Fulham vs Aston Villa
Seven games unbeaten in all competitions since the end of last season, Villa were in high spirits before their trip to Fulham. A win would certainly be attainable against a Fulham side that had lost their first two Premier League games, having shipped seven goals. Three more points would give the Villans a real platform to push on to greater things than last term.
Dean Smith named an unchanged starting XI from that which beat Sheffield United. There was change on the bench however, as Anwar El Ghazi and Neil Taylor dropped out for Youngster Jacob Ramsey and new signing Bertrand Traore. The home side had changed their defence, switching to a back five, in an attempt to sure things up. With a win, Villa could do something that they hadn’t done this century, win their first two Premier League games of a season.
Villa have had a poor record at Craven Cottage in recent years, but they soon showed that stats are there to be changed. A couple of swift moves and the Villa boys were up by two within 15 minutes. Jack Grealish latched onto a John McGinn dink into the box to make it one. Then Grealish created a chance with another run in behind, his pass was then controlled by McGinn, and finished by Conor Hourihane.
Fulham had a handful of chances, but were incredibly one dimensional, as they played the ball from out wide and into Aleksandar Mitrovic.
The second half started much as the first did, a Hourihane free kick was played in, and Tyrone Mings was completely unmarked to jab the ball into the back of the net. Fulham pressed as Villa sat back, but the Villans still looked the more likely to score when they hit on the break.
Emi Martinez was gifted a reprieve by VAR after spilling a shot into the path of Bobby Reid, a foul by Mitrovic on Konza saving the clean sheet.
All round, it was a very good performance by Villa against an extremely poor and demoralised Cottagers side.
Emiliano Martinez – 7
Villa’s new stopper Emiliano Martinez did have his first shaky moment (although should Mings have got to it or left it?). His poor handling was an anomaly however, as he looked extremely comfortable on the ball, and claimed crosses with ease. The Argentinian also made a stunning save to deny Joe Bryan in the second half, the positives greatly outweigh the one negative.
Matty Cash – 8.5
Matt Cash wasn’t tested a great deal against Sheffield United, so his first defensive test came in this match. He dealt with any Fulham threats superbly, making seven tackles, three interceptions and four clearances. The pacey full-back made one goal saving block to add to this impressive display, as well as a well weighted cross into Jack Grealish, that could have resulted in a goal.
Ezri Konsa – 9 (MOTM)
Wow! Ezri Konsa was up against one of the most physical strikers around, Aleksander Mitrovic, and restricted the Serbian to headers from difficult angles and distances. When the Cottagers whipped balls into the area, there was Konsa to head it away. The 22-year-old made sure he was tight to Mitrovic, winning fouls to release the pressure when the striker grappled and pushed him. There has been a great improvement in his game in recent times, and this was further proof of that.
Tyrone Mings – 8.5
Tyrone Mings was just as sturdy as his defensive partner when blunting the attack. His raking long balls did miss the mark on occasion, but generally his short passing was accurate. On top of this, he wasn’t caught playing casually with the ball as has happened so often in the past. The commanding centre-half added a goal to cap off his evening, after terrible defending left him free as a bird to simply finish.
Matt Targett – 7
Matt Targett had some unsteady moments, being booked early on, and poorly closing down Kenny Tete several times down the Fulham right. He improved as the game went on, and was the most accurate passer of the Villa defence. There wasn’t too much to write home about on the front foot from the left-back, but others made up for it.
Douglas Luiz – 6.5
There wasn’t a lot to do at the base of the midfield for Douglas Luiz. When the attacks came, they were generally down the flanks, and thus the Brazilian didn’t see a huge amount of the ball. He only made 21 passes in 86 minutes, and was uncharacteristically sloppy with the ball at his feet.
John McGinn – 8.5
This is more like the John McGinn the Villa faithful want to see. From the off super John was full of both energy and quality, as he set up both early goals. The Scotsman kept up this energy and ended the game having made the most key passes of any Villa player (4) and having been fouled the most times. A satisfying moment came when McGinn sent Joe Bryan to the shops, with an agile spin, in the first half.
Conor Hourihane – 8
Conor Hourihane was frustrated when he was taken off against Sheffield United last Monday, he clearly had a fire in his belly as he performed much better this time round. He darted nicely into the box to grab Villa’s second goal, and despite some poor set piece delivery in the first half, put in a delightful ball for Mings for Villa’s third.
Jack Grealish © – 8
Villa fans will have been rubbing their eyes after seeing Jack Grealish play one dreadful cross field pass, giving Fulham a rare chance. There were also some more loose passes that fans won’t have come to expect from the skipper. In spite of this, Jack put in a high quality display, with a goal to show for all of his quality in the final third. The 25-year-old could have had another goal and assist at least, with a chance from a Cash cross, and a reverse pass to Watkins not yielding a goal.
Trezeguet – 7.5
There was a lot to be pleased about in Trezeguet’s 83 minutes on the pitch. The winger grafted and worked for the team, getting back to make interceptions and tackles. The Egyptian also looked up for it at the other end of the pitch, with a teasing ball not quite met by Ollie Watkins, as well as some reasonable link up play in other moves.
Ollie Watkins – 7.5
It was a frustrating evening for Ollie Watkins, who is still waiting for his first Premier League goal. Every part of his game was fantastic, until he got to the finish, where he didn’t get a shot on target. His movement pulled defenders left, right and centre, which opened channels for Grealish and co to attack the empty space. A striker can play well and be an asset to the team without scoring, and Watkins showed just that.
Off the Bench
Jacob Ramsey (76) – 7
On his Premier League debut, Jacob Ramsey only made four passes, but he looked comfortable on the ball, even with better opposition in front of him than Burton or Bristol City. The youngster won a couple of fouls as he looked to break away with the ball at his feet, highlighting his confidence to take on players.
Bertrand Traore (83) – 6.5
Bertrand Traore looks to have a good football brain, as well as good technique. He intercepted a loose Fulham pass impressively and then played an inch perfect switch out to Ollie Watkins. There are some great early signs from the Burkina Faso international.
Marvelous Nakamba (86) – 6.5
Marvelous Nakamba made a tackle and a block in his eight minute cameo. His first Premier League minutes of the season came as he helped the Villa see out an impressive win.
Dean Smith – 8.5
Villa fans would have been confident heading into this game, and Dean Smith and the Villa boys made sure that confidence wasn’t misplaced. It was clear from the early stages that Fulham, and particularly their defence, were there for the taking, and they went for the kill straight away.
The most important element of the games so far, is the lack of goals conceded. This is nice to see as goals were shipped all over the place, due to sloppy errors, last term.
Next up for Deano’s men, in the league, is a tougher test against Liverpool. A title decider? Probably not, but Villa do have the best defence in the League so far.