Aston Villa 1 – 3 West Ham United
The last two fixtures against West Ham have brought Aston Villa fans elation and frustration. The relief of staying up on the final day, and being denied a point by VAR in the final seconds. Fans would be hoping this one would provide a few thrills, without galling VAR drama. The win for Dean Smith’s men against Southampton certainly had its fair share of scrapes, thankfully in the Villans favour. The defensive solidity was very pleasing though, as they would now be up against a Hammers side that had won four of their last five league games.
Anwar El Ghazi coming in for Bertrand Traore, was the only change Smith made to his starting XI. The Dutchman had been in a fine vein of form, before the coronavirus outbreak at Bodymoor Heath. Neil Taylor dropped off the bench so that Jacob Ramsey could regain his spot. West Ham’s January loan signing, Jesse Lingard, would be making first start in a Hammers shirt. It would be his first Premier League game since July.
It was West Ham who had the better first 45 minutes. The Hammers made Emi Martinez make a handful of diving saves, Antonio, Soucek and Lingard having the best efforts. Villa couldn’t get forward at pace, as David Moyes’ men combined dogged pressing, with a well-organised defensive structure. There was some obvious, pre-planned doubling up on Jack Grealish, with Ryan Fredericks and Vladimir Coufal looking after the Villa skipper. When the Villans did get their chances, they didn’t test Lukasz Fabianski, though Ollie Watkins right-footed shot clipping the outside of the post. With West Ham looking the more likely to open the scoring, and playing through Villa’s lines relatively easily, Dean Smith would have some work to do.
As the run of play suggested in the first half, the Hammers were ahead shortly after half-time. Some hold up play from Antonio resulted in a pass into Tomas Soucek by Said Benrahma. The Czech finished expertly, and Villa had a problem on their hands. A reaction was needed. There was no immediate reaction, as a poor touch from Ollie Watkins resulted in a West Ham break. Three on two, Antonio chipped the ball to Jesse Lingard, who drilled the ball low and into the net, despite the efforts of Martinez. It was then nearly three, as it threatened to be a rout, Tyrone Mings diving goal line clearance preventing an Antonio chip from finding the net.
It took til the 65th minute for any kind of reaction from those in claret and blue. This reaction was pretty short lived, as the Villans couldn’t string passes together and moves broke down before they even got started. Then as the game looked completely dead, Jack Grealish moved out to the right, and played a ball into Ollie Watkins. The striker powered the ball into the net…. game on?
For any fans looking to get their hopes up, any chances of a comeback were short lived. A West Ham break was finished off once again by Jesse Lingard. For anyone watching, this wasn’t really a surprise, Villa looked a shadow of the team that has picked up so many good results this season.
Emi Martinez – 5.5
While Emi Martinez’s first half performance was a good one, he didn’t cover himself in glory for two of the West Ham goals. For both of Jesse Lingard’s goals, the Villa ‘keeper’s wrists turned to jelly as he failed to parry the ball wide. After having saved Villa on so many occasions prior to this, one poor performance is forgivable.
Matty Cash – 5.5
Matty Cash wasn’t the worst performer in the team, and several of Villa’s better moments came as the full-back darted down the right flank and whipped in a cross. Ollie Watkins first half header was from a Cash cross. Said Benrahma gave the ex-forest man a tough test, and often Benrahma got away from him, as the Villa right-back looked to pushed high, up the pitch.
Ezri Konsa – 5
Ezri Konsa was pulled this was and that by the movement of Lingard and Antonio. The young defender was pulled out of position several times, leading to awkward situations for the rest of the defence to deal with. He did block four shots, which led all Villa players, but this says more about how often West Ham were causing the defence trouble than anything else.
Tyrone Mings – 5.5
Tyrone Mings prevented what could have been an onslaught of goals, by diving and booting the ball off the line. This was Mings best work of the evening, as he couldn’t handle the pace and power of Antonio. A problem that occurred last season was Mings playing a large number of hopeless long balls, this reared its head again in this match. Three of his 10 long passes were accurate.
Matt Targett – 5
Matt Targett was heading into this match in at the top of his game. Unfortunately for him, he had a woeful evening. His pushing up and poor cross are part of the reason that West Ham broke and made it 2-0. On top of this, despite being up against a right-back playing right-wing, he struggled to get Ryan Fredericks under control. When Villa got forward, his crossing was awful, with none of them finding their target.
Douglas Luiz – 5.5
Douglas Luiz struggled against Soucek and Lingard in the centre of the park. The Brazilian did do some good work, tracking some dangerous Lingard runs into the box and making interceptions. He did try to put himself about, making two tackles, but he couldn’t cope with a well drilled and fast moving West Ham midfield.
John McGinn – 5
There was no combative edge to John McGinn. While his passing was accurate, and he attempted to press occasionally, he didn’t throw in a tackle or try and nip the ball of the toes of the Hammers midfield. This lack of physicality of Villa’s midfield is part of what let West Ham dominate, Rice and Soucek are a formidable pairing when it comes to their size and strength, and Villa simply couldn’t compete.
Anwar El Ghazi – 5
Anwar El Ghazi simply wasn’t in the game in the first half. He only made 50% of his passes, gave the ball away three times and generally didn’t threaten Aaron Cresswell. It seemed a little harsh to take him off at half time, and not give an extra 10 minutes to prove himself. Perhaps Deano was trying to prove that he can make substitutions before the 75th minute.
Ross Barkley – 5
There was none of the regular dynamism about Ross Barkley’s play. One trick in the first half was the highlight of a shabby performance. Every pass into a key area was just off the mark, either over-hit, or just behind the target. The Chelsea loanee was also careless on the ball, giving it away five times in total. To top everything off, a golden opportunity was spurned as the 27-year-old dragged a volley wide from a set-piece.
Jack Grealish © – 6
There were two problems for Jack Grealish. One was called Vladimir and the other Ryan. With Super Jack out on the left, he could do nothing to get past the combined powers of Coufal and Fredericks. When it looked like he’d take them on the outside, in slid Coufal to block a low cross. When he cut inside, Fredericks would track his run, or he’d end up against Declan Rice. When he finally moved away from the left, he looked more like his usual self. His pass for Watkins was fantastic, it’s a shame the move couldn’t have come earlier.
Ollie Watkins – 6.5
Ollie Watkins worked hard to hold up the ball, link up with Grealish and Barkley, and create chances. The best chances for Dean Smith’s men came when Watkins found some space in the box, and even though the Villa were blunt in attack, the movement of Watkins was still causing issues for the West Ham defence. This showed when he stuck away his chance in the second half. If there had been more support and quality around Watkins, Villa could have at least had one more goal.
Off the Bench
Bertrand Traore (46) – 5
There wasn’t a great deal of improvement as Bertrand Traore replaced Anwar El Ghazi. In fact it could probably be argued that things got worse. Saying this was down to Traore wouldn’t be true, but the Burkinabe winger didn’t add anything to a faultering Villa attack.
Trezeguet (68) – 5
Trezeguet showed plenty of the limitless energy that Villa fans are used to, as he entered the fray. This energy seemed to die as Villa’s hopes of getting any points died. The Egyptian touched the ball 12 times in 26 minutes of action.
Morgan Sanson (80) – 6
Morgan Sanson’s first Villa appearance came in a particularly unmemorable game. The Frenchman showed some tidy touches, and played a couple of accurate passes as Villa made a faint attempt to get back into the game.
Dean Smith – 5
There was a clear change that needed to be made after Coufal and Fredericks prevented Jack Grealish from getting any space. Apart from a brief switch towards the end of the first half, Dean Smith took till the 80th minute to move super Jack away from his guards. Otherwise Villa go completely outplayed in every department. Conceding more than one goal in a period of under ten minutes has become somewhat of a trademark of Villa at times this season.
While the commentators talked up how competitive the first half was, and how Villa had looked dangerous, Dean Smith’s men never really got going. David Moyes had a plan of attack, organised defensively, fast counter-attacking, and pressing, and it turned out to be Villa’s kryptonite. Coufal was quite simply outstanding at taking Grealish out of the game, he didn’t over commit, and prevented him from having room to breathe.
Something to stew on for Dean Smith, though not for long, as Arsenal travel to Villa Park on Saturday. Most, if not all Villa’s showings have been better than this so far this term. Surely it can only get better.