Leeds United 0 – 1 Aston Villa
There was a clear issue in Aston Villa’s last outing against Leicester City. The Foxes cut through the same Villa midfield that had been overrun by Brighton previously. Change was needed. Villa’s opposition, Leeds, have the ability to cut through a lightweight midfield themselves, and last time out put a shaky Southampton team to the sword. A short, mad spell at Villa Park earlier this term, against Marcelo Bielsa’s men, led to a defeat by three Patrick Bamford goals. The Leeds striker would be leading the line once more, and has certainly had several eventful outings, up against the claret and blue of Villa.
Dean Smith made the midfield changes, that were called for by large sections of the Villa faithful. Douglas Luiz and the out of form Ross Barkley, were the two to drop out. Jacob Ramsey and Marvelous Nakamba were the men to come in, the latter’s last Premier League start came in Villa’s most recent win, against Arsenal. Bjorn Engels was back on the bench, after a back spasm ruled him out of the clash with Leicester, this meant youngster Carney Chukwuemeka wasn’t in the 20-man squad.
Where was this energetic, combative Villa team for the past few weeks? Marvelous Nakamba and John McGinn put in a brilliant effort to deny the Leeds midfield space and blunt their attack. The opener came early, as Villa started well. A corner ended up at the feet of Ollie Watkins, who’s skewed shot was controlled by Anwar El Ghazi, who then drilled the ball into the back of the net.
Villa then controlled the first 20 minutes of the game. El Ghazi had a handful of shots, clearly confident. Then Leeds grew into the game, and it became a much more even affair. The white’s best chance came from a blocked shot that fell to Tyler Roberts, but Emi Martinez was equal to the shot from close range. A much better half from Villa ended at 0-1, but the performance levels would have to be maintained to grab all three points.
Despite Leeds controlling the ball for large portions of the second half, Villa held firm. The initial press from Traore, Watkins and El Ghazi rushed the Leeds defenders, and didn’t allow them to settle. Leeds still managed to get the ball in good positions, but there was always someone from the backline or midfield to cut out the chances or make a tackle. The best opportunity of the half came for Leeds, as a cross found the head of Raphinha. The Brazilian may be a wizard with the ball at his feet, but he clearly has some work to do in the heading department, as he headed wide.
Dean Smith’s men continued to battle, and timewasted and tactically fouled when necessary. The full-time whistle brought about a fully deserved away win, with defensive strength and a clinical finish to round it off. Leeds have given some good teams a hard time this season, so coming away with three points from Elland Road is a great effort. It will be an unusual feeling for Leeds fans having to come up with something other than ‘Grealish falling over’ to complain about. Perhaps they could redirect their complaints to six foot centre-back Diego Llorente.
Emiliano Martinez – 7.5
Even with a tight groin, Emi Martinez was plucking crosses out of the sky with ease. The Villa number 26 demonstrated lightning reflexes to deny Tyler Roberts, and had to be on hand to make a few more simple saves. Fans will be hoping that the injury isn’t serious, with a trip to Sheffield on Wednesday.
Ahmed Elmohamady – 7
Up against Raphinha, veteran full-back Ahmed Elmohamady had a tough task on his hands. Once or twice in the first half, the winger had Elmo’s head spinning, but the back-up provided by McGinn and Traore allowed him to ride out the threat. After the early nervy exchanges, Elmo’s experience shone through. His strength and positioning to show the ball out of play several times, helped Villa push up the field and get the ball away from their box.
Ezri Konsa – 8
A first-half diving block from Ezri Konsa nearly ended badly as the ball cannoned back and into the feet of Tyler Roberts. This complete accident was the only thing that was remotely negative about Ezri Konsa’s display. Patrick Bamford was hardly noticeable playing up front for Leeds, as a combination of Mings and Konsa dealt with him easily. Konsa capped off a sturdy performance by calmly whipping the ball off the toes of Pablo Hernandez, as the Spaniard attempted to find some space in the box.
Tyrone Mings © – 9
Defensive Goliath Tyrone Mings was exactly where he needed to be, as he cut out balls in behind and cleared crosses. His presence at the back was immense. He was constantly shouting orders at his team mates, making sure they did their defensive duties. His nine clearances led the Villa team, it was truly a defensive performance worthy of the captain’s armband. Instead of trying to overplay with the ball at his feet, when needs must he was no-nonsense, which was absolutely necessary.
Matt Targett – 7.5
Matt Targett can count himself a tad lucky to have remained on the pitch. One poor tackle on the ankle of Raphinha may have warranted a second yellow on another day. However, Targett wasn’t troubled by whatever winger Marcelo Bielsa chucked at him. The yellow card he picked up didn’t remove the left-back’s enthusiasm in the tackle either, as he dived into a smattering of challenges in the games final moments.
Marvelous Nakamba – 9 (MOTM)
Marvelous Nakamba simply cannot be dropped for the game against Sheffield United. The Zimbabwe international was instrumental in Villa’s triumph. He broke up Leeds attacks, didn’t drift from his position, and was sensible with the ball at his feet. Six interceptions is incredible work. The most important of these interceptions came in the second half, as Raphinha attempted to play the ball into teammates in the box. The defensive midfielder expertly stuck out a toe and stopped the attack in one swift move. It’s a testament to Nakamba’s tireless effort that Villa haven’t conceded this season with him on the pitch.
John McGinn – 8
This is the John McGinn fans want to see every week. Super John was up for the fight in the centre of midfield, making a tackle and four interceptions, as well as drawing four fouls. The Scotsman added to this a great range of passing, with a couple of delightful passes out wide into Ollie Watkins. The discipline he then showed to support Elmohamady on the right was fantastic, the Egyptian needed help and McGinn was in place to offer support.
Bertrand Traore – 6
Bertrand Traore never really burst into life. Fans were waiting for the Burkinabe winger to beat a man or do something special, but nothing really came off for him. The poor pitch didn’t help him in particular. That said, his effort on the press was admirable, and the support provided for his full-back was much better than in previous games. In fact, Traore made two tackles and a clearance as Villa maintained their shape and thwarted the Leeds attack.
Jacob Ramsey – 7
Early on, passes weren’t quite hitting their targets for Jacob Ramsey. In spite of this, the youngster’s lively energy didn’t dwindle, and he continued to try and exert his influence on the game. Ramsey was alive to pick up the ball from the corner that resulted in Villa’s goal. As the game went on his passes were more often than not on point. One particularly pleasing through ball set up a chance for Anwar El Ghazi, though the Dutchman skied his effort.
Anwar El Ghazi – 8
The early goal for Anwar El Ghazi gave him something in bucket loads, confidence. El Ghazi is a confidence based player, who goes on hot streaks when things are going well for him, as his December form suggests. The goal spurred him on to drive the Villa attack and have the majority of the opportunities. A couple of times he tested Meslier in the Leeds net from range, and three key passes emphasise his creative influence on proceedings.
Ollie Watkins – 7
Yet again, Ollie Watkins runs into the channels and out wide were a great outlet for Villa, when Leeds pushed forward. The forward’s best chance came as he charged down a Tyler Roberts passes from the edge of the area. Unfortunately, the deflection on the resulting shot helped the goalkeeper to wrap his hands around the ball, but his pace break and his tenacious attitude to press were fantastic to see.
Off the Bench
Morgan Sanson (78) – 7
Morgan Sanson came on to the pitch at a time where Villa needed energy and teeth in midfield to help secure the win. The Frenchman added exactly that, as he made a few tackles and burst forward with the ball. This is one of several cameos Sanson has had since signing, and fans can begin to patch together some of what the ex-Marseilles man is all about.
Trezeguet (87) – n/a
Egyptian Trezeguet had plenty of running in him when he came on with eight minutes to go. He showed this as he made two dribbles forward on the break. He even threw in a nice tactical foul in the Leeds half to help Villa close out the match.
Dean Smith – 8
It’s fair to say that Dean Smith out thought the supposed tactical master. Leeds weren’t exactly banging on the door, even with all the possession they had. Hard graft and a clinical finish were enough to see of all the attempts to beat the Villans. After some sections of the Villa support questioned Smith’s tactics and selections, he responded with the perfect changes and tactical choices to pick up a win.
This win should also allow Villa to shake the ‘one man team’ tag that could have become more prominent had they failed to win a few games without Jack Grealish. If performances like this come more often in the weeks to come, adding Grealish back into the mix will only propel the team on to greater things. Sheffield United up next, who will have plenty of endeavour, but even without Grealish, Villa should be able to record another win. If the performance and energy levels are the same as against Leeds, the Blades will have their work cut out.