Reina kept the scores level with an acrobatic save.
Words: Harry Trend | @HazaTrand
Pepe Reina made himself the difference between one point and no points today, as the Spaniard got a strong hand to Neal Maupay’s late acrobatic effort at the American Express Stadium.
Some fans were ambivalent to the arrival of Reina on a half-season loan from AC Milan earlier this month – and although signing a striker has, or at least should be Aston Villa’s top priority this window, the number 29 might be the extra bit of grit and experience that the Villans need to survive the relegation battle.
Reina’s debut performance on the South Coast was filled with the same confidence in which he sang his now-viral initiation song, with his first action being a decisive punch to deny Maupay any chance at an aerial effort.
He continued this assuredness throughout the 90, unafraid of organising an Aston Villa defence known to him for just under a week.
In his post-match interview, Dean Smith heralded Reina’s performance, exclaiming:
“You wouldn’t know that he was making his debut for a new team”
“I know he’s a world cup winner and experienced goalkeeper, but he showed a lot of calmness on the ball and certainly with his feet”
“The players know they have got a calm head behind the ball – that character and charisma he’s got is exceptional, and it’s rubbing off on our back three because they were excellent in the second half.”
The former Liverpool ‘keeper was accurate with his kicking, and rarely did a driving ball not find a man in claret and blue.
There was a decisiveness about Reina too, as the former Spain international ventured well out of his box to sweep up a long Brighton ball before the aforementioned Maupay could pick up the pass.
Admittedly, Reina’s signing and inclusion in the starting eleven did look harsh on Orjan Nyland; and parallels could be drawn to Tom Heaton coming in to take Jed Steer’s spot at the beginning of the campaign.
In fairness, Nyland has somewhat shaken his “not good enough for the Premier League” tag since replacing Heaton – but an upgrade is an upgrade – and with Reina so long in the tooth, it’s likely that he’ll pass on expertise to the younger contingent in the squad.
In his post-match interview, Jack Grealish remarked about Reina’s qualities of ‘professionalism’ and ‘knowledge of the Premier League’.
He might not be the solution to Villa’s problems up to, but today’s showing has illustrated that Pepe Reina has joined Aston Villa for the right reasons.