The Maracana had an expected low turn-out for the first round of the Youth Cup but that did not deter both teams from giving it their all. As noted earlier, Flamengo would prove to be a tricky side. However it was Villa who started off strongly, and Ryan Fraser poked the ball in from a Derlis Gonzalez free-kick in the 7th minute. Flamengo had numerous chances as the game progressed but were unable to convert due to the numerous saves of Per Bratveit. Eventually Villa managed to get another goal. CB Turnbull somehow found himself making a run along with left-back Declan John, who converted the cross to make it 2-0. They didn’t seem to make it back in time, for Flamengo got one back just 3 minutes later with eventual MOTM Bonatini smashing it in. The game remained 2-1 to Villa. Flamengo could consider themselves unlucky to gain a point as they had more shots on target. They are unlikely to go far this in the Cup, but they certainly are a tricky proposition, especially home.
Most of the boys flew back home to Villa from Brazil, except for Per and Derlis who had to fly along with the staff to Bordeaux for the D3 game. Derlis started but was clearly knackered, while Per remained on the bench. A game we dominated from start to finish, we grabbed all 3 points through two late goals. Waris scored his maiden goal in the league for us, converting from a Sinclair cross in the 70th minute, while Ayew was fouled in the box 8 minutes later and duly converted the penalty to make it 2-0. Having more possession and shots through the game, it was a deserved victory for the lads.
Ridiculous scheduling meant we had to travel again, this time to Turkey, for Round 1 of the Shield. Fatigue definitely kicked in as we were unable to assert ourselves early on, falling behind to goals from Adin (16′) and Bulut (40′). Poor defending and keeping from Hitz meant that we were going out of the knockout competition again, but for Eder, who scored a brace (his maiden goals) through free-kicks to somehow stretch the game to penalties. He couldn’t convert his penalty though, being foiled by the keeper. Wickham, Veretout and Grealish all scored great penalties (Grealish, been given a chance, did not thoroughly encourage in his play) but Carlos Sanchez missed his penalty to put us out. Unfortunate, as we again had more shots and possession, but it was an encouraging comeback from 2-0 down. Having already failed two objectives, this could be a blessing in disguise for us as we try to get promoted. Only bad news is for the squad players who will play even lesser now. In that respect Eder has done well.
With that disappointment we finally went back home to prepare for the Hoffenheim game. They had beaten us twice last season, but they lined up in a very defensive 5-4-1. Aimed to get a point in a (tricky?) away game, they did well in stifling us, even if we did get a goal in the 29th minute courtesy Scocco, who scored his second goal for us. Eventually the frustration led to a false pass and then Polanski fed the ball to captain Schwegler who converted. 1-1 the final result, and we yet again dominated possession. A boring game all round, poor spectacle for the near-full attendance fans. We must improve. Scocco did win MOTM though, impressed with him so far, and a place in the TOTW for the round.
Improve we did, and entertain we did too, in the next game away in Sassuolo. They are a side that were promoted last season and have a good manager in Bob Groucho, hence we were not expecting an easy game. We started off though with a first minute goal from Scott Sinclair, his first of the season, assisted by Ayew. The game was pretty open leading up to the 39th minute where Sinclair turned provider for Sanchez, who also scored his first of the season. Zaza however cut short the deficit through a well-aimed shot, making it 2-1 going into HT. Soon after the break that became 3-1 as Eder assisted Sinclair who scored his second goal. Defrel cut the lead back again in the 72th minute, with Sansone getting his second assist of the game yet it wasn’t enough to down Villa who got a valuable win away from home. We have scored the most goals in our division so far after CSKA Moscow which is good to see. We also have 9 different goal-scorers and 10 different assisters. Encouraging. Sinclair of course got MOTM for his virtuoso performance and is a definite for this round’s TOTW.
We are now 4th, 5 points off the top. We are facing a strong Basel side next, who are 1 point behind us. Very important game for both teams. Two of their players are ruled out for the game though, which is good news for us, including their own Carlos Sanchez.
In transfer news, Adryan Tavares has joined our youth squad and while isn’t a huge upgrade on Ryan Fraser, will be good to have. Sadly Fraser had to go but his goal in the first game will be remembered. Courtney Duffus also left us as part of the deal. He’ll make his debut next Saturday in the Youth Cup.
Speaking of which, our scouts were in place on Saturday to watch our rivals play their YC games in the Bernabeu and the BayArena. Here’s what they have to say:
Reginald Ray at the Bernabeu: ‘Madrid showed their dominance, bossing over possession and the game in general. However Keano failed to get a winning goal over a side inferior in quality. Lot of hype and over-confidence in general. Keano himself later said how he was disappointing by the blue square in the schedule. To be fair, Madrid did have a multitude of shots and if not for Vlachodimos, the keeper, who got a rating of 10 from AS and MOTM, Levante would have lost badly. Entertaining game, definitely, good to see.‘
Eric Black at the BayArena: ‘Leverkusen stamped their authority upon Flamengo. We’ve seen that Flamengo were a tricky side, but the Germans were simply professional and there was no doubt who would win. Calhanoglu in particular impressed and we’ll need to be upon our best to stand a chance next week against the Germans.‘
That’s about it for this week’s episode. I’d also like to welcome Andre Libras-Boas as manager of Boca, I know him from another GW and believe he is the right fit for Boca. He’s already impressed early getting a debut win. Good luck ALB!