The honeymoon is over as a much-changed Villa side fell to a poor opening group stage 3-2 defeat to Legia Warsaw. This was never going to be the kind of stroll as witnessed against Hibernian, but the loss does raise a number of questions for a long season ahead.
Eyebrows were raised at the team selection, with a number of changes made to rotate the side which secured a late victory over Crystal Palace (3-1) last time out. Most notable, the decision to make radical changes at the back, with Chambers and debutant Lenglet surprise starters in a side that’s now shipped 11 goals on the road this season.
Those with a longer memory will have also reflected back to the weakened side that Martin O’Neill infamously fielded against CSKA Moscow in 2009. Whilst the circumstances are different here, the decision to rotate so early in the campaign and against arguably the most difficult tie in the group, must stand as an uncharacteristic misread by Emery.
This was reflected even in the opening exchanges, with the hosts, buoyed by a rampant home atmosphere, taking an early lead. It was a simple goal, sloppily defended.
Villa responded just minutes later, showing more of the good character we’ve seen in the Premier League, with Jhon Duran heading home a rebound after Zaniolo had thundered a strike against the bar. A great response.Embed from Getty Images
Villa couldn’t get a grip of the tie though, with both Chambers and Lenglet looking ill at ease with Warsaw’s forays forwards. Whilst the whole defence struggled all evening, they were offered little protection by Villa’s midfield either.
Tieleman’s, who impressed against Palace after public comments about limited game-time since his summer arrival, had minimal impact. Kamara, rewarded for good form with a recent call-up for France, offered little either.
The disjointed selection affected our shape, and Warsaw struck again before the half-hour mark through Muçi. Warsaw’s boss had made reference to David versus Goliath, after all.
It was a match for the neutral and end-to-end, and Villa soon got back level courtesy of a deflected Lucas Digne strike that left the ‘keeper helpless.
The break permitted a welcome pause, but Emery opted to keep things the same before introducing Cash, Luiz, Diaby and Ramsey after an hour. The damage was already done though, with Warsaw smelling blood, already leading after Muçi had hit his second of the game.
The reinforcements couldn’t change our fortunes, as Villa slipped to a disappointing opening defeat to the group stages of the competition.
This was a “classic Villa” moment, whipping up all of the hype and hyperbole, to then under-deliver on the pitch. More frustrating, is that we thought we were beginning to leave such frustrations behind us.
It would be unreasonable and unrealistic to expect us to win each game, to suggest this would be ridiculous, but to mis-judge this game quite so badly is a surprise.
After such a long absence from European competition, early in the season and with a strong traveling contingent of supporters, it all looks rather ill-judged [with the benefit of hindsight].
There are also reasonable questions to be asked.
What is the point of pushing and celebrating achieving European qualification, if only to field a heavily rotated squad so early? It’s not unusual in the modern era to rotate, but has our summer recruitment been insufficient, or will long-term injuries impact our ability to properly do this?
It’s early days both in the domestic campaign, and also in the Europa Conference, but Villa will need to box cleverer if we have genuine aspirations in either.Embed from Getty Images