Aston Villa bounced back from a 3-0 defeat at Chelsea last week with a 3-0 victory of their own at home to Everton on Saturday afternoon.
Matty Cash broke a second-half deadlock when he tallied his first Aston Villa goal in the 66th minute, and three minutes later a Lucas Digne’s own goal doubled Villa’s lead.
Super-sub Leon Bailey went on to score his first-career Premier League goal in the 75th minute, wrapping up the afternoon’s scoring when he beat Everton keeper Asmir Begović 1-v-1.
It was a worthy result for Villa, who carried the play throughout. Well organized in the back and threatening going forward, Dean Smith’s side has found its footing five games into the 2021/22 season.
Here are the main takeaways from a strong showing.
Leon Bailey is Aston Villa’s new talisman
With Jack Grealish gone, Villa entered the season without a clear talisman. Someone would have to grow into the role.
Would it be last season’s top goal scorer, Ollie Watkins? Or perhaps marksman Danny Ings, signed from Southampton the same day Grealish departed the club.
The obvious choice was Emi Buendia, the club’s record signing who joined from newly-promoted Norwich City in early June. Buendia was handed the No. 10 shirt and seemed the likely Grealish replacement given the Argentinian’s prolific play-making ability.
But, five games into the season, it appears Bailey is Grealish’s heir apparent. Occupying the same left side of the pitch, Bailey, in three substitute appearances, has scored once and assisted twice in just 86 minutes of action.
The Jamaican’s pace and trickery cannot be contained, and although it’s early days, his influence in cameo form has been staggering. He picked up a knock against Everton, but if he’s fit before next weekend he’s all but guaranteed to start at Manchester United on Saturday.
Dean Smith is going nowhere
A lot of the discourse on Villa Twitter last week was focused on Smith and his Aston Villa job security. Some fans took to the platform to voice their displeasure with the gaffer, suggesting he’s not the right man to take the club to the next level.
The response was resoundingly in support of Smith, who went on to prove he’s worthy of the job with a managerial masterclass on Saturday.
Building off the progress made at Chelsea, Smith redeployed a 3-5-2 formation against Everton. At Chelsea, Villa’s high press and ball-winning exploits in midfield stood out. We saw more of the same against Everton, and when Villa was struggling to generate chances, Smith turned to the bench and won the match with substitutions.
The Athletics’s Gregg Evans said in last week’s episode of 1874 that Smith doesn’t see bench players as substitutes but rather “finishers.” He called on Bailey to finish, and that’s exactly what he did.
Douglas Luiz is off to a great start
When the summer transfer window opened there was one area in particular Villa supporters felt the club needed to strengthen: defensive midfield.
Marvelous Nakamba played well in the role late last season, but it was evident that his ability on the ball was sub-par and needed to be upgraded.
Douglas Luiz played most of the year with John McGinn in a two-man pivot, but the Brazilian never found the same form he displayed when the Premier League returned for Project Restart the season before.
But since returning from a summer of international duty with the Brazilian national team, Luiz has impressed at the base of a three-man midfield. It’s clear now that one of the keys to Villa’s success is deploying three central midfielders to provide enough coverage deep while allowing one of the three to push up and press.
According to @pgr_analytics on Twitter, Luiz ranked first in the following categories in Saturday’s victory: key passes (5), shot-creating actions (8), times fouled (4), ground duels won (9), and tackles (3).
Luiz returned to the Villa line-up for the Newcastle match following a disastrous loss at Watford to start the season. His influence has had an immediate impact, and the club has gone 2-1-1 since his return, with the only loss coming at Chelsea, the reigning European champions.