The Premier League season starts a week late for the Villans with a repeat of the fixture that kicked off ‘Project Restart’ back in June. There was certainly plenty of optimism around the fans leading up to kick-off, and the Blades would certainly provide stern opposition to test if there were improvements on last season.
The starting XI was full strength in comparison to that which started against Burton in the League Cup. New man between the sticks Emiliano Martinez, made his debut, and Conor Hourihane, Douglas Luiz and John McGinn made a midfield three. Ollie Watkins would also be looking to open his Premier League account after a goal in the Cup.
Villa managed to get three points on the board two games earlier than last season. A 12th minute red card for John Egan made the Villa’s evening a little easier, though at times they made it a lot harder than it should have been. Ezri Konsa and Tyrone Mings found themselves out of position as the Blades hit on the break, and Matt Targett gave away a penalty.
It was a new hero that emerged as Emiliano Martinez made a superb save to deny John Lundstram the opener. Then it was cross after cross into the box, which were generally dealt with by the compact and well organised Sheffield United unit, who were happy to concede space in the wide areas. A Matt Targett corner was flicked on by Mings, and Ezri Konsa’s header slowly crept past Aaron Ramsdale in the United net.
Villa threatened to score another through Watkins and Grealish, but had to settle for one as they cruised through to their first win.
Though there were frustrating elements of the performance, there were marked changes from last season, and breaking down a solid structure, like the Blades had, was never going to be a simple task.
Aston Villa Player Ratings
Emiliano Martinez- 8.5 MOTM
What a way to start your Aston Villa career. Emiliano Martinez had a debut to remember as he kept a clean sheet and saved a penalty. His play with the ball at his feet was calm and composed, even when Conor Hourihane tested his feet early on with a dodgy pass. His claiming of high balls was good when required also.
Matty Cash – 6.5
Without setting the world alight, Matty Cash highlighted some of the reasons why he was brought in from Nottingham Forest. The 23-year-old displayed pace down the flank, and was able to deliver a quality cross, including a couple early on into John McGinn. He wasn’t tested much defensively, but it is a good start to his time at the Villa.
Ezri Konsa – 8
Other than being dragged out of position before the Sheffield United penalty, Konsa hardly put a foot wrong. He was there to head home after Villa had been blocked out for 60 minutes, and he made some vital interceptions and tackles. Six aerial duels won and nearly 90% pass completion emphasize how good Konsa was. There were a few question marks over his fitness after he pulled up running out for the second half, but the fact he completed the full 90 minutes is certainly a good sign.
Tyrone Mings – 6.5
Tyrone Mings played the ball over the top that caused the scenario in which John Egan was sent off. This impressive passing ability is certainly something that Villa can use to create trouble for the opposition, particularly with a striker as mobile as Ollie Watkins. The centre-back was caught out once or twice, charging forward from the back unnecessarily, but he generally gave a good account of himself.
Matt Targett – 6
Matt Targett struggled to find the mark with many of his crosses throughout the 90 minutes. Of the ten crosses the 25-year-old made, he completed only one, and didn’t test the Sheffield backline a great deal. His sloppy play to give away the penalty also put Villa in an uncomfortable situation. Targett can be an asset on the front foot, but he didn’t show it.
Douglas Luiz – 7
Brazilian Douglas Luiz did his job admirably at the base of the Villa midfield. Luiz had 98 touches and completed 92 passes, as the Villa played the ball from side to side, struggling to create a clear cut chance. His range of passing was showcased as he made some impressive long passes in an attempt to unlock the stubborn defence in front of him. It appears that the defensive midfielder has continued his good form from the end of last season into the new one.
Conor Hourihane – 6
Conor Hourihane cut a frustrated figure as he was subbed off just before the winning goal. The Irishman couldn’t exert his influence on proceedings other than to deliver a few teasing deliveries into the box. The midfielder’s lack of ability with his right foot often hurts the Villa attack. This is due to him being forced to only play the ball within the passing range of his left foot, when there are good options for a right footed pass.
John McGinn – 6.5
In the opening foray’s of the match, John McGinn looked lively. Villa’s first chances came about from the energetic midfielder bursting into the penalty area and latching onto crosses. His influence dwindled as time went on and Sheffield United sat back, as McGinn is better suited to a game in which the Villans can break. Super John did make a handful of tackles and interceptions, one of which nearly resulted in a Jack Grealish goal.
Trezeguet – 6
Winger Trezeguet didn’t leave his mark on proceedings in a tame performance. The Egyptian made 26 passes and only one accurate cross in the full ninety minutes. He did find himself in his now trademark position at the back post from a set piece once, but was unable to control the ball to get a shot away. The 25-year-old also squandered a fantastic opportunity from a Jack Grealish pass in the second half.
Ollie Watkins – 7
Though Ollie Watkins didn’t bag his first Premier League goal, he did play well. Villa’s record signing held the ball up well, and displayed his movement off the ball to get in behind Egan before the centre-back was sent off. Watkins curled the ball agonisingly over the bar after Villa went one up, and played a nice pass into Jack Grealish so he could get a shot away late on.
Jack Grealish © – 7
Super Jack Grealish was a little wasteful, while still impressing, in a scenario where he was always going to be the go to man to unlock the Blades defence. A curled shot wide and one deflected over the bar proved that it just wasn’t quite going Jack’s way. The skipper also allowed United to push out, with a few stupid fouls in the first half.
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Off The Bench
Keinan Davis (61) – 6.5
Big striker Keinan Davis showed off some of the good elements of his game with some physical play, after coming off the bench. The 22-year-old was also involved in some of the promising Villa moves towards the end of the 90. He also gave the Villans another way of playing, as Watkins moved out left, giving him more space to try and do some damage.
Dean Smith – 7
Villa are off the mark and Dean Smith can be pleased with elements of the performance. There was little threat of conceding a late goal, as happened so often last season, and a clean sheet is always pleasing for a manager. Not every team will have a man sent off after ten minutes so Deano will know there will be harder matches ahead. However, they got the win after having struggled against ten men last term, and that, along with some good performances from the players, can be seen as progress.
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