evidence, they aren’t learning, at least when it comes to the importance of retaining possession.
Where at Tottenham it was Jack Grealish losing the ball deep in his own half, here it was Luiz stepping over it in a similar position and setting up Harry Wilson for a shot which, admittedly, needed a huge deflection off Tyrone Mings to beat Tom Heaton. By that point, Villa were already a goal down, Heaton having rushed needlessly out of goal after just 41 seconds to bring down Callum Wilson and allow Josh King to fire the Cherries in front from the penalty spot.
Heaton was the most experienced of Smith’s 12 summer signings and the likelihood is such an inexplicable lapse of judgement on his part will be rare.
One might also look at the manner of Wilson’s goal, which also required a kind bounce off the post before ending up in the net, and think this was a day when Villa did not have fortune on their side.
But that would be ignoring the fact Wilson’s goal wasn’t the only occasion when Villa conceded possession cheaply in dangerous areas, or that Bournemouth had further chances to score more during the first-half.
Indeed, Heaton somewhat redeemed his early error when he denied Wilson a second and the Cherries their third on the stroke of half-time, with Luiz again the guilty party.
It remains, of course, very early days.
Yet two games in, Villa look no closer to answering many of the questions which hung over them at the beginning of the campaign.
Supporters who fretted about a lack of firepower won’t have had those fears eased by the season’s first 180 minutes.
On Saturday, Villa carved out a number of good openings, but were unable to capitalise due to a lack of sharpness which particularly manifested itself in the performance of Wesley, their record signing.
It is unfair, in some respects, to single out one player.
But the Brazilian’s £22million price tag and the lack of reinforcement behind him means that of all the new arrivals, he is under the biggest scrutiny and his importance to the team perhaps the greatest.
Just as at Spurs, there were glimpses of what he can offer.
Late in the first-half, having been sent away down the left wing, he cut infield and beat a defender before picking out the run of Trezeguet, who was only denied a goal by a fine block from Nathan Ake.
Too often, however, his reactions were too slow and opportunities for both himself and the team went begging as a result.
All of Villa’s new players face something of a learning curve this term. Wesley’s is probably the steepest of the lot.
Positives could be found in another impressive performance from John McGinn and – mistakes aside – Luiz.
While his display might not have been faultless, the Brazil under-21 captain’s class was also clear, none more so than when he bent an unstoppable shot into the top corner from 25 yards out to bring Villa Park bursting back to life with 19 minutes remaining.
If he can cut out the silly errors and quickly adapt to the pace of the Premier League, then the hype which greeted his £15million arrival from Manchester City might well prove to have been justified.
Saturday’s match was also one which highlighted the limitations of VAR, with Bournemouth’s Philip Billing incredibly fortunate to avoid a first-half dismissal.
The midfielder was less than a minute removed from a booking when he slid late and recklessly into Grealish. Referee Martin Atkinson, incredibly, waved play on with TV replays showing the challenge was comfortably worthy of a yellow card.
Such incidents, however, are not reviewable under the new regulations and so Billing was allowed to stay on and commit two further risky fouls before being withdrawn by Cherries boss Eddie Howe at the break and replaced by Andrew Surman, in what will probably be the most predictable substitution of the season.
Smith certainly made his feelings clear after the match, but Villa’s head coach is no fool and knows it was not refereeing decisions which cost his team the game.
Neither is he the type to panic after a return of no points from the opening two fixtures.
Yet while the season remains in its infancy, Smith will also be aware it could get old very quickly without a few positive results. Villa don’t want to wait too much longer to get off the mark.