West Bromwich Albion 0 – 3 Aston Villa
A trip to the Hawthorns to play West Brom was perhaps a good omen for Villa, considering they were the opponent the last time Villa actually won a game before Christmas Day, eight seasons ago. Newly appointed West Brom manager, Sam Allardyce, would be looking to end the Albion’s woes quickly.
27 attempts and no goals, against a deep-sitting Burnley, made it clear which area Villa had to improve. Big Sam would set out his team in a solid 4-1-4-1 formation, and much like Burnley, attempt to stifle Villa attacks. This meant the stage was perfectly set for Villa to prove they can be clinical in front of goal.
Matty Cash and Douglas Luiz came straight back in to Dean Smith’s starting XI, after completing their bans. The new nine substitutes ruling meant that no one dropped off the bench to make way for Marvelous Nakamba and Ahmed Elmohamady. Anwar El Ghazi and Bertrand Traore would be looking to put their big misses against the Clarets behind them, as their play otherwise was very good. There was still no sign of Ross Barkley in the squad, even though it was said the attacking midfielder would be back to fitness.
The Villans hardly had to get out of first gear in the first half. The hosts were on the back foot from the off, and didn’t get past the halfway line very often at all. Bertrand Traore found some space, looped a ball to the back post, and it was that man, Anwar El Ghazi, who deftly placed the ball past Sam Johnstone at the near post.
A red card for Jake Livermore didn’t help Big Sam’s welcome party, and Villa continued to dominate. Some fantastic link-up play, and passing moves, resulted in some good positions for Dean Smith’s men, but not many more shots. Kortney Hause was lucky to get away with a borderline yellow card, VAR ruling in his favour. The Home side were most likely very relieved to get in at the break only one down.
The domination didn’t relent in the second half, as Villa controlled the possession. Jack Grealish broke down the left early on, and placed a ball onto the head of John McGinn, who put the ball just wide. It seemed as if Villa were going to be frustrated looking for a second, when Traore threaded the ball through to Matty Cash, who’s cross was placed into the net by Ollie Watkins. VAR had other ideas, and ruled out the goal for being the slightest fraction offside. This spurred the hosts onto to make a very rare venture into the Villa half, but all they achieved was opening up the game. Jack Grealish slipped in Bertrand Traore, who’s slick deceptive finish wrong-footed Johnstone in the Albion net.
Not long after Grealish darted into the box, and was clumsily brought down by Ajayi. El Ghazi once again stepped up, and placed the ball into the centre of the net. 3-0, Job done, and with very little for the Villa faithful to get stressed about.
An xG of 0.02 from the Baggies shows just how toothless, and inept in attack, they were. Yes they were down to ten men, but Hause and Mings hardly had to break a sweat. Though Hause was probably sweating when VAR was checking his first half tackle.
An emphatic derby win is a fantastic way to send Villa into Christmas. With Crystal Palace the opponents on boxing day, there isn’t any reason why the Villans couldn’t get another three points on the board.
Emiliano Martinez – 7.5
There were some hopeful calls for a red card for Emi Martinez from West Brom fans in the first half. The Villa ‘keeper rushed out and touched the ball outside of his area. However, it wasn’t denying a goal scoring opportunity, so a free-kick alone was fair. Otherwise, the Argentinian had little to do other than sweep up a handful of hopeful long balls, and save one free kick easily.
Matty Cash – 8
The darting runs of Matty Cash down the right provided some real threat for Villa. His link up with Bertrand Traore was at times fantastic, as Traore cut inside and Cash overlapped. This was most obviously seen for the Watkins disallowed goal, as Cash found space between defenders.
Kortney Hause – 8
Bar the one dodgy tackle, Kortney Hause was assured and calm at the back. He moved the ball on quickly, and didn’t allow Karlan Grant to get any sniff of goal. Any lumps up the pitch were met by Hause, as he won the most aerial duels of any Villa player. This cut out the Baggies main method of getting out from the back, and so Villa could keep up the pressure.
Tyrone Mings – 8
Tyrone Mings had very little to do at the back. A footrace with Matt Phillips provided the only real workout for the Villa centre-half. It was surprising he didn’t get a little more adventurous and bomb forward from the back. He was likely a little bored with the lack of attacking threat posed by West Brom.
Matt Targett – 8
Whenever West Brom tried to play down the right, there was Matt Targett to sweep up. The full-back made two tackles and three interceptions, as both Matt Phillips and Grady Diangana tried their hands at getting past him, with little success. Targett also added an option on the attack, forming a triangle of passing with El Ghazi and Grealish on the left.
Douglas Luiz – 8
It was good for Villa to have Douglas Luiz back in the team. His confidence on the ball was very useful, while Villa rotated the possession, to find a way to break through the deep Baggies defence. He wasn’t rushed by any pressing from the West Brom midfield, and made a few forays forward to contribute to the attack.
John McGinn – 8
John McGinn was his all-action self at the Hawthorns. He won the ball back in midfield excellently, winning four tackles and making an interception. His shooting boots weren’t on, all four of his shots were off target, but his ability to burst forward at pace with the ball as ever aided the Villa cause. The Scot also played a lovely ball in behind to Anwar El Ghazi in the second half, highlighting how good his passing was.
Bertrand Traore – 8.5
Outfitted in his Burkina Faso wristbands, Bertrand Traore tore up the West Brom defence. The looped ball to El Ghazi for the opener was inch perfect, and the winger nearly repeated the feat in the second half with a cross to Matt Targett. Despite clearly having no right foot, the West Brom defenders still couldn’t predict his movements, as he played passes and took on opposition players. His finish for the second goal was pinpoint, and deceptively slow, which seemed to take Sam Johnstone by surprise.
Jack Grealish © – 9 MOTM
Just the eight key passes, one assist, one penalty won and four dribbles by Jack Grealish. A standard day at the office for Super Jack. The Villa captain really was a cut above the rest, as he drifted from position to position as the game went on. The ‘battle’ that was touted in midfield between Grealish and Romaine Sawyers, was more of a walkover. He seemed to have more time on the ball than any other player, and any tactic to stop the 25-year-old simply didn’t work.
Anwar El Ghazi – 8.5
This performance will have shut any doubters of Anwar El Ghazi up. When he is confident, he can be quite some player. The delicate outside of the foot finish for the opener was a great start, and the Dutchman exploded into life after. He was shooting at every opportunity, highlighting his confidence, and he calmly slotted the penalty away. The way he danced past defenders to nearly add a third was sensational. It would have been one of the great Villa goals, had Johnstone not spoiled the fun.
Ollie Watkins – 7.5
VAR really isn’t Ollie Watkins friend, first at the London stadium, and now at the Hawthorns. It seems to punish strikers like Watkins, who look to make run in behind defenders. In terms of his general play, he seemed to drift in and out of the game a little, in a match in which Villa had so much of the ball. There was no mistake about his finish for the disallowed goal, but two shots for a striker in a game like this isn’t great. That being said, when he did get involved more, he linked up nicely, held the ball up and added another dimension to the Villa attack.
Dean Smith – 8
A goal early on is a way to shake off any ideas about Villa not taking their chances. Dean Smith has used players like El Ghazi and Traore very well, and the way Villa are playing right now is playing to their strengths. If Ross Barkley was fully fit for the Crystal Palace game, Smith would be scratching his head about who to take out. The partnerships out wide are great to see, Traore and Cash particularly.
With 22 points in 12 games, the progress Villa have made since last season is mind blowing. Hats off to Smith and the team at the Villa for creating a positive team, that can put away teams like West Brom, in a way that wouldn’t have happened last season. Villa have got the Merry Christmas they were after, now it’s time for a Happy New Year.