Aston Villa (0), Watford (1) – Villa Unable to Solve Watford and Get Caught on a Break

If losing (and getting shutout) at Newcastle was not bad enough, Villa fans had to endure 90 minutes plus of our Villans doing the same thing at Villa Park against another bottom tier club, Watford.

No, this was not as a result of a stupendous effort by Ben Foster, their goalie.  In fact, he was barely tested, counting one easy save.  It was not even close.  In fact, our goalie (Emi Martinez) was superb in preventing their tally being added to.

The cause was that Watford had a simple strategy that they executed well.  That was to set-up a solid defensive phalanx around their penalty area and field three forwards who had the speed, skill, and strength to hit on breakaways.

Our Villans’ strategy appeared to be to pass the ball around just beyond Watford’s area, wait for an opening to appear, and try to slip a pass through for a forward to run onto.  The strategy yielded zero shots on goal!  What it did accomplish was to dominate possession, corners, and shots that never reached their goalie.

Villa started off flattering to deceive.  Ings received a pass with only Foster to beat in the 3rd minute only to crumple under the attentions of Samir.  A less labored striker would have bulged the back of the net before the defender got close.

Despite looking lively, there was an early warning of what was to come in the 15th minute.  A rejected attack down the left resulted in a 50-50 ball bouncing out of Watford’s penalty area.  Sarr was quicker and stronger than the Villans around him and he carried the ball clear and immediately hit a 40-yards plus pass into the space that our right-side defenders (Cash, Chambers, and McGinn) had vacated.

Emmanuel Dennis was already on his horse, and he caught up with the pass just outside our penalty area where he evaded the desperately recovering Cash and Chambers and set himself for a powerhouse shot into Martinez’s top-right corner of the net.  Thankfully, our goalie was well positioned and set, and he launched himself and parried the shot away to safety.

Back to the team’s plan, when it almost worked.  Ramsey showed too much of the ball when cutting between two defenders and an alert defender prodded the ball out for a corner.  That was cleared but, soon after, Ings hit the outside of the post from a Buendia pass, but he appeared to be well offside.

Ramsey did get a shot off from outside the area, but it was always rising. Then Coutinho did well to come to a cross from Cash only to have no time to control and the first-time effort went wide.

At halftime, there was a sense that a repeat of the first half would lead to the same poor outcomes.  That proved to be the case.  Coutinho’s shot that almost had enough top spin to dip under the bar was the only indication of a “better idea”.

Gerrard decided to bring on Watkins for Luiz in the 58th minute in the hope that Ollie might get us more opportunities from his running, and he was useful in making himself available on the leftwing.  Ings was too well covered to be an effective target and Ollies’ crosses were directed to Buendia and Coutinho in the air, something that did not make a lot of sense.

Digne was employing the same strategy, so that suggests it was the game plan.  Cash who was playing with the same playbook but was somewhat wayward in his accuracy was pulled in the 65th minute for Ashley Young.  That would have made sense if the oft-injured 36-year-old could get past his marker, Kamara. 

Before Ashley had an opportunity to demonstrate his offensive skills, he was called upon to prevent the winger he was marking getting to the ball and he was hopelessly mismatched.

It was in the 77th minute and Bailey, who had been brought on to replace Buendia in the 71st minute, attempted to dribble through three Watford defenders on the right wing and had failed, allowing the visitors to break in numbers with King and Louza leading the way.

With Digne dragged to towards the play, Louza saw that Sarr had room on the opposite side of Villa’s penalty area, and picked him out.  Sarr, facing Digne and Coutinho, took a second to assess.  What he saw was that Chambers was ready to block his passage to the Villa goal, while Mings was well positioned to cover King, but that the muscular Dennis was poised just outside the 6-yard-box in the inside left position with only Young marking him.

Sarr feinted as if he was going outside Digne who leaned in that direction, giving the Senegalese international a path to chip a perfect pass that cleared Mings and allowed Dennis to brush Young aside and attack the cross.  The Nigerian’s header was in the corner of the net with Martinez barely able to move.  Aston Villa 0, Watford 1

Fans, who expected the goal to ignite a sense of urgency in their Villans, were disappointed.  When Mings surveyed downfield, expecting to see a teammate running into space, it wasn’t there.  Our captain, instead, passed inside to Coutinho who found Young on the right wing but a sloppy pass to Bailey, who was also nonchalant saw Watford in possession, again breaking down their left wing.

Watford turned the possession into an opportunity for a Cleverley effort that Martinez did well to go down and block.  Shortly after, Kamara made sure that Young did not get any opportunity to break by scything him down.  From the freekick, Mings attempted to find Young, again on the right wing, only for the pass to sale yards over his head.  The disgruntled rumble from the crowd was audible.

When Young did finally get unchallenged possession on the wing, he sent a well-weighted pass towards the Watford corner flag for Watkins to run onto.  With less than ten minutes on the clock, one would have expected a sense of urgency.  Instead, the closest Villans looked for a comfortable spot to wait for a pass.  Bailey settled on the corner of the penalty area whereas he should have been making sure to be an easy passing option.

When Watkins turned back along the touchline, he sent a lazy pass between Bailey and McGinn that neither was expecting, and a Watford defender seized upon the ball.  This was in the 84th minute of a Villa game at home that our claret and blues were losing 1-0 to a team that has not won a Premier League game since November 20th (12 games) and an away game since October 23rd.

That Watford were able to pass the ball down the field to Sarr for him to cross into the 6-yard-box for King to force Martinez into another brave save, totally unchallenged, was incomprehensible.  Villa appeared to have given up on getting a goal against Watford.  Watford?  Not surprisingly, Emi yelled at his teammates.

The remonstration seemed to have some effect and Villa came close a couple of times.  To scoring?  No.  Close to an attempt.  It was telling that when the ball was chipped into the 6-yard-box by Digne, it was neither one of our strikers (neither Ings, nor Watkins) who challenged for it.  Of all people, it was Coutinho who, for his trouble, took a head clash from a larger defender.

When a real-life perfect pass arrived at the feet of a claret shirt as he slipped behind the center backs, the recipient exuded total confidence that he could control the pass with the outside of his left foot and slide the ball beyond the advancing Foster.

Perhaps Leon took his eye off the ball, but the ball bounced over his foot and out for a goal kick.  Bailey’s response was instinctive.  He covered his face.  Ramsey’s body language was even more expressive, his arms flew out and his hands turned up, as if to say.  WTF!

A minute later and a long cross found Ings at the far post, but he could not rise enough, and his header was weak and wide.  Our Villans traipsed off the field and Gerrard looked bemused.

Aston Villa: Martinez, Digne, Mings, Chambers, Cash (Young 65′), McGinn, Ramsey, Douglas Luiz (Watkins 58′), Ings, Philippe Coutinho, Buendía (Bailey 71′)

Unused Subs: Olsen, Iroegbunam, Sanson, Hause, Chrisene, Chukwuemeka

Watford: Foster, Cathcart, Samir (Kabasele 90’+3), Femenía, Kamara, Cleverley, Sissoko, Louza, Sarr (Hernández 90’+3), Dennis (Sema, 86′), King

Unused Subs: Kayembe, Ngakia, Masina, Troost-Ekong, Bachmann, Kalu

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