By Callum O'Connell

5th Oct, 2023 | 10:15pm

Leander Dendoncker is not good enough - Three things learned in Aston Villa v Zrinjski

Aston Villa left it late to secure a 1-0 Europa Conference League win against Zrinjski Mostar on 5 October after struggling to beat the defensive block before a 94th-minute winner broke the deadlock.

It looked like one of those games for the Villans where they wouldn’t score had they played all night until captain John McGinn popped up with a guided header from a Matty Cash cross in the fourth minute of added time.

Zrinjski goalkeeper Marko Maric pulled off something of a masterclass, making eight saves to deny Emery’s men, while his defence blocked ten shots. With their 75% possession and 27 shots [Sofascore], Villa had to work for all three points. Here is what we learned from Villa’s victory.

Leander Dendoncker is not up to scratch

Dendoncker was hooked at half-time for the second consecutive game having suffered the same ignominy in the Carabao Cup defeat against Everton, and his performance proved he is simply not good enough.

In fact, his performances in the two games are scarily similar, which doesn’t bode well. The midfielder touched the ball 33 times in both games and was completely ineffective. Against Zrinjski he failed to complete a single dribble, interception, block, or tackle, leading to more questions about what he offers Unai Emery’s team [Sofascore].

Unai Emery isn’t afraid to make big calls

Going into the half-time interval at 0-0, Emery was clearly unhappy with what he had seen from his players and hooked Dendoncker, Lucas Digne and Jhon Duran at the break. The substitute of Digne for Cash proved vital as the latter assisted the winning goal.

The Spaniard does not shy away from making big calls and made similar changes in the cup clash against Everton with John McGinn, Dendoncker and Duran all dragged off. Emery sets high standards and if they are not being met, he’ll find someone who can meet them.

Setting these high tactical expectations will raise the standard of play as everybody is aware: if they are not good enough, they will not play.

The Conference League is tougher than expected

With due respect to the level of opponents in the third tier of European competition, it’s fair to say many expected Villa to stamp their authority on the tournament as Premier League rivals West Ham did last season.

Now, though, fans and pundits may start to realise it’s not as easy as it may have seemed at first glance. A 3-2 defeat to Legia Warsaw on the opening day followed by a frustrating 94 minutes before the goal tonight has proved everybody will have to be at the top of their game to succeed in this competition.

West Ham, last year’s winners of this competition, have set a new English record by going 17 games unbeaten in Europe, something Villa will need to aspire to if they are to progress further from here.

In other Aston Villa news, a 94th-percentile ace has thrived despite a crushing blow.