We need to take Aston Villa seriously. There’s just one thing for Unai Emery to sort…

Editor F365
Leon Bailey celebrates his goal for Aston Villa against Man City.
Leon Bailey celebrates his winning goal for Villa against Man City.

The Mailbox reckons Aston Villa’s start is sustainable, while even pessimistic Villans are starting to believe. Also: which of United or City are actually in crisis?

Get your views in to theeditor@football365.com


Nothing to see
I see you’re after a broader range of topics for the mailbox, particularly focusing on last night’s football?

Well unfortunately I support Villa, so I can’t think of anything to talk about sorry.
Neil Raines (oh my god)

Entering their Villan Era
The thing with Villa is they really are showing that their form is relatively sustainable having survived a year broken up by a summer transfer window. It’s not beyond the realms of possibility that they end the year top of the table looking at the fixtures of the top 4 coming up. Excluding the mitigating factor of Rodri not in attendance, this was a result that was genuinely on the cards in the run up to the fixture with both teams form in hand.

Away from the reductive banter comments of “Here’s what Arsenal could have won”(as if no manager has ever been a failure at one club and gone elsewhere to success). Emery deserves immense praise for the way he has got them playing from where they sat at the point of his arrival.

A reminder that this time last year, there was alot of talk of how amazing Newcastle’s turnaround was in the 12 months that preceded. Villa’s turnaround is all that and then some in my humble opinion. When Emery took over this wasn’t just a club struggling to find solid ground, this was a club with no ambition and less hope with no supporter gust of new cash rich owners.

Emery has turned a team of decent players, struggling to keep head above water, into a team of decent players far greater than the sum of their parts and I for one am ALL over it.
Harry Eduardo Hooler Esq.
(P.S: I’ve never really enjoyed Villa, even in their hey-day but something about this current bunch is effortlessly likable. Good on ’em)


…It’s just gone midnight, and I’ve just returned from Villa Park.

I’ll start with the caveats. I’d use them if Villa had 4/5 key players out. KDB and Rodri are such key players. Doku has had an immediate impact. Jack would have had a point to prove. Stones has only just come back from injury. It was clearly a good time to play Man City, and boy did Villa play them!

It could have been 3 or 4. Probably should have been. That would have been fair. City’s only 2 shots came early on. Villa had 22. Twenty-two! I could talk about every Villa player. They were all excellent. I’ll single out three though. Youri Tielemans; that’s much more like it. Control, energy, effort, a little bit of flair. Lovely stuff. Diego Carlos; easily his best game in a Villa shirt. By a country mile. Lastly…

Pau Torres. My word. There was only one problem with his performance, but it’s a massive one. Real Madrid, or City themselves, will pay anything for him. He was sensational. Faultless. He just looks so classy.

I’m loving this, whatever happens. Saturday should be good.
Gary AVFC, Oxford


…Wow. Just Wow.

This team. This manager. At home.

Anyone in any doubt of the job Emery has done need only look at the starting 11. 9 were inherited from the previous managers. This is a well drilled team with total buy in across all players of the managers methods.

This is a time to enjoy our club.


…Wow. Still a little bit blown away from the game last night. Even with our great home form I was expecting what normally happens against a top 4 team, we play well for a bit then crumble. I was not expecting to dominate any City team, with or without their suspensions and injuries. I know the narrative will be how poor City were, but remember we made them look that bad.

The whole team were magnificent, the game plan perfect. Kamara, McGinn and Luiz gave City no time on the ball in the middle of the field at all. Bailey, who I’m starting to love, is one of those frustrating players who is so, so good but his end product is utterly random. Emery is getting him in even more dangerous positions and his work rate has shot up.

When this Villa team are on fire at home they are unstoppable. If we could generate a bit more consistency away from home it could be a mad, mad season.
Funstar Andy


…As an Arsenal fan, obviously delighted with tonight’s results but JESUS Villa are a good team. Really don’t fancy playing them this weekend, should be a cracker.

I wonder do we have a receipt somewhere down behind the couch for Martinez. Top top quality keeper. It might not be fashionable in todays day and age of goalkeepers with no arms and good feet but he’s really good at you know, keeping the actual ball out of the net.

Watkins and Bailly upfront were excellent and Emery’s tactics of mixing long balls and excellent possession keeping was just spot on. He’s an excellent manager, the job he had at Arsenal was nearly impossible following Wenger. I’m nearly certain Villa will get champions league this year, they are a more solid team than Spurs, Newcastle and (obviously) United.


It’s the hope
I wrote a mail last night, to the tune of “if Villa can get through the next two games with four points then finally they might have to start taking us seriously. A look at everyone’s fixtures after that makes me think April 3rd might be crucial in the title race.”

I’d had a few, but good sense prevailed and I didn’t press send. Obviously Man City would turn up and ruin our record home winning streak. There would be once again 4 goals at Villa Park but all away goals.

As with most supporters of most teams, you expect the worst, then say “typical (insert team name here) when it inevitably (sometimes) happens.

But then a game like that happens and your silent, internal long-suffering but eternally doomed hope starts to form an ethereal shape of “What if?..” “What if?!!”

Then you remember the origin of Fergie-time, John Gregory’s side 1998, Graham Taylor and Alan Macinally and realise we’re Villa, it won’t end well.

But it still might..
Pessimistic brummie


The blueprint to beat City
City still favourites to win the league of course but have teams finally worked out how to get at the Death Star that is city?
Started by Chelsea, then Liverpool and Spurs then perfected by Villa?

Keep the ball at the back and be brave by playing through the press without panic. Then you’re into their midfield and if the ref is strong enough to clamp down on their tactical fouls before you know it their central midfielders are both on a yellow card and you’re in to their defence when anything can happen. With City’s injuries pep was severely hamstrung in the changes he could make but the blue print is there….


Whose crisis?
Worst United side since Fergie. A team in dysfunctional crisis with players who have given up and a clueless manager at the helm sit just 3 points behind the best team to ever play the game (apparently)..

Football is a funny game right?
Richard, Manchester.


…15 games into the season and ETH is 1 win behind Pep. Can we call for both their heads now?
Fox in Berlin


…I’m unsure where the Manchester United Crisis Swingometer will be pointing after tonight’s game. Such much crisis! They’ve lost games! They’re bottom of their CL group! The players don’t like the manager! Gary Neville is BORED!!!!!

But also, they’re actually IN the CL, unlike Pool, Chelsea & Spurs. They’re 3 points behind City. And….Chelsea.

Are they now back in the title race? A couple of smart signings in January and…yeah, scratch that.

ManYoo Mailboxers, please adjudicate! I’d ask for marks out of 10, but in the spirit of Ed Woodward, maybe marks out of 659,000,000 (global fans)
Stewart, Chicago

Read more: Man United 2-1 Chelsea: 16 Conclusions on a much better night for Ten Hag as McTominay is at it again


Draws are for losers
In the 03/04 season, Wenger’s Arsenal went the entire season without losing a game.

It seems 20 years later, ten Hag’s Manchester United are attempting to go the entire season without a draw.

That should set a new record.
Tunji, Lagos.


…The question on everyone’s mind, 15 games in, must be wether Manchester United can do it this season.

The Undrawables.

Stijn, Amsterdam

Man Utd celebrate goal against Chelsea.

Highs and lows
16 conclusions suggests the win against Chelsea was “a huge night in the Old Trafford reign of Erik Ten Hag”. I don’t think so. Just as every dropped point isn’t a crisis, every victory isn’t a crisis averted. It’s just another game in a long old season. A season which is long enough to make this flip flopping tiresome. Just let him get on with the job and see what the outcome is at the end of the season.

“Favourite in the sack race”? Says who? We all know that crisis at utd sells papers and gets clicks, which was made clear to TH in a press conference recently, but the only ones painting it into a crisis are the ones desperate for the clicks. The same ones pushing the narrative that TH is anywhere close to being sacked. It’s nonsense.

There’s a manager currently leading the league who would have been hounded out long ago if the media had their wicked way. As a reminder, Arsenal finished 8th in Arteta’s second season and was consistently named as favourite to be sacked right through most of his third season (when they finished 5th). He was roundly mocked on these very pages. They stuck by him and now are seemingly starting to reap consistent rewards.

I don’t expect the media to change by showing foresight and patience. I get it, that’s what pays the bills and Utd are the biggest show in town. But I do expect knowledgeable and reasonable supporters to see beyond the bullshit and ignore the narrative being peddled. Club in crisis yet touching distance from top 4, 3 points behind City after our ropey start and TH has had to deal with a level of off-pitch absurdity that frankly would have made many walk away. Fixing United was never going to be a quick fix, stop treating it like it could be.
Garey Vance, MUFC


Swapping Rashford for Mbappe
Personally I do not know what is happening to Marcus Rashford but it clear that he is not happy. Perhaps a change is as good as a rest. So why not negotiate a loan swap?

Mbappe is out the PSG door at the end of the season for nothing. So why doesn’t MUFC offer to buy Mbappe for, say 20 million and negotiate a 2 year deal with him. As a sweetener, PSG would get 50% of any re-sale so PSG gets to recoup anything from 70-80 million over 2 years instead of nothing. In exchange, MUFC loans Rashford to PSG for nothing, with PSG having the option to purchase him at the end of the season for 60 million. Their salaries will probably be a wash.

It gives some players a chance to sample a different league, country and culture, while it offers others a fresh start. Quite frankly, I am surprised this has never been explored before. Clubs loan out young players all the time. Wouldn’t a player like Rashford gain valuable experience playing in another league?

Imagine Messi playing for United for Season while Giggs played for Barcelona, Spurs could have done a deal for Lewindovski in exchange of Kane, etc.

Hopefully Sir Jim will bring some innovative ideas into football.
Adidasmufc (what Universe am I in when Anthony plays better than Rashford?)


The problem with penalties
16 conclusions touched on something I’ve been thinking about for a while. Amongst the constant VAR/handball/refereeing debate, something is always missed. One of the problems that makes penalty decisions so contentious is in the very nature of penalties themselves. The penalty in football, the way it is awarded and the way it can change a game, is unique in sport. Other sports have ‘penalties’ but they are very different to football.

Football is a low scoring game. The lowest of any sport, bar some very niche ones (Pok-A-Tok, I’m looking at you). There is an average of around 2.75 goals per game in football. If you score, you’ve a good chance of winning (Unless you’re Spurs). Go 2 goals up and you really should not lose. That makes a penalty incredibly powerful. Have one awarded and your chance of winning increases enormously.

Compare that to other sports, that have a similar penalty award. In ice hockey you can be awarded a penalty shot, but in the NHL there are on average 6+ goals a game. In field hockey it’s over 4. In Rugby, a penalty try (the closest comparison is with 7, but there are on average 50 points a game. What that means is that when awarded, these penalties have less of a significant impact on the outcome.

Add to that as well that these penalties are FAR less common in these other sports. And there is a clear reason for that. In all other sports (that I can think of) a penalty is awarded only on the deliberate prevention of a goal scoring opportunity. In ice hockey if a player is fouled when through on goal, penalty stroke. Any other foul is a 2 minute sin bin. In rugby, a penalty try is awarded after foul play prevents a probable try from being scored. Any other foul is just a penalty to be kicked at goal or touch. A field hockey penalty is only for deliberately denying a goal scoring opportunity. Any other foul in the penalty “D” results in a penalty corner (which is more like 30-40% chance of scoring, far lower than football).

No other sport has a rule like football. Foul on the end of the box? Free kick, very low chance of scoring. Move that foul six inches. Penatly. 80% chance of scoring. Most penalties are not really “deserved”, in terms of the punishment fitting the crime. A cross comes in, a team are not going to score, but it flicks off the defender’s hand, here you go, have a goal.

I feel like that’s often why penalties are so contentious. Even though by every letter of the law it’s a penalty, and even though you can say “players should be more careful”, it still just feels injust. I remember watching Brentford v Newcastle this year. I think it was Gordon who was fouled as the ball was running off the pitch. He was going nowhere. Was it a foul? Yes. Was it technically a penalty? Yes. If you were creating rules for a sport where the punishment fit the crime, would it be? Absolutely not.

It’s never going to change, and I’m not even saying that it should. We love football, we love the drama and this adds to it. But it’s worth remembering when people say “VAR works in other sports” that football is different, because decisions can feel wrong, even when they are right.
Mike, LFC, Dubai


Your move, Roy
I suppose the question is: who is the real fool? The fool who sits through Wolves v Burnley because it started earlier instead of waiting for Luton v Arsenal, or the fool who intentionally sits through Crystal Palace v Bournemouth? Answer: they’re both me.

*That was grim, but not unexpected. Going into the match, Roy Hodgson’s team had won a single game from their last seven, and with a tough run of games to come, this was one people thought was eminently winnable. Of course, to win games you need to prevent your opponents from scoring, not give them free headers, and then score yourself, something that becomes difficult when your forward players can’t string passes together.

*What’s worse is that the team feels stagnant, and this is something that is the manager’s doing. Writing to the Mailbox is always a little bit of a cry for help no matter the author, but this is a situation I recognise from real life. There is no prospect of reward or recognition for doing the job well, and equally, there are no repercussions for doing it badly, so I don’t feel remotely motivated to do a good job. Similarly, at Palace, when the same team plays every week and doesn’t win, it sends a clear message to the entire squad: to the starters, you don’t actually need to play well to keep your place in the team; to the others, it doesn’t matter how well you impress in training, you won’t get to start, you’ll just get cameos, and be expected to do more in a few minutes than the player you replace did in most of the game; if you do, that’s proof you’re suited to being a super sub, but if you don’t, that’s proof you’re not ready to start. It’s hardly surprising the club is in a funk when there is neither carrot nor stick to motivate players into better performances.

*After the match, Hodgson made the sort of comment that sounds bizarre in isolation but is actually part of a track record accumulated over 50 years of not giving a toss about what supporters think.

Strangely enough I do take issue with this statement. Palace have played in the Premier League in the last ten seasons, finishing somewhere between 10th and 15th each time; their first season back in the top flight saw them win eight home games, they won just five in 2018-19 and in every other season since they have won either six or seven. 2014-15 (4/6) and 2021-22 (4/7) are the only times when the majority of those home wins have come against teams who went on to finish above the Eagles in the final table. Most of the time, it seems, Palace’s victories at Selhurst Park are against opponents they should be beating anyway, yet the indifference of their home form overall suggests those struggling teams will identify Palace away as a game they can win.

Maybe it’s a generational thing, where Hodgson was born in the time of post-war rationing and sees any luxury (or escape from the drudgery) as “being spoilt” where those of us younger than him want to have enjoyment every day. In football terms, that doesn’t only meaning winning matches, though that would be nice, but having something about the performance to be positive about. That’s decidedly different to Hodgson’s suggestion that fans expected his side to “blow Bournemouth away” having got “an excellent point” against West Ham at the weekend.

*Ultimately, Hodgson presents a curious dichotomy: when his side play badly, it inevitably looks like it’s down to a reliance on outdated tactics, and yet his return to the club showed he could set up a team to win in the possession-first, patient build-up style that is prevalent in modern football. This move away from the safety first approach was what kept him in the Premier League when others taking a similar approach were finding work in the lower leagues if they found it at all. What happens next is mainly up to him: can he win people back over or will he, through his words or his team’s performances, make the situation worse.
Ed Quoththeraven


Ramsdale v Raya
Been trying to stay quiet on this Raya debate because there’s some terrible opinions on here but it needs to be said. Ramsdale was playing very poorly towards the end of last season and started this season off poorly too. If Ramsdale was playing as Raya is now, nobody would say anything. He’s under such a huge microscope and people are making mountains out of moleholes. Last night was probably the first time I’ve been pissed off with him but I’m willing to give him time. He looked excellent at Brentford and its not as if it’s just Arsenal who wanted him. Spurs, Bayern and Madrid were all linked. Do people not remember what happened the last time we played Ramsdale in the PL? Those errors were definitely worse than Raya’s, we were just lucky enough he wasn’t punished. He was horrendous. I like Ramsdale and I do feel bad for him but I’m happy Arteta did it, because Wenger wouldn’t have. I’m very confident it will all work out.

Read more: Can Arsenal win the Premier League with a ‘dodgy keeper’ and no muscle memory?