Aston Villa 0 – 0 Wolverhampton Wanderers
A cool and calm late Anwar El Ghazi penalty, was the difference for Aston Villa in December against Wolves. Cool and calm certainly weren’t the words to describe Villa’s attempts to come from behind, against Sheffield United in midweek though. ‘Cross’ more adequately describes both how fans felt, and what the Villans tried and failed to do over 30 times. The lack of ideas from Dean Smith’s men was worrying for the Villa faithful, as all the attacking sparkle from early in the season seems to have long faded.
El Ghazi definitely wouldn’t be the man to make the difference this time around against Wolves. The winger wasn’t in the 20-man squad, as he was reportedly suffering with an infected toe. Trezeguet replaced the Dutchman on the left of midfield. Morgan Sanson would make his first Villa start, replacing youngster Jacob Ramsey. The final change came as midfielder Marvelous Nakamba dropped out for Douglas Luiz. The lack of El Ghazi in the squad meant Jaden Philogene-Bidace made the bench, having recently signed a new contract to keep the promising midfielder at Villa Park for the foreseeable future.
It was a much better start to the game than it had been against the Blades. The Villans did everything but score, as they were dominant in both possession and chances. Ollie Watkins nearly opened the scoring with a ferocious striker from outside the box. However, the woodwork would deny Villa’s record signing for the seventh time this season. It was the frame of the goal that came to Wolves rescue again, as a Bertrand Traore cross evaded several players to find Ezri Konsa. The centre-back was reaching for the ball as he struck it, with his shot shaking the bar.
John McGinn, Ollie Watkins and Trezeguet starred for Villa as they pressed and worked opportunities to get shots away. Wolves couldn’t quite get going, and hardly tested the Villa goal. Nuno surely would have had a few choice words for his team, they couldn’t be much worse in the second half.
As expected, Wolves did improve after the break. A cagey opening 15 minutes to the half allowed Wolves to grow in confidence and push higher up the pitch. Then in the best chance of the game, Conor Coady had a free header from the back post. This clattered the post, before falling to Romain Saiss virtually on the line. The Moroccan did a sterling job of clearing the ball away from the danger, it will probably go down as the Premier League miss of the season.
Wolves then continued to have the better of the play, and it was another set piece that cause Villa some issues. Ross Barkley played a bad backpass, then the ball was played to the centre of the box. It was Coady again who turned and had the goal at his mercy, but Emi Martinez made a sensational save. The pressure continued to grow and Villa couldn’t push out. In a rare move out of their own half, Dean Smith’s men got a corner late on. Ollie Watkins picked up the ball in some space, his strike was saved by Patricio. The rebound dropped to Ezri Konsa…. who fired his shot wide.
Though Villa started the game well, they were somewhat lucky to come away with a point. Despite hitting the crossbar twice, the Villans only managed one shot on target. There is a ruthless streak missing up front, and there’s only one way to get it back, by scoring goals. It’s a bit of a vicious cycle.
Emiliano Martinez – 8
Conor Coady should have scored, simple as that, but Emi Martinez got down quickly to tip the centre-half’s shot just wide. In the first half, the Argentinian didn’t have anything to do, as Wolves struggled to create shooting opportunities. When he was eventually called into action by a Pedro Neto shot on the break, Martinez was switched on to push the ball away.
Ahmed Elmohamady – 6.5
Ahmed Elmohamady was in a battle that looked like a mismatch on paper, against Adama Traore. In spite of this, the experience full-back was defensively sound. Even with the pace and power of Adama, Elmo was rarely caught pushing to high or out of position. Offensively he wasn’t spectacular, but didn’t throw the ball away (other than when he was penalised for a foul throw).
Ezri Konsa – 7
Villa’s best chances fell to the feet of Ezri Konsa. The 23-year-old did very well to control the ball and get a shot away, but he really should have hit the target with one of them. This took some of the sheen of a very good defensive performance. In the first half, Konsa kept the lethargic Willian Jose quiet, and continued his high quality defensive work in the second half.
Tyrone Mings © – 7
When Pedro Neto ran at Matt Targett, Tyrone Mings was often there to come across and cover. The Portuguese winger was by far Wolves most dangerous player from open play. Villa’s captain led the team with four clearances, as well as winning three aerial duels. Hopefully his late injury wasn’t serious, Bjorn Engels playing at centre-back as his replacement, may give some fans horrific flashbacks to Heung-Min Son steaming through on goal to score.
Matt Targett – 7
While Adama on the left-wing wasn’t providing a lot of threat, Pedro Neto was full of running and ideas. Matt Targett made sure to not over-commit when the pacy winger ran at him, and wasn’t afraid to commit a foul when Neto got the better of him. Late on, when he was needed to get up for a header at the back post, Targett didn’t shy away from the aerial challenge, and got a deserved thanks from his goalkeeper. There’s talk of Villa’s left-back being on the radar for an England call up, which is entirely deserved.
Douglas Luiz – 6
It was a poor start to the game for Douglas Luiz. The Brazilian gave the ball away a handful of times and was passing the ball all over the place. He ended the game with 74.4% passing accuracy, below par for someone as gifted on the ball as Douglas. There was some improvement as the game progressed, with Doug making four tackles, a block, two interceptions and winning three aerial duels.
John McGinn – 7
John McGinn was the reason Villa had such a positive start to the game. His energy was endless, and he cut out poor passes and pressed the Wolves midfield into mistakes. Super John was also Villa’s most creative player, with two key passes. His influence on the game did dwindle as time went on, and Wolves has hold of the midfield battle for the last 20 minutes at least.
Morgan Sanson – 6
It wasn’t a bad full debut for Morgan Sanson. He became less useful as a combative midfielder after he was booked in the first-half. Once or twice a poor pass let him down, and he took a leaf out of the book of Anwar El Ghazi’s Sheffield United game plan, as he put in seven crosses, none of which were accurate. Sanson came off as the game just started to turn in Wolves’ favour, however taking the Frenchman off didn’t see much of an improvement.
Bertrand Traore – 5
Apparently Bertrand Traore touched the ball 27 times before being substituted. It’s hard to believe because the winger was anonymous, even when Villa had the upper hand. In fairness, the Burkina Faso international did play one key pass, but didn’t make a single dribble, or have a shot. It was frustrating waiting for Traore to do something special, but it never came.
Ollie Watkins – 6
There was no problem with Ollie Watkins getting shots away in this game. The 25-year-old had six shots, hit the bar and had one saved in a performance that had everything but a goal. Once or twice his decision making was questionable, a huge chance to shoot in the first half went begging as he opted to pass. There was plenty of the running off the ball, that is so often highlighted by pundits, and this once again created opportunities for Villa by getting the ball in space out wide.
Trezeguet – 6
Trezeguet was wound up and ready to go as the first whistle was blown. The Egyptian was up and down the left wing, nipping the ball away from Wolves players and laying off passes. His commitment to the press is emphasised by the fact he made four tackles and four fouls, as he tried to put Nuno’s men under pressure. That being said, other than a couple of flashes, there wasn’t a great deal of quality going forward from Trezeguet.
Off the Bench
Ross Barkley (60) – 5
The biggest impact Ross Barkley had on the game was playing a terrible back pass that nearly helped Wolves open the scoring. It was the right move by Smith to try and change something and bring Barkley on as the game started to turn. However, the lack of energy from Barkley in the midfield only aided Wolves attempts to dominate the middle of the park.
Jacob Ramsey (77) – 5
Jacob Ramsey cut out a pass well in the Villa half, and played it back to Martinez. Other than this, he didn’t do anything. The youngster had three touches in 11 minutes.
Keinan Davis (82) – 5
There was plenty of effort from Keinan Davis when he entered the fray. That being said, there wasn’t any quality from the big forward. He lost the ball and dribbled into trouble, when he got the ball.
Dean Smith – 6
It was an improved performance form the one against Sheffield United, but there’s still something missing. A sprinkling of creativity, a ruthless edge in front of goal. Villa have scored four goals in the last seven games, and are being carried through by the defence. Even that had its moments against Wolves, with set-pieces causing a lot of problems.
Deano made changes at the right times, as something needed to change as Wolves gained confidence around the hour mark. However, the question is, were they the right changes? Ross Barkley is hardly going to turn the tide of a losing midfield battle when the team can’t keep hold of the ball. Smith will have to hope Jack Grealish can return from injury quickly, and his influence can spark Villa back into life.
It’s a friday trip to Newcastle for Villa next. The record of Villa at St James’ Park is terrible, with the last win coming in the 04/05 season, when Newcastle had eight men. With the Magpies faltering in recent weeks, they should be the perfect opponents for Villa to get back in their groove against.