Buendia’s display adds to Villa doubts on Coutinho
By Sam Dalling at Turf Moor
Burnley Aston Villa’s playmaker turned to salute the travelling contingent after clinically completing his afternoon’s work. The moment the fourth official’s board confirmed a switch involving Villa’s No23, some 3,000 voices joined to salute their top performer. A goal, an assist and a victory; lovely. Except the name ringing out was not that of Philippe Coutinho. “He’s 5ft 7 of football heaven, please don’t take my Emi away,” they sang. The ditty centred on Emi Buendia, Villa’s 25-year-old Argentine maestro, and £33 million record signing. Seemingly, the answer to solving a problem like Buendia is a diamond with him at the tip, for he sparkled in the pockets between midfield and defence. Villa’s victory centred on slick passing triangles, the most important formed by Buendia, Danny Ings and Ollie Watkins. The lead came early, Buendia dissecting Burnley’s centre-backs. Ings’s calm left-footed finish was followed by a muted, respectful celebration. At times, Ings’s £25million price tag has weighed heavily. But with three goals and four assists in his past seven games, clicking is audible. Watkins’ diving header for Villa’s third made it five in 10 matches for him. The growing understanding between Watkins and Ings has Villa fans excited. They are very different players: Watkins carries the ball at pace and darts into blind spots, Ings is as comfortable supplying as he is scoring. Nine starts together under Steven Gerrard, plus an hour against Norwich, have yielded five strikes for Watkins, while Ings has three goals and four assists. On Saturday, their neat penalty-box interplay ended with Watkins finding Lucas Digne down the left. His cut-back allowed Buendia to finish from 12 yards. Not available was Jacob Ramsey, 20, who Gerrard believes is further developed than he was at the same age. Leon Bailey, 24, was the third summer signing aimed at filling a Jack Grealish-sized hole. His misplaced mojo and run of knocks mean he has started consecutive games just three times. But 25 goal involvements for Bayer Leverkusen last season tempted Villa to pay £25million for him. Bertrand Traore lurks in the wings, while Cameron Archer and Keinan Davis are excelling in the Championship. So, without a goal or an assist in six games, Coutinho was rotated out. He turns 30 shortly, and it will cost a further £33 million (plus exorbitant wages) to continue the temporary Barcelona arrangement. “We want Philippe Coutinho here,” Gerrard said. But the question for those holding the purse strings is whether Villa need him.