Aston Villa secured a 3-1 victory over Serie A newcomers Salernitana at Villa Park on Saturday afternoon in the final tune-up for the 2021/22 Premier League season.
In the first match of the post-Jack Grealish era, Villa lined up in a 4-4-2 formation with Ollie Watkins and fresh signing Danny Ings leading the line.
Manager Dean Smith employed Anwar El Ghazi and Jaden Philogene-Bidace on the flanks of a four-man midfield with John McGinn and Marvelous Nakamba in central midfield.
Keeper Emi Martinez and central defender Tyrone Mings made their preseason debuts after long summers with Argentina and England, respectively, and reprised their roles in the Villa defense alongside Matty Cash, Ezri Konsa, and Matt Targett.
Villa dominated possession from the outset but failed to penetrate a well-organized Salernitana side in the early going. The guests would go up 1-0 against the run of play in the 20th minute via Joel Obi.
In the 34th minute, McGinn played a sweeping ball to Philogene-Bidace on the left side of the Salernitana box, and the youngster squared up a low cross to Ings in the middle, who finished clinically to draw Villa level (1-1).
Later in the first half, Watkins got in behind the Salernitana defense and was pushed over in the box, winning a penalty that El Ghazi converted in the 43rd minute to put the Villans up 2-1.
Watkins picked up a knock in the opening moments of the second half and was replaced by Carney Chukwuemeka. The change prompted a formation shift back to Villa’s more customary 4-2-3-1 with Chukwuemeka filling the space behind Ings for 15 minutes before Smith made further changes in the 62nd minute.
Among the subs was Ashley Young, who played on the left side of midfield and tallied in the 71st minute. Cash moved into space on the right flank and then into the box where he found Young with a low cross. Young finished near post with his right foot to extend Villa’s lead to 3-1.
Up next for Villa are Watford for Match Week 1 of the 2021/22 Premier League season. Watford, relegated in 2019/20, were promoted from the Championship with a second-place finish last year and host an Aston Villa side searching for a new identity.
Miscellaneous match notes:
- We saw Villa in a 4-4-2, which is likely the formation Smith deploys out of the gate. Watkins and Ings up top is a scary duo, but the key for Villa is to get them the ball. Early in this match, Ings struggled for touches. In this setup, either Ings or Watkins have to drop off to collect the ball, or the outside midfielders have to move inside to create 1-2 combinations
- Hopefully, Watkins is fine and pulled himself off as a precaution. If he’s out for Watford, expect Smith to go with the traditional 4-2-3-1
- Philogene-Bidace continues to impress. He’s strong on the ball, but he’s also intelligent, popping up in empty spaces in the final third. Could he start at Watford if Emi Buendia and Leon Bailey miss out? Entirely possible at this point, he’s been that good
- McGinn had a good showing. Early on, we saw him dropping off quite a bit to collect the ball deep in midfield with Nakamba in front of him. He played a great ball to Philogene-Bidace on the Ings goal
- Nice to see Bertrand Traore come on a sub. It was unclear if he would be ready for the start of the season, but it’s more likely he’s close to full fitness now
- Wesley and Keinan Davis missed out entirely. Neither were on the bench, and their futures are in doubt. Could we see both go out on loan?