Aston Fecking Villa 4 – 0 Brentford. Where did that come from? Good grief.
After eleven months of relentlessly turgid football marked by alienating off-field comments and woeful tactics, Villa were a club reborn in front of the Holte End on a sunny Sunday afternoon. An opening ten minute blitz against Brentford felt like a celebration for a club liberated from a dour relationship never destined to work. The fans were free again to remember what caring about football actually felt like.
Every single decision Villa caretaker Aaron Danks, Big Cutz and Austin MacPhee made ahead of the Brentford game was correct. They did exactly what the Villa fanbase had been screaming out for all season and went with a 4-2-3-1. The coaches cast aside the plodding, narrow nothingness of the Gerrard era which left our talented attackers looking like distant mirages in a desert and played to everybody’s strengths.
Against Brentford, right-footed Ollie Watkins stayed out right, while Leon Bailey clung to the left touchline. Finally – AT LONG LAST – Villa played with width. The approach appeared to catch Brentford out cold. Thomas Frank’s men most likely prepared for a narrow Villa side and probably had champagne on ice ready for post-match celebrations knowing their wide players would have caused Gerrard’s men endless misery. But thanks to coaches who actually ensured players didn’t constantly get in each other’s way, that was not to be.
Danksiola also went with the double pivot fans had desperately wanted to see. The physical presence of Leander Dendoncker, who was exceptional on the day, finally freed Douglas Luiz to act as the more progressive midfielder we all know he can be. Aware he was covered by his Belgian team mate, Luiz helped start Villa attacks from deep and was a key component in transitional play. Luiz was brilliant and a late show of tracking back the entire length of the pitch summed up his day.
Dendoncker’s presence was also reassuring for the defence as they knew he could come back and help stop Brentford. All season long, Villa’s defence has been stuck playing meandering passes back and forth to each other without any midfielder able to take the ball away and push up the park. It meant Villa constantly resorted to long balls from deep towards players who don’t win headers. In the double pivot against Brentford, both Dendoncker and Luiz were able to provide the out ball Villa’s defence had desperately needed all season.
Danks made the wise decision to give our most creative attacker, Emi Buendia, his first home start of the season. LET ME REPEAT – THIS WAS EMI BUENDIA’S FIRST HOME START OF THE SEASON. HOW THE HELL HAS THIS HAPPENED!? Anyway, Buendia was supreme on the day, constantly finding space between Brentford’s lines and looking to link-up and create.
Leon Bailey was also fantastic. His opening goal came from a well-worked set-piece (finally!) and led to an explosion of joy from the players and fans. He then followed that with a smart assist for Danny Ings. Bailey’s run for the fourth goal, including a lovely one-two with Ings and eventual cross for Watkins, was world-class and looked similar to golden era Jack Grealish. If the Jamaican international could show this form consistently Villa would have a serious asset.
Ings and Watkins also looked much improved and more involved in the game. Both of them scored and maybe the way forward is now to play Watkins out wide (as he once did for Brentford) and use Ings as the main central striker.
Villa’s entire attack transformed from the forlorn and listless group we had endured all season into a high energy and confident collective. BLOODY MAGIC. Wherever your career goes from here, Aaron Danks, just know you always had this game, where you gave Villa a desperately needed win and brought positivity back to a club where it had all been sucked away. BUILD THE MAN A STATUE.
Plus, seeing as Danks basically gave the Villa fans what we wanted, we are left with the following conclusion…the entire Villa fanbase should apply for the manager’s job. We’re destined to become the most successful collective at least since John, Ringo, Paul and George decided to form a band. Champions League titles here we come. No nation state can stop us.
Look, we all love John McGinn. The Scottish international has been an enormous asset to Villa ever since he joined in 2018. He played a huge part in revitalising the club after an abject decade where Villa was endlessly shamed by a run of idiotic owners and players with bad attitudes. He scored in the play-off final and also bagged our first goal back in the Premier League. We will always love McGinn.
Unfortunately, he has not been in form this season. The captaincy saga, a complete own goal on Gerrard’s part, appears to have inhibited the midfielder. But, no matter how much McGinn struggled, the former manager always started him.
It has long felt like McGinn needed some time on the bench to recharge and refocus. Danks made the right call, particularly in light of how technically assured both Luiz and Dendoncker looked against Brentford. They will be difficult players to drop going forward, which is a nice problem for Villa’s next manager to have.
Who knows who the Villa gaffer will be for next weekend’s trip to Tyneside. Newcastle have been in excellent form this calendar year under Eddie Howe and go into the game as favourites.
Villa should feel confident they can take the game to Newcastle after the demolition of Brentford. The Magpies’ first eleven is not stronger than Villa’s, but Howe has raised the level of almost every player at the club. They recently battered Brentford 5-1 at St. James’ Park, but also drew 1-1 with Bournemouth. And what formation did the Cherries’ play at Newcastle? 4-2-3-1.
It will be a very tough game at Newcastle, a team which favours a 4-3-3 approach, but Villa should absolutely aim to cause an upset. In Danks (or whoever’s manager) we trust.
Follow the author on Twitter @FrankieMaguire