Aston Villa 3 – 0 Crystal Palace
Crystal Palace at home, a game that defined Villa’s survival attempts last season, as Trezeguet stepped up. This term, the complexion of Villa’s season is looking a whole lot different. ‘Our Son’ wouldn’t be able to repeat his heroics, due to being out with an hamstring injury, but this wouldn’t worry the Villa faithful, as Anwar El Ghazi has recently come up with the goods.
Palace would be attempting to put a humiliating 7-0 loss at the hands of Liverpool behind them. The Eagles had started well, but couldn’t cope with the relentless attack of the Reds. Pundits dubbed it ‘the best team performance of the season’, conveniently forgetting a recent similar score line at Villa Park.
This game was also one of milestones, Dean Smith would be picking his 100th Villa starting XI. Skipper Jack Grealish, would be making his 200th Villa appearance. The XI was unchanged from that which put three past the Baggies before Christmas, but there were a couple of interesting changes to the bench. Tom Heaton replaced Jed Steer as the back up ‘keeper, and Ezri Konsa returned from illness. There was still no sign of Ross Barkley, despite the attacking midfielder supposedly being back to fitness. He won’t be seen until the new year at least, due to being ineligible for the clash against Chelsea on the 28th.
Villa controlled the early stages, after a Wilfried Zaha chance shocked them into life. Bertrand Traore made sure this control counted, as he finished a rebound from an Ollie Watkins shot. Chances for Jack Grealish and Anwar El Ghazi were hit straight at Vincente Guaita, as the Villans struggled to pull away. A minor tussle between Wilfried Zaha and Tyrone Mings meant the Villa defensive leader was in the book. This would then change the Villa outlook on proceedings, as a one on one situation between Mings and Zaha led to the Villa defender’s second yellow. A game which Villa should have been ahead by many, had suddenly turned on its head.
Little were Palace to know the red card would actually turn the game hugely in Villa’s favour, as they sharpened their focus. The Eagles were powerless to stop the Villa break in the second half. Every ball into the Villa box, Martinez claimed and sprung the counter. Grealish, El Ghazi, Watkins, McGinn, they all drove the ball up the pitch and created clear cut chances to score.
Palace meanwhile were stagnant and slow, in such a contrast to what the Villans brought to the game.
Kortney Hause made it 2-0 after Ollie Watkins header struck the bar and rebounded out. Villa weren’t done there, when an attack looked to have run out of steam, Watkins laid off the ball to Anwar El Ghazi, and the Dutchman powered the ball into the top corner in an emphatic fashion. Several more chances came Villa’s way, but they just wouldn’t quite cross the line.
If there wasn’t enough reason for it to be a Merry Villa Christmas, this puts the icing on the Christmas cake. A complete performance, similar to that which saw off Arsenal, was even more impressive when the ten men is taken into consideration. The plan B was there for after the red card, and the counter attack was exciting and entertaining to watch for fans.
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Emiliano Martinez – 9
Wow, what a goalkeeper. Emi Martinez was claiming crosses with ease, and catching hard shots. His distribution was quick and accurate, and meant that Villa’s counter attack was off before you could blink. The Argentinian had to be aware andquick to react early on as Zaha burst through, he saved brilliantly and Palace didn’t have a better chance. All the other shots at him were generally straight at him, but there were no seconds for the Palace attack to feed off. Is there a better goalkeeper around right now?
Matty Cash – 8.5
There were a few occasions when Matty Cash struggled to get a foot in and win the ball against Wilfried Zaha, and gave away free kicks. Other than this Cash was fantastic, and didn’t allow the Palace forwards to get past him and put in a cross. Much like the rest of the Villa team, he sat back more in the second half, his defensive efforts were very good indeed. His team leading four interceptions highlights this.
Kortney Hause – 9
Kortney Hause didn’t put a foot wrong in the centre of the defence. If Martinez wasn’t there to claim a cross, Hause booted or headed the ball away, 11 clearances led the Villa team. After being a menace in the box previously, but not getting the ball on target, he finally nodded the ball just over the line, to give Villa the comfort of a second goal. Confidence around the squad is infectious, and it shows in the way Hause played, in a really assured fashion.
Tyrone Mings – 5.5
Despite being largely defensively solid for the time he was on the pitch, Mings undermined his efforts due to two needless and stupid yellow cards. Getting into a scrape with Wilf Zaha was unneeded and left Villa with a problem. His defending then left him one-on-one with the Palace man, as he failed to deal with a long ball. Pulling down Zaha left the ref with no decision but to send him off, idiotic defending when Kortney Hause would have been able to cover. It was fortunate for Mings that Villa played better in the second half with 10 men, than they did in the first.
Matt Targett – 9
This was Matt Targett’s best performance of the season. After Wilfied Zaha blitzed past him in the opening stages, he was a brick wall. Six tackles cut out any faint glimpses of a Palace reply, as a frustrated Jeff Schlupp was hauled off before time was up. Though the full-back wasn’t pushing up as much as he often does, he passed the ball with precision out of defence, and even set the move away that led to the first goal.
Douglas Luiz – 8
Douglas Luiz was more involved in the game in the first half, as Villa played a less direct style and had more of the ball. He switched the play a couple of times brilliantly, and offered an option from midfield on the front foot. There were no risks from Douglas in the second half, he held onto the ball, passed accurately and stuck in a tackle when needed.
John McGinn – 8.5
It was all jokes for John McGinn yesterday, as he donned a turkey suit at the training ground. But it was Palace who were stuffed, as he bossed the centre of midfield all game. The Scottish international was making tackles, running forward with the ball, and spraying passes. He was only dispossessed once, and was nearly on a par with Grealish in terms of winning fouls.
Bertrand Traore – 8.5
Bertrand Traore was dynamic and exciting while on the pitch, and it was a shame he had to be sacrificed for Ezri Konsa. The winger seems to have bags of confidence after his first Premier League goal for Villa. He popped up at the right time to finish, with his rarely seen right foot, after linking up nicely with Ollie Watkins on the break. Several other times, the Burkina Faso international caused problems for Palace, a pass to Grealish on the break set up another chance, and he saw a shot ping off the post. It’ll be great to see more of this highly confident and highly skilled winger.
Jack Grealish © – 8.5
Despite pulling the strings and being the main Villa outlet on the counter attack, Jack Grealish came out of the game without a goal or assist to his name. Six key passes and five fouls won show he still had a great influence on proceedings, and a one-on-one with Vincente Guaita could have resulted in a goal on another day.
Anwar El Ghazi – 9
Football is a weird and wonderful thing, a player that was looking low on confidence and unable to score now looks truly sensational. Pace, skill, a powerful strike, he has everything. Words can’t describe how he curled the ball with power off the post to make it three, just go and watch it again. Do Villa really need another winger? Well having this El Ghazi in the line up is like having a new player.
Ollie Watkins – 9 MOTM
Ollie Watkins didn’t put a foot wrong, the ball just wouldn’t go in the net for him. He ran and ran, and wouldn’t let the Palace defence have a moments peace. When he needed to do the running of two men in the second half, he did just that, he made bursts in behind, covered out wide, dropped deep, he was everywhere. To have a striker with so much energy and quality, meant even with ten men Villa were in the game.
Off the Bench
Ezri Konsa (48) – 8.5
Was Christian Benteke even on the pitch in the second half? It was impressive that Ezri Konsa could fit such a big man in his pocket. Konsa beat the Belgian in the air several times, and started where he’d left off in the centre of the defence. It won’t be too much of an issue that Mings is banned, as in Konsa and Hause, Villa have two confident and able centre-backs.
Ahmed Elmohamady (85) – N/A
Ahmed Elmohamady touched the ball just three times in his five minute cameo, and didn’t have to break a sweat as the game wound down.
Jacob Ramsey (90) – N/A
19-year-old Jacob Ramsey made yet another first team appearance, but only touched the ball twice. What it may show is he is ahead of Conor Hourihane in the midfield pecking order.
Dean Smith – 9
Dean Smith and the backroom team can be really proud of yet another superbly executed performance. There was no panic when the team went down to ten men, and the plan was clear. Ala Villa’s mentality in their 2-1 win over Rotherham in the Championship, when Mings was also sent off, they see opportunity in focused counter attacking when down to 10 men.
It can be said that the string of defeats before December truly were a blip. This Villa team is one of, if not the most exciting team to watch in the Premier League, solid in defence, lightning quick in attack. With Arsenal, in their poor form, managing to put a few past Chelsea, Villa can definitely get at least a point. The big six better be worried, as the Villans can beat anyone if they play like they can.