A chance for League Cup glory awaited the boys in claret and blue at Wembley, with recent Premier League woes cast aside. A dreadful performance against Southampton would have to be improved upon, or a rampant Man City side would surely tear the Villa to shreds. Dean Smith was evidently annoyed with the Saints performance, and promised big changes.
The Villans switched back to a back four, with Bjorn Engels, Ahmed Elmohamady and Orjan Nyland coming in for Konsa, Hause and Reina. The introduction of Elmohamady on the right of midfield was seemingly to nullify the threat of Raheem Sterling down the city left, a player that has caused all kinds of problems for Villa in the past.
The game started relatively well, with Villa going toe to toe with the Citizens. Anwar El Ghazi had a header over the top of the bar, and Villa kept hold of the ball effectively. But as has happened so many times this season, City turned the screw and Villa couldn’t cope. Phil Foden ghosted in behind Matt Targett, headed the ball across the box, and Sergio Aguero fired home. Ten minutes later a botched decision by the linesman gave City a corner. Once again, the Villans forgot how to mark, and Rodri headed in the second of the game.
At this point it seemed as if Man City could have a hatful of goals, much like at Villa Park earlier this term. Yet, the boys dug in and fought their way back into the game. John Stones slipped as the ball was played forward, El Ghazi crossed, Samatta buried the chance with a bullet header. This would be how the match remained; though the Villans gave their all, threw in some hefty tackles, and could have scored if it hadn’t been for a great save from Claudio Bravo late on.
With the final whistle there was a slight feeling of disappointment, but many of the Villa faithful had written off their side before the match. The more overwhelming feeling was pride, the Villa boys had given everything and nearly forced extra time, or could have even won it if the linesman had got the corner decision correct.
This heart and pride shown needs to be taken into the remaining games of the season.
If it is, the Villa have every chance of staying up.
Orjan Nyland – 7
Orjan Nyland had a good game between the sticks. Despite a couple of fumbles from high balls, the Norwegian was assured when called upon and made a couple of big saves. Nyland is a good goalkeeper; it has just taken him a while to settle in at the Villa. He could do very little about the two goals.
Frederic Guilbert – 6.5
At times Fred Guilbert was having to defend against both Sterling and Aguero on the city left hand side, on his own. Considering this, the Frenchman did a good job and made more tackles than any other Villa player. The full-back’s downfall was his marking for the second goal. Why he was man marking City’s tallest player? Who knows? Nevertheless, Guilbert let Rodri gain a couple of steps on him so he could have a free header.
Bjorn Engels – 7
The Villa defence looked so much more comfortable on the ball than it has done for a while, and that is partly due to the reintroduction of Bjorn Engels. Other than the huge mistake against Spurs, it’s hard to think of a time where Engels hasn’t been composed with the ball at his feet. The big Belgian had the most accurate passing of the defence, and made some key blocks and tackles when he was needed. If only he had directed his header, in the dying minutes, an inch or two further away from Bravo…
Tyrone Mings – 7
Tyrone Mings was back at the levels expected of him again. The England international led the defence fantastically, and made more blocks, interceptions and clearances than anyone else. Mings and Engels is the centre-back partnership that Dean Smith should continue to use from now on.
Matt Targett – 6
There were a number of times where Man City played cross field passes to Phil Foden on the right side, and there was no pressure on the City youngster. This was in part due to ineffective defending from Matt Targett. In a game where the left-back was less able to show his attacking skills, his poor tracking of runs was exposed. The first goal came from a ball into Foden where, Targett was caught ball watching. The 24-year-old did however put in a shift and worked hard, particularly in the second half.
Douglas Luiz – 6.5
Brazilian Douglas Luiz displayed improvement on the dismal performance against Saints. He burst forward from midfield to provide passing options on the front foot, and made a few interceptions. The Villa press was often led by Luiz in the second half as his energetically put pressure on the City defenders.
Though there wasn’t as much fight in his game as there has been at other times, the midfielder showed enough. If the truth be told though, Villa would have benefited from a little more snap in his passing at times, as sometimes he was too casual at key moments.
Marvelous Nakamba – 7
Marvelous Nakamba had one stand out moment in the game, a crunching tackle on Sergio Aguero. The Zimbabwean was booked for it, which seems a little harsh as he got the ball, but it summed up the grit that the Villans put into their performance. The hard-working midfielder scurried about the pitch as ever, providing some bite in the midfield. Though he isn’t the most graceful on the ball, he gets the job done and recycled possession successfully.
Ahmed Elmohamady – 6
While Fred Guilbert was defending against two Man City players, Ahmed Elmohamady was standing closer to the half way line than the penalty area. It’s easy to see why Smith picked Elmo, for his crossing ability and as a defensive cover while Guilbert gets forward, or to double up on a winger. Despite this Elmo seemingly hadn’t got the memo, as his tracking back was lazy. The Egyptian did put in a couple of good crosses and battled higher up the pitch, but his positioning was way off.
Jack Grealish © – 6.5
In big games you need big players like Jack Grealish, and for the majority of the game Pep’s plan to double up and close him out worked. Super Jack found it hard to influence the game and often found himself with his back to goal, surrounded by opposition players.
If Villa were going to win the game, Grealish would need to raise above and beyond. Unfortunately, his best Wembley showing remains his debut against Liverpool in 2015.
His performance wasn’t helped by the cramp he had in his legs in the final 15 minutes or so. He fought hard defensively, and was rightly aggrieved about giving away the ‘corner’ that led to the second goal.
Anwar El Ghazi – 6.5
There have been a lot of critics of Anwar El Ghazi in recent weeks, however the Dutchman adds something to the Villa team that no other player has, pace. He wasn’t fantastic before he was taken off before the 70-minute mark, but he importantly set up the Villa goal. El Ghazi also did a darn sight better at tracking back than Elmo on the opposite flank, which was a big surprise.
Ally Samatta – 7.5
Tanzania’s Captain Ally Samatta got one big chance in the time he was on, and he stuck it away. His header was fantastic, no goalkeeper was stopping it. He ran the channels well and put the city defence under pressure with his runs inside the box.
Samatta will score a few more goals for Villa for sure. It is a shame that the Villa faithful didn’t see Samatta play alongside Keinan Davis in the dying minutes. However, perhaps Man City would have easily run through the Villa midfield if either Luiz or Nakamba were taken off.
Off the Bench
Trezeguet (69) – 6
Despite Trezeguet tracking back with more energy than his compatriot Elmohamady, the Egyptian didn’t really do a lot. There were a couple of opportunities outside the box that the winger wasted, and it’s this lack of end product and decisive decision making that has been his downfall this season.
Conor Hourihane (69) – 6
Conor Hourihane’s introduction allowed Jack Grealish to move forward as he provided an extra body in the midfield. He put in a great corner for the Engels header, which is always a good point of bringing him on. Other than this and a bit of running about, Conor didn’t do anything else of note. He made one foul and four passes in over 20 minutes on the pitch.
Keinan Davis (79) – 7
In ten minutes, Keinan Davis bullied the Man City defence and kept hold of the ball well. His physical presence is hard for any defender to counter, and if it wasn’t for injuries, Davis would have had a lot more football under his belt. It would be interesting to see Keinan play alongside Samatta, though it’s hard to see how that would work in the system Smith is now trying.
Dean Smith – 7
It would have been easy to expect another dreadful performance after the Southampton horror show, and with memories of the 6-1 loss at Villa park. However, in a number of areas this showing was far from it. The fight, determination and spirit to not be rolled over by one of the best teams in world football was immense. Confidence can be taken from this, and the huddle on the pitch after the match shows the team are together, despite false reports of bust ups and questions over certain player’s character. The focus is now on 11 massive Premier League games.
Tactically, Deano got it mostly spot on, the more congested midfield made it harder for City to play through the Villa lines. The decision to play Elmo was one that didn’t ultimately work, but was very understandable.
The other decision that has been questioned was taking off Samatta. There are most likely two reason for this; saving Samatta for other games, and making sure that City couldn’t cut through a two-man Villa midfield at will.