It’s time for Emi Buendia to shine for Aston Villa
When Philippe Coutinho dropped to the ground and started complaining of being unwell, the Holte End quickly found their voice.
Sixty minutes had passed and Aston Villa were leading 1-0 against Everton, but the Brazilian again proved ineffective.
So instead of offering support to the striker suffering from what manager Steven Gerrard hopes is “just a cramp”, a chorus went to the man who was due to replace him.
‘Emi Buendia…from Argentina’ is a fan favorite at Villa Park.
It’s not that they don’t like or value Coutinho. The Holte End also sang passionately in his direction at the start of the game, hoping a little extra love would bring the 30-year-old to life.
By the time, however, many had seen enough. In the stands there was no major concern when he was down and regretfully told a member of Villa’s medical team that he was unable to continue.
His imminent departure was recognized by some as a blessing as the real excitement was about to come.
Buendia did more creativity in those final 30 minutes than Coutinho mustered in a full hour.
He scored what turned out to be the match winner – a tap-in set up by Ollie Watkins – after starting the move with his own midfield run. Buendia also created three chances for his teammates and completed 27 of his 31 passes.
For the second week in a row Coutinho was a disappointment. No chance created, no shot on target and only one touch in the opposing box. He worked hard and was able to free up space for others around him, but in terms of direct impact in the game, there was none.
As Gerrard pretty much decided the two couldn’t play together, especially when Watkins and Danny Ings are paired up front, the long-running dilemma centered around the South American playmaker’s debut.
It’s clear now that it’s Buendia’s time. He is the more productive option and deserves a starting place in the Villa squad at Crystal Palace on Saturday.
It’s not as clear as Coutinho has simply been favored ahead of Buendia so far. There is a little more.
Last season, when Coutinho was on loan from Barcelona, it was obvious he would play the majority of games as Villa wanted to convince him to stay.
The deal they eventually made was recognized as a bargain. The transfer fee has been reduced from £33m to £17m and Coutinho has agreed to fit into Villa’s salary structure, currently set at a limit of £125,000 per week.
Did Coutinho do enough last season to suggest a permanent transfer was the right idea? Pretty much, and mostly for discount fees.
This ambitious move helped Villa attract other players like Lucas Digne, Boubacar Kamara and Diego Carlos. There was also hope that with a full pre-season Coutinho would hit the ground running and shine in burgundy and blue.
Without a doubt there is magic in his feet and we have seen flashes of his genius. It’s far too early to critically judge his form after just two games, but right now he’s underperforming.
He was silent at the end of last season, scoring just once in 11 games, and his performances in the first week of this season have been sluggish.
Buendia is now fully fit and ready, but that hasn’t always been the case.
He missed the last pre-season friendly of the summer at Rennes and missed the start of the week before the opening day defeat at Bournemouth.
“He was winning the race for a starting spot and he injured his muscle in a behind-closed-doors game against Fulham (the day before the game against Rennes),” explained Gerrard.
“He then missed almost a week and his training performance was slightly lower than where he was before the injury. So we were patient with him and didn’t feel the need to risk him and put him on the line. have to start over from the beginning because of the muscle injury.
In his post-match press conference, Gerrard was directly asked if Buendia should now start.
“I think I did the right thing with Emi, which was to protect her health,” Gerrard said.
“We hired him when the team needed energy and quality, and he kept his promises. No one is more of an Emi Buendia fan than me.“
Gerrard also introduced Buendia as the first substitute at Bournemouth, when he replaced Jacob Ramsey at half-time. He is increasingly fond of the club-record signing, who arrived at Villa Park in a £33million deal from Norwich in June 2021, five months before Gerrard’s appointment. The only question is whether the manager is ready to play him at Coutinho’s expense.
It was Gerrard who pushed hard for his former Liverpool team-mate and without him in the Villa dugout the move wouldn’t have been possible. Coutinho his day may also be unplayable. His teammates speak of a wizard in training and although Buendia has his own skill set, it is perhaps his drive and determination to succeed that puts him on top, especially with the fans.
Buendia is a “warrior” in training. He fights for every challenge and desperately seeks to win every match on a small scale. It’s clear to see how badly he wants it when he plays too.
The challenge for him now is to do it from the start if he’s given the green light. Villa fans hope it will be as soon as possible.
(Top photo: James Williamson/AMA/Getty Images)