A whole month would have passed by the time Aston Villa supporters return to Villa Park this weekend ahead of the B6 showdown against Wolverhampton Wanderers.
We’re currently amidst another week of international football with several of Villa’s first-team stars playing in Europe, Africa and South America.
In fact, there’s just ten players putting the work in at Bodymoor Heath with staggered returns expected as the week progresses before Premier League action resumes on Saturday.
Here, BirminghamLive’s Ashley Preece picks apart what us fellow Villa fans would have learned after the first round of international matches involving members – and former members – of Dean Smith’s squad…
MARTINEZ ‘BEST IN THE WORLD’
Yet again, six-time Ballon d’Or winner Lionel Messi was full of praise and adulation for Villa No.1 Emi Martinez who, overnight, produced two stunning saves to deny Luis Suarez before Argentina ran out 3-0 winners over Uruguay.
Back in July, it was Messi who was quick to run over to Martinez as soon as La Albiceleste were crowned Copa America champions – Messi’s first major trophy with Argentina – with Martinez saving three penalties in the semi-finals against Colombia.
On Sunday evening, Martinez produced some heroics once again before Messi scored his 80th international goal and to become the first South American player to do so.
Messi said of Villa’s Martinez: “Dibu [Emiliano] Martinez is fundamental. “When they come to him, he always responds. “He established himself in goal and we have one of the best goalkeepers in the world.”
On Friday, Martinez was shortlisted for the Yashin Trophy, with France Football set to pick the best goalkeeper of the year amongst a list including the likes of Euro 2020 winner Gianluigi Donnarumma, Bayern Munich great Manuel Neuer and Champions League-winning stopper Edouard Mendy and others.
Martinez, as Villa fans know all too well, is world class and firmly amongst the best in the world as Messi pointed out. Just what a buy at £20million.
THE GRASS ISN’T ALWAYS GREENER
From one superstar to another now as ex-Villan Jack Grealish provided an openly-honest interview in the aftermath of his first goal for England.
The 26-year-old admitted after his strike against Andorra that he’s not hitting the heights he hit at Villa.
“I’m feeling good, feeling happy, I don’t think I’m playing the best football of my career at the moment,” he said. “I feel like even last year at Aston Villa, I was playing better than I am at the moment.”
Grealish has started every game under Pep Guardiola to date since his £100million transfer but, this weekend, he could well be out of the team with Phil Foden set to replace him.
It’s the first time in a long time where perhaps Grealish has felt a little vulnerable in terms of his form. The grass isn’t always greener is the famous old saying, one that could well be attached to a lot of former Villans who appeared to move onto ‘bigger and better things’.
MCGINN IN THE GOALS… AGAIN
To Grealish’s old mucker now and John McGinn proved his international credentials once again with another fabulous goal, one that’s taken his Scotland tally to 11 from just 39 caps. McGinn pulled one back at Hampden with an exquisite, curling effort into the far corner.
The 26-year-old scored his only Villa goal this season in a similar position, finishing first time on the bounce with that sweet left foot of his.
And that’s exactly where you want McGinn, arriving late near the 18-yard box to fire home.
McGinn managed just three in 37 games last season for Villa, with Smith forcing the Scot to play deeper to accommodate the likes of Grealish and Ross Barkley.
However, given the clear goal threat he carries, could we see McGinn play much higher up from hereon in? He just gives you so much more in attack.
TRAORE DIDN’T PLAY IN RED ZONE
Villa winger Bertrand Traore flew out to Burkina Faso last week for their World Cup qualifying double-header against Djibouti. However, on Sunday, Traore didn’t travel and, instead, stayed back at base with his country 4-0 winners. Djibouti was previously on the UK’s red list, while it’s clear Traore missed this match as a precaution given the previous quarantine restrictions that would have been in place, as per BirminghamLive’s guidance via Villa themselves. Traore has, though, just been ruled out of this afternoon’s return fixture against Djibouti in Burkina Faso due to an injury (5pm kick-off).
RAMSEY BROTHERS AND CARNEY
To Villa’s crop of Young Lions now with Jacob Ramsey making his first England under-21 appearance last Thursday in the 2-2 draw with Slovenia. The 20-year-old played the whole 90 minutes in midfield alongside Crystal Palace’s Conor Gallagher and Spurs’ Oliver Skipp.
BirminghamLive spoke with under-21s boss Lee Carsley last week, with the ex-Blues man speaking glowingly of Jacob and his younger brother, Aaron.
Aaron was in action for England’s under-19s out in Marbella and has scored two in two in games against France and, last time out, Mexico. Ramsey concludes his Marbella triple-header with a game against Belgium tomorrow (Tuesday). Young stopper Filip Marschall is alongside Ramsey in Spain, as is Carney Chukwuemeka who hasn’t featured yet having arrived with a slight injury which kept him out of Villa’s squad at Spurs.
Elsewhere, Jaden Philogene-Bidace played 90 minutes for England’s under-20s in their 1-1 draw against Italy last week. Kaine Kesler, who was promoted to the under-20s, was an unused sub.
DOUGLAS LUIZ, NAKAMBA & WATKINS
To others now currently on international duty and it’s annoying to know that Douglas Luiz is unlikely to feature at all for Brazil after his late call-up. The midfielder, 23, is now set to miss Villa’s next match at Wolves knowing he’ll be returning less than 24 hours before kick-off as he flies back into Birmingham via a private jet on Friday. Douglas was an unused sub in Brazil’s 0-0 draw with Colombia overnight while it remains to be seen if he’ll feature against Uruguay on Friday (12.30am UK-time).
Elsewhere, Marvelous Nakamba played 75 minutes in the 3-1 loss to Ghana on his return to the Zimbabwe set-up. Nakamba’s last cap was back in November 2020 knowing the 27-year-old has opted to stay at Bodymoor Heath in previous international weeks to make himself available to Smith. Nakamba is expected to start once again tomorrow (2pm UK-time) in the return match against Ghana in Harare before returning to Bodymoor on either Wednesday or Thursday.
To Villa’s other two international stars and Ollie Watkins came on to win his fourth England cap and, in doing so, banked former club Exeter another £75,000. Here’s the breakdown of the clause – via DevonLive – Brentford had put in for Watkins’ initial £28million transfer to Villa last summer, which rises to £33million:
- £1m per England competitive starting appearance (£150,000 of which goes to Exeter City)
- £500,000 as a sub (£75,000 to Exeter City)
- £500,000 for a ‘friendly’ start (£75,000 to Exeter City)
- £250,000 as a ‘friendly’ sub (£37,500 to Exeter City)
- £1m per year for Aston Villa remaining in the Premier League (£150,000 to Exeter City)
- The maximum total payment ceiling from Aston Villa to Brentford is £5m (a maximum of £750,000 for Exeter City).
- Villa have so far had to fork out £2.5million to Brentford off the back of Villa staying up last season (£1m), two substitute appearances (£1m) and two friendly caps from off the bench (£500,000)
And lastly, current third-choice goalkeeper Viljami Sinisalo captained Finland under-21s in three games against Estonia, Croatia and Azerbaijan. The 20-year-old, who’s highly regarded by goalkeeper coach Neil Cutler, is in action again tomorrow against Austria before returning back to base.