West Ham United 2 – 1 Aston Villa
Back in July, the London Stadium provided the backdrop to a Villa great escape. This time round, Villa are looking towards the opposite end of the table. A perfect away record under their belts, Dean Smith’s men were attempting to put their poor home loss to Brighton behind them, with another away win. West Ham had started the season well, and were now back to full strength with Michail Antonio in the starting XI.
Villa on the other hand, were not at full strength. Conor Hourihane was named as Barkley’s replacement, beating Bertrand Traore to the spot. This suggested that Dean Smith was either reverting to a midfield three, or John McGinn would push forward into the number 10 role. Promising midfielder Jacob Ramsey also gained a place on the bench.
The Villans started off in the worst possible way. A long throw caused havoc in the box, resulting in a corner. Said corner was whipped in and landed straight on the head of an unmarked Angelo Ogbonna, who opened the scoring. Three Villa markers followed two West Ham players, leaving Ogbonna free. After a ropey first fifteen minutes, Villa started to spring into life. A driving run from Jack Grealish cut open the West Ham midfield, leaving space for the skipper to get a shot away. A deflection helped the ball past Lukasz Fabianksi, and the scoreline was even. A snatched strike from Ollie Watkins, and a Conor Hourihane free kick, meant Villa were looking the more likely to score next heading into half time.
The Hammers took the lead straight after the restart. The defence wasn’t switched on at all, it was incredibly similar to many goals conceded last season. There was a continued lack of end product from Dean Smith’s men as they attempted to fight back and bring the scores level. Trezeguet somehow missed a gaping open net, Ollie Watkins missed a penalty, and VAR ruled out a late equaliser.
As much as it could be argued that Villa were unlucky, woeful defensive lapses ultimately cost them. That combined with yet another day in which the attack wasn’t clinical enough, culminated in another frustrating defeat.
How many times were defensive lapses Villa’s downfall last season? Too many. There are some troubling old habits creeping back into play. It’s now four defeats in the last five games for the Villans.
Emiliano Martinez – 6
Emi Martinez claimed crosses well, and generally didn’t have a lot to do as West Ham only had six attempts. Martinez wasn’t the issue for either of the goals, and he played well with the ball at his feet, even when pressed.
Matty Cash – 6
Matty Cash picked up an assist with the ball into Grealish before the Villa goal. His defensive work when called upon wasn’t the sturdiest though. To call his pressing of Said Benrahma lazy, before the second goal, would be an understatement. The West Ham winger had time and space to pick out a lovely ball into Jarred Bowen, while Cash stood back and watched.
Ezri Konsa – 6
There were a couple of good opportunities for Ezri Konsa to grab a goal from set pieces, but the young centre-half’s aim was off. In terms of the defensive side of the game, there wasn’t anything that he did wrong. He also carried the ball forward ably from time to time when Villa were looking to press on.
Tyrone Mings – 5
There were big problems with Tyrone Mings performance. His closing of Jarrod Bowen before the second West Ham goal, and then his failure to track the same player’s run into the box was very poor. On a handful of occasions, Mings found himself in a sticky situation with the ball at his feet. The most notable time was late in the first half, where he attempted to do a Cruyff turn past Declan Rice one-on-one, in front of the Villa box. Despite this not resulting in a goal, this is simply idiotic, and doesn’t make you too surprised that the same player can have defensive lapses too.
Matt Targett – 6
There wasn’t much Matt Targett could do to stop an onrushing Angelo Ogbonna from powering his header into the back of the Villa net. The fact that this ended up being the duel brings up yet more issues with Villa’s system of marking at set pieces. Big centre-halves like Vestergaard and Ogbonna must be jumping for joy when confronted by McGinn or Targett at a set pieces. When delivering from out wide, the 25-year-old was hit and miss, and there were times when he looked exposed and unconvincing when West Ham broke.
Douglas Luiz – 7
Douglas Luiz pinged some fantastic passes around the park, and progressed the ball forward after receiving it from Mings and Konsa. The Brazilian also gave the ball away far fewer times than in some recent games, and added something to the Villa attack with runs from deep. A tackle, interception and clearance go to show Douglas was also relatively active defensively too.
Conor Hourihane – 5
The two free kicks that Conor Hourihane hit, were the highlights of his performance. A quick passing move with John McGinn was all the Irish midfielder added to the team from open play. Many of his passes were under hit, or lacked any elevation to get them past the opposition. For a creative midfielder, no accurate crosses and no key passes don’t make good reading.
John McGinn – 6
Super John McGinn was once again not quite at his best. There were certainly glimpses, and the Scotsman won fouls and whipped in a couple of teasing crosses late on. However, it feels as if McGinn will never quite be at 100% with the games coming so thick and fast. With no one in reserve able to do what the midfield dynamo does, it seems as if a half-baked McGinn is what fans will have to get used to.
Trezeguet – 5
The Villa faithful will still be bemused as to how Trezeguet managed to miss a virtually open goal. It seems as if no matter how hard ‘our son’ tries, he can’t change his luck in front of goal. On the whole his performance had its good moments, and he won the penalty that Watkins missed. In spite of this, the huge miss hangs over everything that the Egyptian did. It may take a while for him to get that miss out of his head. Maybe it was a rush of blood, well at least there was one after the foul for the penalty, as he was taken off with a red stream pouring down his face.
Ollie Watkins – 6
There was an obvious horror moment for Ollie Watkins also. As if tempting fate, Sky threw up the stat that he had missed three of his last five penalties. The penalty miss aside, there were some pleasing moments from the pacey striker. His hold up play was fantastic as usual, and he dispatched the chance given to him in stoppage time, even if it was allegedly offside.
Jack Grealish © – 7.5
If there was anyone who was going to create a chance or score a goal to bring Villa back on terms, it was Jack Grealish. Villa’s captain had some inspired moments in the game, where he skipped away from challenges, and drove at defenders. He did take a rather embarrassing tumble in the first half, about five minutes after Pablo Fornals tapped him on the shin. Jack was centre of attention for much better reasons for the most part, including his drive that resulted in the Villa goal, and a delightful piece of skill in the box when surrounded by three West Ham players.
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Off the Bench
Bertrand Traore (73) – 6
There were very occasional moments of threat from Bertrand Traore. The ex-Lyon winger stepped away from his man and drilled in a shot early on in his time on the pitch, however it was straight at the ‘keeper. Traore appears to be both ungainly and skilled on the ball at the same time, which results in moments where he either gives the ball away, or beats a man and create space for a shot.
Anwar El Ghazi (73) – 5.5
Did Anwar El Ghazi actually touch the ball in his time on the pitch? 12 times apparently. It is hard to remember a single thing the Dutchman did, as he hung out wide on the left.
Ahmed Elmohamady – n/a
Ahmed Elmohamady got his usual run out as Villa were chasing the game. There wasn’t an opportunity in the short time he was on the pitch to whip in a trademark cross. Elmo’s most memorable foray forward resulted in him dribbling the ball out of play for a West Ham goal kick.
Dean Smith – 5.5
In the past two games, Villa have had the opportunities to win by three or four goals. There just hasn’t been the ruthless streak that was seen against the likes of Liverpool and Arsenal. That combined with defensive calamities that compare to last season, and it all starts to look a little grey for Dean Smith. Four defeats in five doesn’t make for good reading, and the good start appears to be slipping away.
A big game against Newcastle on Friday becomes even bigger for Dean Smith’s men. This is presuming the game goes ahead, after Covid issues in the Newcastle camp. Newcastle don’t need many chances to score, and the pattern of play will most likely be very similar to what happened this time round against the Hammers.
It’s time to iron out the errors, and go for the kill when the chance comes.