This article is part of Football FanCast’s The Chalkboard series, which provides a tactical insight into teams, players, managers, potential signings and more…
Dean Smith’s first-ever Premier League line-up gave us an insight into how Aston Villa will operate this coming season.
Only four new names were handed a debut in the claret and blue which may have been a surprise considering 12 summer signings walked through the door at Villa Park.
Tom Heaton, Bjorn Engels, Trezeguet, Tyrone Mings and club-record signing Wesley Moraes were those five which meant the likes of Conor Hourihane, Neil Taylor and Ahmed Elmohamady all kept their places despite healthy additions in their positions.
They performed well for the most part and looked like opening their Premier League account with the surprise scalp of Tottenham Hotspur, the Champions League finalists, until normality was restored with a Tanguy Ndombele thunderbolt and a brace from Harry Kane.
On the chalkboard
The inclusion of Taylor and Elmohamady would have raised a few eyebrows after the performances of Frederic Guilbert and Matt Targett in those positions all pre-season.
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It appears that Smith is giving last season’s heroes a chance to keep their spot having been integral parts of the club’s historic ten-win run to the playoffs, in which they duly earned promotion to the big time.
That is a brave call considering Targett played occasionally in the Premier League for Southampton last season and Guilbert was plying his trade in France’s top-flight for Caen.
In pre-season the pair conceded just three goals in five matches when played together and looked certain to be Smith’s first-choice options at full-back.
It was Elmohamady on the right which particularly caught the eye as he looked to be a vital outlet to Trezeguet, his fellow countryman, which suggests that is a link we could see flourish going forward.
The 31-year-old recorded a 82% passing success rate against the Champions League runners-up which was better than what John McGinn or Anwar El Ghazi could muster up.
Elmohamady also ranked third in the Villa side for total tackles (3) and clearances (5).
On that basis, it’s unlikely that the 6 foot Egyptian will lose his spot just yet.
However, he must ensure to keep his performances up as the 24-year-old Guilbert will be hot on his heels in terms of competition.