Aston Villa 1 – 2 Leicester City
Ross Barkley’s last-minute strike to snatch Aston Villa all three points at the King Power seems a long time ago. Villa’s season has had plenty of ups and downs in the time leading up the second clash of the season with Leicester City. Worry started to creep in for the Villa faithful in the days leading up to kick off, as rumours of a Jack Grealish injury became rife on social media.
As one o’clock came around, fans worst fears were confirmed, as Super Jack was nowhere to be seen in the squad. This meant that Dean Smith had to deal with the loss of not only Villa’s primary creative outlet, but also the team’s first choice right-back. Ahmed Elmohamady came in for Matty Cash, and Anwar El Ghazi would try his best to fill the gap left by the Villa skipper. Youngsters Carney Chukwuemeka and Kaine Kesler-Hayden, found themselves on the bench. Fans will remember the pace and drive of Kelser-Hayden from the spirited FA cup defeat to Liverpool.
There were complaints across social media that Villa should have let the fans know before that Grealish was injured. Leicester’s team sheet emphasised exactly why this would have been a bad idea, as the Brendan Rodgers selected three full-backs in his starting XI, in preparation for the Villa number 10.
Villa looked just as lethargic as they were against Brighton, as Leicester dominated the first-half. Simply replacing El Ghazi with Grealish didn’t do the trick, as all three of Villa’s attacking midfielders failed to influence the game. The early pressure from the Foxes paid off. A ball from the right wasn’t properly dealt with by Konsa, Harvey Barnes picked out James Maddison, who strolled forward unchallenged and stroked the ball into the bottom corner past Emi Martinez. Then soon after the advantage was doubled, as a Jamie Vardy shot was saved, and fell to Barnes while Ahmed Elmohamady ball watched. The young winger made no mistake, and Villa got what their poor performance had deserved. In terms of Villa chances, a missed header from Ezri Konsa sticks out as the best of the very few that there were.
Something needed to change at half-time, or the score could get nasty. The midfield was completely open, any pressing was played through with ease, and there was no zip and speed to the Villa attack.
There were no changes from Smith at half-time, but there was some improvement. A spell of Villa play resulted in a fantastic one-two and cross from Matt Targett. John McGinn flicked on the cross, and Bertrand Traore powered the ball home. With the Villans back in the game, it was back to Leicester domination of possession, but despite the efforts of Vardy and Barnes, the Foxes couldn’t find a third. This meant with minutes to go there was a real chance for Villa to grab a point from the jaws of defeat. For all the pressure that Villa could exert, they didn’t actually get many shots away. A tame Trezeguet shot and a Tyrone Mings header were all they could muster.
Another disappointing defeat, and despite any second-half improvement, Villa have not played fast, attacking, fluent football since the first-half of Burnley away.
Emiliano Martinez – 6.5
Emi Martinez wasn’t at his best, but had a good enough game to make a handful of impressive saves. The Argentine was also quick off his line once or twice, to prevent Jamie Vardy latching onto through balls. Maybe he could have got a firmer hand to James Maddison’s strike, but some closing down initially would have done more to aid the Villa cause.
Ahmed Elmohamady – 5
There’s one major element of Matty Cash’s game that Ahmed Elmohamady is missing, pace. This meant that the experienced full-back was sent to the shops on several occasions by the tricky Harvey Barnes. The Egyptian was also at fault for the second goal, as he stood idly watching the ball as Barnes steamed in on goal. Some tracking back from Bertrand Traore would have been nice, and on the occasions that Elmo was given support by the winger, Villa looked much more secure. The extent of Elmohamady’s workload can be seen in his numbers, four tackles and four interceptions.
This ragged performance will have some fans questioning why Fred Guilbert was let out on loan. But the would he really have done any better? Last season up against Barnes in the league, the Frenchman was dreadful, although better in the League Cup semi-final.
Ezri Konsa – 6
A half-baked defensive header from Ezri Konsa, followed by no closing down, led to the Leicester opener. After this the ex-brentford man didn’t disgrace himself, and looked assured even if others didn’t. However, his big moment to make up for the first goal came as Douglas Luiz whipped in a cross, and Konsa couldn’t even get his head on the ball. These kind of chances can’t be passed up, especially when they are so few and far between.
Tyrone Mings © – 7
Jamie Vardy had a relatively quiet game, and this was due to the work of Tyrone Mings. Previously Vardy has torn Villa apart, but Captain Mings was equal to him for the most part. In one impressive show of pace, Mings cut off Vardy and forced him out of play, despite the fact the Foxes striker had a head start. It’s hard to blame Mings for missing his headeed chance in the last seconds, the ball was slightly behind him, and it would have been hard to get enough power to beat Schmeichel.
Matt Targett – 7
While Harvey Barnes was Leicester’s star performer, there wasn’t as much danger down the opposite side. Matt Targett was defensively sound, as he took on the two right-back’s Perreira and Castagne. The 25-year-old flew in to block crosses, made tackles, and then provided an option on the attack. While his crosses were hit and miss, he floated in the one that counted, to create the Villa goal.
Douglas Luiz – 5.5
Douglas Luiz had to be a one man midfield at times, as Barkley strolled about and McGinn found himself out of position. This meant the Brazil international was pulled this way and that, and this resulted in time and space for Leicester to dominate possesion and create chances. Doug was nowhere to be seen in front of the defence, as he was pulled out wide before the opener.
John McGinn – 6
At times John McGinn was caught playing far too high up the pitch, leaving Douglas to fill the midfield on his own. The Scot did pop up to grab an assist for Villa’s goal, with a run into the box, but other than that, there was little to justify him being so far away from his midfield partner. He played some teasing crosses into the box in the dying seconds, but nothing came of them.
Bertrand Traore – 7
While Bertrand Traore gave the ball away a handful of times in the first-half, there were signs that he was trying to do something positive. His driving run into the box led to one of Villa’s better first-half moments. This positivity came to fruition in the second half when he added some flair to his finish past Kasper Schmeichel, who seemed to take offence to Traore scoring (how dare he). There were some other moments of skill from the Burkinabe winger, as he dribbled past defenders and picked out passes. Without Grealish, Traore looked to be the man who could make the difference.
Ross Barkley – 5
No key passes, no dribbles, no shots. Although he had more touches than any other midfielder or attacker, bar McGinn, Ross Barkley only served to slow up the Villa attack when the ball was at his feet. Barkley needed to be a key component of the Villa press, and needed to add numbers to a swamped Villa midfield with his presence. There was little effort to close down, and when attacking moves broke down, he would amble back towards the Villa half. The lack of any bite or effort from Barkley defensively meant that the likes of Tielemans and Maddison could have free rein and all the space they wanted.
Anwar El Ghazi – 5.5
Anwar El Ghazi’s main issue was that he isn’t Jack Grealish. Replacing Grealish with El Ghazi and expecting the Dutchman to fill even some of the gap left by the Villa skipper is just unfair. Some link ups with Targett and Watkins were clever, but often the next pass or touch was off and resulted in the loss of possession. What can be said is, at least he tried to be positive, with a couple of dribbles and key pass to show for his efforts.
Ollie Watkins – 6
Villa’s main source of attack in the first half, was looping balls to Ollie Watkins down the channels. The striker did his best to hold up the ball, but often there wasn’t the same support that Jack Grealish would have offered. One nice flick sent Anwar El Ghazi running into the box, but in the running theme of the day, nothing came of it. This was another game where Watkins didn’t manage to get any space for a shot in the box.
Off the Bench
Trezeguet (66) – 5
For all the good runs that Trezeguet makes, his end product is awful. Two moments stick out that sum this up. In the first, Trezegeut had the ball outside the box, with options to pass to players in dangerous positions. Instead he opted to shoot, slipped and the ball dribbled into Kasper Schmeichel’s arms. The second, a promising break down the left, with options running through the middle. Trez ran into a corridor and gave away a free-kick.
Jacob Ramsey (75) – 7
Jacob Ramsey brought something that was lacking from Villa in the middle of the park, energy. He showed pace and intent to get on the ball, and had 100% pass accuracy, including two long passes.
Morgan Sanson (80) – 6
Morgan Sanson looked tidy on the ball once again, and won a couple of corners. He also must have used Trezeguet’s training manual, as he fluffed a shot from far out. In the cameo’s that Sanson has had so far, he has looked energetic and tidy, but it would be nice to see how this plays out over a full game.
Dean Smith – 5
There needed to be something different in the team selection from Dean Smith, to make up for the loss of Jack Grealish. A one for one change of Grealish for El Ghazi just doesn’t cut it. Even with Super Jack, Villa hadn’t been at the races at Brighton and struggled in their last few games. Some form of change up in the midfield, adding an extra man, rotating the personnel, could have made Villa so much more resilient to Leicester’s fast attacking style.
For Leeds next time out, there desperately needs to be something changed. Ross Barkley has looked a shadow of the player that first joined Villa, and Douglas Luiz looks overrun. If Smith plays the same midfield against an all-action Leeds side, it will be more of the same. On top of this, Villa need to try and shake the narrative of being a ‘one man team’.
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