Smith: Everton tough nut to crack

By Graham Hill

VILLA boss Dean Smith says his side must ‘solve the equation’ of a cracking a watertight Everton defence on Friday night.

Smith desperately needs goals as Villa search for their first win back in the Premier League.

But while Villa have let in five goals so far, Everton have conceded none and their record is 10 clean sheets from their last 12 games going back to last season.

Smith accepts that he has to find something special to break down Marco Silva’s side.

On paper, it looks as though he will name an unchanged side. Despite two defeats, the performances have been encouraging.

One player who might be looking over his shoulder is Anwar El-Ghazi – with Jota waiting in the wings.

But Smith maintains the performances have been good, while Villa are paying for mistakes.

Smith told reporters ahead of the Everton game: “I think some of the patterns we’ve worked on have been good.

“I was disappointed with the last half-hour at Tottenham, that’s been the biggest disappointment so far.

“We sat off them and stayed in our own half for half-an-hour. Against a quality team, you are going to suffer.

“When we have got on the front foot and pushed the opposition high, been a bit braver on the ball, we have caused teams problems. We caused Bournemouth problems last week and Eddie was very complimentary after.

“We certainly need to eradicate mistakes. Last week we conceded a penalty and a soft goal from 30 yards. Jack Grealish has been caught on the ball deep in his own half against Tottenham, Tom has rushed out and given a penalty away. Douglas has let one run when he shouldn’t. Tyrone has probably turned half his back and deflected one in. If we eradicate those mistakes we have points on the board. It is as simple as that, really.”

And Smith needs no reminding about the task facing them against Everton.

He added: “Their defensive record’s very good. That’s a tactical equation we have to come up with. I believe we have the quality to do that and hopefully we can.”

Smith says the chinks in Everton’s armour are tough to find.

The Villa boss said: “There’ve not been too many, with the clean sheets they’ve been getting. But there’ve been some elements where we believe we can create opportunities. That’lll be down to us to execute.”

Spotlight’s on Villa in top flight

By Graham Hill

DEAN Smith is already having to defend some of his key players in the build up to what is only Villa’s third game back in the Premier League.

For Smith, it is a reminder that the spotlight is so much brighter than it is in the Championship.

Just as players might be able to get away with mistakes on the field outside the top flight, it is also much harder to deflect the media glare once you are in the elite. On Thursday ahead of the Everton game, Smith was mystified to discover he was facing question about record signing Wesley who has yet to score for Villa after joining in a £22million deal.

A player such as that would be given time to settle into his new role at Villa Park in the Championship. It would not be up for debate nationally. But Smith now knows everything about the Premier League is cranked up a notch or two.

And skipper Jack Grealish was not be expected to deliver man of the match displays every week in the second tier.

The fact that he did in the last quarter of the season was because a lot of the pressure was off him following a three-month injury lay-off.

Now he is expected to perform against the best – particularly as he has said publicly he wants to be part of the England set-up under Gareth Southgate.

But while Grealish has been as creative as ever, his errors are now highlighted.

It means the boyhood Villa fan lifting himself for the Premier League season ahead.

But Smith knows the star midfielder will make the adjustments he needs to.

Smith told reporters: “What people won’t see is three or four times against Tottenham he picked up the ball on the edge of his own area and caused the opposition problems.

“That one time he’s given it away. We have to make sure if he’s doing that he doesn’t make the mistake

“It’s always a balancing act. At that period in time there wasn’t an out ball for him. It was probably the team’s fault as much as Jack’s. If he had an out-ball he would have played it but unfortunately he didn’t so he ended up taking another touch.

“I thought Jack against Bournemouth gave the ball away two or three times in the first half when I wouldn’t expect him to.

“Second half he took it to them. He should’ve done better with the chance but he was starting to look like the Jack we saw in pre-season that will move forward in this league!

“He played deeper against Tottenham but we worked on playing deeper as a team anyway. The have midfielders that can punish you. Against Bournemouth it was more as an attacking midfielder hence the chance he got.”

Smith: Douglas will Pep up Villa

By Graham Hill

DEAN Smith reckons the Pep Guardiola factor is there for all to see in £15million midfielder Douglas Luiz.

The ex-Manchester City player joined Villa this summer when he could not get a work permit to play under Guardiola.

But once the red tape had been sorted out at Villa Park, Luiz was ready to take his place in Dean Smith’s side.

Despite spending the pre-season in Brazil while his passport details were sorted, Luiz was able to come on as a substitute at Tottenham before making his full debut against Bournemouth.

A glaring error allowed Eddie Howe’s men to go two up, but he then scored one of the goals of the weekend to pull one back.

And Smith has seen enough signs to know Luiz will need little introduction to the top flght.

Smith told reporters: “He was in Brazil for pre-season but in terms of his adaptation? No, I am not surprised.

“If someone like Pep Guardiola really wants you then I think you’re a very good player. We’re very fortunate to have him here.

“He’s played the last two seasons in Spain with Girona and as soon as I saw him in training, I knew he would adapt very quickly.

“I felt that he grew into the game against Bournemouth. He got better as the game went on and moved the ball a lot quicker as well. The thing which I really liked about him is he’ll handle the ball anywhere and he uses his body well. He has a really good rhythm about him which you usually see in Brazilian players.

Dean: Tammy doesn’t deserve this

By Graham Hill

DEAN Smith had given his support to Villa loan striker Tammy Abraham after the player suffered racist abuse on social media.

Abraham scored 26 goals last season to help Villa win promotion through the play-offs.

But he returned to parent club Chelsea for this season to try and force his way into new manager Frank Lampard’s plans.

Abraham found himself taking a key penalty in European Super Cup shoot-out against Liverpool – but he missed from the spot to hand the trophy to Jurgen Klopp’s side.

That resulted in racist remarks behind aimed his way on Twitter and other social platforms.

Other players were targeted after similar incidents and it is something Smith wants to see disappear.

The Villa boss said: “Tammy was one of those who came in for some abuse and he’s one of the nicest people you will ever meet and did fantastically here.

He’s a great guy with a really good family. He missed a penalty in a football game, that’s all he’s done. So he doesn’t deserve the reaction it got.

“If people are coming and saying things on social media, then the platforms have to do something about it.

“Either that or they get named and shamed by people who know what’s right and wrong.

“We all know what’s right and we all know what’s wrong. And I’m sure Paul Pogba’s the same. Nobody deserves, whether in football or society, to be abused on any platform. What we need to do is name and shame those people. Once it comes into the public domain who these people are, I’m sure they’ll stop.”

Elmo deal bucks trend at Villa

By Graham Hill

AMID all the pre-season transfer talk at Villa was the prospect of Ahmed Elmohamady leaving for Newcastle United.

After all, the Egypt captain had played for Steve Bruce at Hull before joining him at Villa Park – why would he not now leave for the north east?

He does not fit the age profile boss Dean Smith searched for when looking for new faces in a £127million spending spree this summer.

And he did not appear to be a first pick at right back with Frenchman Freddie Guilbert completing his move from Caen.

But here we are. Two games in. And Elmohamady has featured in both starting line ups.

And any suggestion that this is one final hurrah for him this season was quashed by the award of a year’s contract extension on Thursday.

Clearly, Smith realises that he cannot throw the baby out with the bath water when it comes to rebuilding this Villa squad.

He still needs some experienced voices in the side and he has also shown that on the opposite flank by picking Neil Taylor ahead of new £11million left back Matt Targett.

It could all change as the season progresses of course, especially if results do not come quickly.

But for now, Smith is happy to keep Elmohamady at Villa Park.

The Villa boss told reporters: “He’s going into the last year of his contract so it’s always important that there’s some longevity there.

“He’s deserved it for his performances, which is what all players deserve to get new contracts from.

“He was integral to the 10-game winning run we had at the end of lsat season to get into the playoffs. If you captain a country like Egypt, you have to be a certain type of character and player.

“He’s established himself in our dressing room and the English game and he’s a very well respected and good player to have in our squad.”

Smith: ‘Wesley will come good’

By Graham Hill

ASTON VILLA boss Dean Smith launched a strong defence of £22million club record signing Wesley and smiled: ‘He’s only one goal behind Mo Salah!’

The Brazilian striker has yet to score after his big money move from Bruges this summer.

Villa spent £127million on new players and Wesley was the most expensive of all.

But he has attracted critics with ex-England midfielder Paul Ince telling BT Sport after the defeat by Bournemouth: :”I’m one of the biggest moaners in the world but at least I could play the game,

“He didn’t do anything but moan and fall on the floor. He needs to start doing a lot more and start playing football.”

But Smith insists it is too early to be questioning whether the globetrotting 22-year-old can cut it in the Premier League – and wants the snipers to back off.

Wesley goes up against a watertight Everton defence at Villa Park on Friday night – with Marco Silva’s yet to concede this season and recording 10 clean sheets in their last 12 matches.

But Smith believes the Villa striker will live up to his potential after scoring 14 goals for Bruges last season – but only five of them coming since November.

Smith told reporters on Thursday: “There’s certainly no frustration with Wesley from me and his teammates.

“I think a lot can be made out of nothing really, he’s two games into a season – and one goal behind Mo Salah at the moment.

“I’m not judging centre forwards this early in the season.

“What are we coming to when we’re making judgements on players after two matches?”

Smith maintains that the 6ft 3ins striker is a key member of his team.

But Villa have lost both of their opening top flight games and Smith will hope Wesley clicks sooner rather than later.

The Villa boss added: “There’ve been questions about him playing in the Premier League, but he played in the Champions League last season, he’s not too shabby.

”I can see that every day in training, he’s shown potential in his performances so far and that potential will come through.

“He never hides away from the ball, he goes and competes.

“He’s already created enough chances for for other people be scoring.

“He showed me enough in pre season to show me he’s going to be a top player.

“His English is very good, he understands more than he lets on.

“He left Brazil when he was 16 and went to Slovakia and then Belgium.

“So he knows Europe very well, he’s someone the players really like, he trains very well.

“And he does a lot of unselfish work, look at his goals tally last season, but look at his assists as well.

“They’re very high.

“I think we are getting the best out of hm, he’ll get better and better.”

Neil Taylor is set to come up against Seamus Coleman tonight for the first time since the Everton player’s horror injury after a challenge by the Welshman.

The Republic of Ireland captain Coleman suffered a double leg break in the incident in March, 2017, which saw Taylor sent off and banned for two games.

Coleman was out of action for a year following the international clash but is now set to go up against the Villa defender once more.

But Smith admits he will have no special message for Taylor before the game.

The Villa boss said: “Things like that happen in football. He’s probably played 100 games since then, it’s an incident that happens and we move on. It’s not really been a concern of mine at all.

“Neil Taylor’s performances have been good in the first two games, defensively and going forward.”

Smith: Targett must earn his place

By Graham Hill

NEW Villa left-back Matt Targett has been told he must earn the right to be first choice ahead of Neil Taylor.

Villa boss Dean Smith has favoured the Welshman so far ahead of the £11million signing from Southampton.

Taylor’s inclusion against Tottenham and Bournemouth raised eyebrows as it was thought that Villa’s new face would be favoured ahead of some of last season’s key men.

But Smith went with Taylor at left-back and Ahmed Elmohamady on the opposite side of the field.

And with Elmohamady being awarded a new contract on the eve off the Everton game, he shows no signs of swapping him for Frenchman Freddie Guilbert at the moment.

Also, there were no tell tale signs that Taylor is about to be dropped to make way for Targett.

Next week’s Carabao Cup tie at Crewe may be a different story.

But for now, Smith is making a strong case to keep Taylor in his plans.

Smith told reporters on Thursday: “Neil Taylor’s performances have been good in the first two games, defensively and going forward.

“He had a couple of chances last week. The idea is to bring in quality players who can grab their shirts off them.

“I’ve had conversations with Matt Targett to say he’s got to earn that shirt off Neil Taylor. I felt Neil Taylor’s two performances so far have been good ones.

“It’s about players playing at the top level to keep their shirts but the others have got to play at a top level to grab them off them.”

Grealish can boost England hopes

By Graham Hill

GARETH Southgate will be at Villa’s Premier League match with Everton on Friday night.

The former Villa captain is due to see the game with assistant Steve Holland ahead of naming his Three Lions squad for the Euro 2020 qualifying matches against Bulgaria and Kosovo.

Southgate will be casting his eye over several contenders on both sides.

But it will be an ideal opportunity for skipper Jack Grealish and defender Tyrone Mings to stake their claims to a place in the squad.

Villa keeper Tom Heaton, along with Everton’s Jordan Pickford and Michael Keane will also be under the microscope.

And Villa boss Dean Smith says that – whatever happens with Grealish – it will be Soiuthgate who decides if he is ready or not.

Grealish has made no secret of his England ambitions but has made a mixed return to the Premier League so far.

Villa boss Smith told reporters: “It’s down to Gareth if he deserves it or not, he’s not in control if he gets chosen for the squad.

“All he can control are his performances. If he keeps playing the way he did in the second half against Bournemouth he’ll soon get noticed.

“He’s a terrific talent and the one thing he’ll be disappointed with is the header he missed. He’s getting better and sooner or later he’ll be in that squad.

“He thrives whenever the pressure is better or greater for him. He is a real top player, we see it day in day out. Others only see it once a week.”

No hiding place for Villa coach

By Graham Hill

WHEN Kevin MacDonald briefly stepped into the manager’s hot seat nine years ago, he had a saying: ‘Self praise is no praise’.

It was meant as a reaction to any coach with an inflated ego who needed little invitation to push themselves publicly.

And that was seen as one of MacDonald’s faults.

Whenever the chance to be a manager came along, he did not push himself.

His time at Villa, in the public eye at least, was understated.

The Scot had a chance to take on the job of Villa manager when Martin O’Neill quit after a dispute over cash with former owner Randy Lerner.

At a time when the American did not know who to turn to after O’Neill’s departure leading up to the 2010-11 season, MacDonald was in pole position.

But his indecision probably cost him and it Gerard Houllier who got the job in a misguided appointment considering the Frenchman’s well documented health problems.

In his last press conference before handing over the reins, MacDonald thanked the media for the positive treatment of his short time in charge.

It was one of three spells as a caretaker boss for the ex-Liverpool and Coventry midfielder

All of this seems to be at odds with what emerged about the 58-year-old’s work with the club’s younger players.
MacDonald left his position as head of football development on Tuesday after an eight-month enquiry.

He was a reserve and youth team coach during two spells over a 25-year period and had already been re-allocated to non-player duties in the wake of allegations made last year by ex-Villa midfielder Gareth Farrelly.

A Villa statement read: “Aston Villa wishes to apologise to all former players who were affected by behaviour which would not be tolerated by the club today.”

Farrelly, who was with Villa between 1992 and 1997, described MacDonald’s regime as a ‘culture of physical and verbal bullying’.

MacDonald is a man who came up through the school of hard knocks at places such as Anfield when football culture was a lot different to nowadays.

Back then, it was accepted that coaches spoke to players in a certain way – we can safely say they did not stand on ceremony.

For MacDonald, this was clearly the way it was done. And the complaints stretch back over almost three decades.

The modern game does not tolerate bullying, it is common to hear that the ‘throwing tea cups again the wall’ mentality is long gone. But it is something that would have been ingrained into MacDonald – and some of the language used towards players does not look good in the cold light of day.

Pundit Sutton hits out at Villa

By Phil Jennings

FORMER Villa striker Chris Sutton is the latest pundit to cast doubts on their return to the Premier League.

Sutton insists he wants to stay in the Premier League,

The ex-Celtic and Blackburn forward played for Martin O’Neill’s Villa between October 2006 and May 2007 before retiring.

But he also expressed surprise that not many of last season’s promotion winning squad have survived into the new campaign.

That was because many of them were released and replaced with new, younger, players.

But the core of last season’s squad, Jack Grealish, John McGinn, Conor Hourihane, Tyrone Mings, Ahmed Elmohamady, Neil Taylor and Anwar El Ghazi HAVE played some part in the opening two fixtures.

Sutton praised owners Wes Edens and Nassef Sawiris for backing manager Dean Smith.

But despite two encouraging displays, Sutton told BBC 606 that he is not optimistic based on what he has seen so far.

The HITC site reported Sutton as saying: “It’s very difficult to criticise the board because they have given Dean Smith money

“You look at the team that got them promoted, there are not many of those players that are starting.

“Villa look to me that they are in a bit of trouble. You cannot give teams a four or five games head start. It was really important against Bournemouth.

“Against Spurs, in many ways was a free hit. But Bournemouth at home, with respect to Bournemouth, you’re thinking ‘what an opportunity’. Villa’s problem is, are their new players going to gel quickly enough? I’d love to see them stay in the Premier League.