Tim Sherwood's men ended their pre-season training camp in Portugal with a 0-0 stalemate against the Primeira Liga outfit.
Aston Villa FC (@AVFCOfficial) July 17, 2015
Carles Gil shows his class
A day after Sherwood declared his intent to hand him more minutes, the Spanish playmaker showed exactly why fans were calling for his inclusion throughout last season’s run-in.
Starting in a No. 10 role, he proved Villa’s star performer of the first-half, buzzing all over the pitch while linking the midfield with the attack and threading a number of delightful through balls to Gabby Agbonlahor.
Perhaps the most significant part of his performance, though, was his defensive work, as the former Valencia man looked excellent tracking back and put in a number of strong challenges.
With displays like that, it’s impossible to see how Sherwood can leave him out of his plans for the coming campaign.
With Christian Benteke’s departure looking imminent, Agbonlahor will have to step up in the goals department this season and, while he failed to get on the scoresheet, his performance certainly served as an encouraging sign going forward.
Skipper on the night, the long-serving striker could have had a hat-trick in his 45-minute run-out, having been brought down when through on goal in the 11th-minute, produced a few teasing shots soon after and then seen a powerful strike rocket off the crossbar just before the half-hour.
It’s easy to forget how rejuvenated he looked under Sherwood last season before going down with a hamstring strain in April and, if he can manage to rediscover that form, then the blow of losing Benteke will be much less painful to deal with.
Youngsters make their mark
Sherwood’s penchant for giving homegrown products a chance has been well-documented at this point and, in Niall Mason, Janoi Donacien and Riccardo Calder, he has three who look like they could be knocking on the first-team door before long.
Donacien and the versatile Mason both looked comfortable at centre-half and right-back, respectively, while Calder was arguably Villa’s standout player of the second-half, as he was constantly pushing to win the ball and drive things forward.
While things might look gloomy at Villa Park at the moment with Fabian Delph gone and Benteke soon to follow him out the door, there are definitely reasons to be optimistic about the future.
While neither Kozak nor Cole, who was starting in a deeper midfield role, could manage to create much in the attacking third, both certainly looked fighting fit and eager to impress.
It remains to be seen how Sherwood sees them fitting into his plans for the season but, with the two aforementioned departures, the pair could be set to earn a lot more minutes than anticipated at present.
Aleksandar Tonev’s audition falls flat
There were nevertheless a few underwhelming performances against Braga, including from Tonev.
After a lacklustre season out on loan at Celtic, which saw him serve a seven-match ban for racial abuse, the Bulgarian winger was surprisingly handed a lifeline to resurrect his Villa career for Sherwood’s first pre-season in charge but he has shown little so far to prove he deserves it.
A virtual passenger for most of the second-half, he will need to do a lot more over the coming weeks to push himself into the first-team picture.