On the night Dean Smith could have become the first Aston Villa manager to win all five opening games to a new season, a disappointing loss to Leeds United has slightly marred a flawless start to the 2020-21 campaign.
A first Premier League loss for over three months shouldn’t overshadow the successes of staving off relegation and starting the new season in record-breaking fashion – beating Fulham, Sheffield United, Leicester and even reigning champions, Liverpool by seven goals to two.
It’s the manner of the defeat that might have annoyed a proud Villa fanbase, as Patrick Bamford ran riot with a hat-trick on the night. But with shades of the 3-0 defeat suffered in Villa’s last Premier League loss to Manchester United, hosts Villa struggled to match Leeds’ intensity after going behind in the second half.
Credit where credit is due, to a man, Leeds were exceptional even without Kalvin Phillips and Liam Cooper. Bielsa’s side played their normal, full-throttle game without feeling sorry for themselves with key injuries disrupting their preparation for the visit to Villa Park.
With Pascal Struijk wiping Jack Grealish out in the opening exchanges, Leeds tactician Bielsa had no issue with pulling his makeshift midfielder off with 20 minutes played. It simply wasn’t to be Villa’s night.
Despite the 3-0 home humbling to newly-promoted Leeds, Villa’s start to the new season is still equal to their best ever of a top-flight campaign after playing five games. Even after falling to a first Premier League defeat in eight, Smith’s side remains in second place, with most the division on an equal amount of games played.
Having kept three clean sheets in the opening four games to a season that seems to have its fair share of goals in every fixture, Villa have been dogged and disciplined for the most part, especially in visits to Fulham and Leicester. Though, the loss to Bielsa’s side is a disappointing result that had brought Villa down a peg having wrestled at the Premier League’s summit since the campaign began in September.
Moving onto Southampton at the weekend, Villa can take heart that despite a result that’ll leave a sour taste in the mouth, there’s an appetite to put things right amongst these players, as most the existing playing squad fought tooth and nail to preserve their Premier League careers during Project Restart.
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However, Smith’s side mustn’t fall into a trap of taking games with excessive caution and show too much respect to teams that they’ll be hoping to finish above come May. Southampton, Brighton, Newcastle and West Ham are all to come for Villa in the next six weeks – there’s a real opportunity for Villa to make some more headway before Christmas.
Whilst naivety contributed to the downfall against Leeds, Villa can’t let a Bielsa side full of confidence and desire to get one over on the only side left in the top-flight with a 100% record, diminish what has been an excellent start to the new season.
Barring a hangover against the Saints, there’s plenty of positives for Smith to count on as he rallies around his side at Bodymoor Heath in the coming days.
“It’s how we bounce back from this now,” Smith told Villa TV following the 3-0 defeat at Villa Park.
“It’s disappointing, but I can only question 40 minutes of this season so far with these players.
“I told the players I was disappointed with our reaction to their first goal because I thought it was an even game.
“We had a moment in the game we didn’t take and, after that first goal, our reactions weren’t as good as they should be.
“They gained a yard in pace and we lost a yard in pace. If you do that you’re going to concede goals. You have to give credit to Leeds, they were excellent, their one-touch passing in the second-half and their running. They comfortably beat us in the second half.
“I spoke in the week about how you can get a bop on the nose when you’re not at it and we got that in the second half, for sure.”
A successive home game awaits Smith’s side at the weekend, as Ralph Hasenhüttl’s Southampton make the trip to Villa Park. It’s a chance for Grealish, Ross Barkley, Ollie Watkins and Co to continue their strong start to the campaign.