This afternoon saw Aston Villa's first game of preseason take place in what has become an annual tradition away to Walsall. Unfortunately Emery's boys weren't able to pick up the win and only came away with a 1-1 draw despite dominating large parts of the game and looking pretty dangerous in the process.
As is always the case with the first game back, you can't read too much into individual performances or the result itself. Having said that, there are always a few interesting takeaways that may point to what's to come in the upcoming campaign. Here are five of those big takeaways from Villa's 1-1 draw at Walsall.
1. Emery-ball Unchanged
The very first thing to note was that there were no major changes to either the formation or style of play. Unai Emery's take on the classic 4-4-2 moving into more of a back three in possession that we came to love last season was back in full effect today.
The only real change of note was Diego Carlos playing a lot more long balls than was maybe expected. Whether or not this will be a tactic Villa look to enforce during the actual season remains to be seen. It certainly caused problems for the Walsall defense and nearly led to a goal in the early stages when Diego's long ball found Ollie Watkins who squared it beautifully to Aaron Ramsey who unfortunately wasn't able to get his foot to the ball.
2. A Mixed Bag of Youngsters
As expected, Villa's young stars were on full display from the first whistle this afternoon. Marschall, Feeney, Philogene, Iroegbunam and Aaron Ramsey all got starts with the rest of Villa's youngsters getting minutes as the game went on. In truth, it was a mixed bag. Some young players may have given Emery a tough choice to make while others showed they probably need a loan move before being considered for the first team.
It's no secret that Josh Feeney's lack of concentration and sloppy play on Walsall's first half corner was what led to the home side's opening goal. At only 18 years of age though that's completely forgivable and a loan move to a team similar to today's opponents is probably the right move for the young defender. Elsewhere both Jaden Philogene and Tim Iroegbunam looked really bright and clearly wanted to prove their worth to the team. Philogene's darting run into the opposition box is what led to Villa's penalty that was struck home beautifully by Ollie Watkins.
Whether or not any of today's youngsters stick around is hard to call. Iroegbunam will be competing with the likes of Luiz, Kamara and now Youri Tielemans but early games in the cup competitions may be the perfect opportunity for the exciting midfielder. The exact same can be said for Philogene, Ramsey and maybe even Kadan Young who looked impressive towards the end. Emery will undoubtedly be looking to see more from these players throughout preseason before making a final decision.
3. Captain Dougie
Douglas Luiz was given the captain's armband today with the likes of McGinn and Mings being given extra time off after playing for their national sides. Villa's number 6 did not disappoint in the role and was arguably the best player on the pitch. The Brazilian looked like he hadn't even taken a week off let alone an eight week summer holiday!
Between pinpoint passes, dancing around opposition players and even stopping mid-game for a selfie with a young Villan, Dougie was pure class this afternoon. With the players mentioned earlier, there's no doubt Aston Villa's midfield looks in fantastic shape for the upcoming season.
4. Fitness Levels
Yeah yeah this one is a little dull but we all know that getting players match fit is the number one priority right now and so far so good! The likes of Watkins, Buendia, Luiz and Cash all look like they've worked off their summer beers already and the young players involved all looked full of energy.
The biggest takeaway though was undoubtedly Diego Carlos. Having missed most of last season with an awful achilles injury, it was exciting to see the Brazilian defender get over an hour on the pitch without ever looking off the pace. Fingers crossed Villa get to see the same player who tore it up for Sevilla.
5. Drawing in Style
Again, the result is not important here but how Villa looked arguably is. It's probably not unfair to say that Villa should have won today as quick passing and stylish play undid Walsall's defense on more than one occasion. Although Villa weren't always able to finish their chances, all the signs were there that the team looks good and should continue to improve throughout the next few weeks.
Speaking of style, let's end on a positive note and point out that the new kit actually looks really nice in action despite the terrible sponsor. There we go, it's not all doom and gloom! Here's hoping Emery's claret and blue army start to pick up some wins in the next couple of weeks. Until then make sure to get yourself excited for our newest arrival in Pau Torres by checking out AVFC Faithful Dan's fantastic deep dive into Villa's star signing in the video link below. Enjoy the rest of your weekend and Up The Villa!