By Jonathan Parkin
Aston Villa Player Ratings vs Sheffield United
With the eyes of the world watching, the Premier League’s controversial ‘project restart’ plans came into fruition at Villa Parl with Aston Villa’s match against Sheffield United. Football is back once again in England after a one hundred day break due to the coronavirus pandemic.
The Villans came into the break off the back of a four-goal drubbing at the hands of Leicester City, which cemented their place in the bottom three. With this game in hand though, they still very much had their destiny in their own hands.
Clichés like ‘the form book being thrown out the window’ have been chucked about during the weeks leading up to the restart, and Dean Smith promised the players would treat the remaining games like ‘tournament football’. The Virus has also seemingly had less of an impact on the Villa than it has on relegation rivals Watford and Brighton. With this in mind, it could be easy to come into the fixtures with a sense of guarded optimism.
There was reason to be optimistic in the line-ups too with the return of John McGinn to the Villa midfield. Smith certainly made some unusual decisions elsewhere in the starting XI with Ezri Konsa fitting in a right back and Keinan Davis starting up front. Pepe Reina also lost his place in goal to Orjan Nyland, though this was unsurprising after his nightmare inducing mistake against Leicester before the stoppage. There was no spot even on the bench for the likes of Frederic Guilbert and Bjorn Engels, due to injury. Some good news from the opposition was the lack of hard-working midfielder John Fleck and centre-half Jack O’Connell.
As the referee blew his whistle there was a powerful statement, as the players and staff from both teams showed solidarity with the Black Lives Matter movement by kneeling. A reminder, that while many watch the Premier League in the safety of their own homes, there are problems more important than a game of football currently, that still need addressing.
The game was dominated by one particularly contentious moment in which a Sheffield United free kick appeared to be carried over the line by Orjan Nyland. It seems the goal line technology wasn’t plugged in, or everyone’s eyes were playing tricks on them, but VAR or Michael Oliver didn’t overrule the decision and Villa got away with it one big time.
Kortney Hause also got lucky when his dreadful pass across the back didn’t result in a goal for the visitors.
Villa had the better of the chances throughout the game though, and should have really put away one of the many chances that were conjured up. The defence, minus a couple of near howlers, looked solid enough.
Sheffield United didn’t look quite at their tireless best and the runs forward from the back were limited seemingly due to both personnel changes and fitness worries. Keinan Davis could have had at least a brace by the time he went off the pitch, and the finishing of the team in general has to be the main worry for Dean Smith.
Orjan Nyland: 5
Orjan Nyland wasn’t tested particularly in the 90 minutes. During his performances in this season’s League Cup run, Nyland had restored supporters with some confidence in his ability, but he soon lost some of that cache at the end of the first half.
His ability to claim crosses is worrying at best and that manifested itself in the 43rdminute. Though the free kick was looped high and was certainly a testing catch for any keeper, the Norwegian didn’t look for one second as if he had the situation under control, as he was then bumped by a Villa defender and dragged the ball over the line. Luckily, a blind Hawk Eye bailed him out.
In the second half he again managed to flap at a cross, but the ball found itself at the feet of Douglas Luiz, to the relief of the Villa faithful.
He’ll take heart from a clean sheet though.
Ezri Konsa – 6.5
Though Ezri Konsa was playing in a position he is yet to play in for the Villans, he looked calm and assured on the right side of the defence. He maybe didn’t offer the attacking outlet that a Guilbert or Elmohamady might offer, but his defensive solidity made up for this. His passing was clean and precise and Enda Stevens down the Sheffield United left rarely, if ever, got beyond the 22-year-old.
Kortney Hause – 5
There has always been the issue of Kortney Hause’s passing when the Villa try to play expansive football out from the back. This time it was no different as the centre-back nearly allowed two Sheffield United players clean through on goal with a loose pass. It’s no surprise that he won more aerial duels than any other Villa player, but as ever, his attempts on goal when up for corners, rarely find the target.
Tyrone Mings – 6.5
Tyrone Mings certainly looked a little rusty early on. He was closed down successfully on a couple of occasions and was guilty of some casual defending at times. Mings did however, manage to marshal the worst defence in the league to a clean sheet successfully, which cannot be understated.
Matt Targett – 7
Full-back Matt Targett had a pretty good game. He got forward relatively successfully and was rarely out of position on the defensive side of the ball. Much like with Konsa and Stevens, Chris Basham couldn’t get the better of Targett, which allowed Villa to blunt the majority of the United attack.
Douglas Luiz – 6.5
While he was screening the defence in the opening stages, Douglas Luiz did a very good job. Despite taking a stupid yellow card he protected the backline well and recycled possession with ease. As the game moved on his influence did dwindle, but a promising start from Douglas at the restart.
Conor Hourihane – 7.5 MOTM
A surprisingly combative and well-rounded performance from the Irishman. Conor Hourihane not only made the most key passes of any Villa player, he also got involved with the gritty side of the game making blocks and tackles. The calls to see Hourihane in the starting XI have been answered and he showed exactly what he can bring. His set piece delivery is always a plus and he delivered several teasing corners into the box that resulted in chances for the Villa.
John McGinn – 6
Super John McGinn really didn’t look at the races, and it’s to be expected in his first game back after a long-term injury. This doesn’t mean the Scottish international had a poor game, he showed what he can do with some promising runs from midfield, but he looked tired early and found it hard to impose himself on the game.
Anwar El Ghazi – 6
Many Villa fans would have been praying for the sun to come out so that Anwar El Ghazi could unleash his full ability, that is seldomly present in the colder months of the year. Unfortunately for everyone watching at home, Anwar wasn’t at his devastating best. His run in behind that led to a flashed cross across goal showed what he can do, but he didn’t offer a huge deal down the Villa right.
Jack Grealish – 7
Captain Jack Grealish in spells demonstrated why he’s Villa’s key man. When he could get on the ball up the pitch, he looked dangerous, but lacked a little directness in his game. His pass to El Ghazi for the Davis chance was probably his highlight. He very impressively had 97% pass completion, emphasising how comfortable the Villa talisman is with the ball at his feet. Still, he’ll need to really sparkle, if he’s to lift this Villa team out of trouble.
Keinan Davis – 7
Big man Keinan Davis caused plenty of problems for the Sheffield United back three. He used his big frame to bully the centre-halves and create space for the midfield to move into. The hole in his game lies with his finishing. The header at the back post in the first half should have been a certain goal, and if it hadn’t been for strong hand from Dean Henderson in the second half, Keinan could have had his first Premier League goal. A decent enough showing, but without the end product from Davis.
Off the bench
Trezeguet (68)- 6
After coming on for Anwar El Ghazi, Trezeguet didn’t provide much more than the Dutchman did. He made some good runs to stretch the defence, but his decision making on the ball hurt Villa when he got into the final third.
Ally Samatta (68) – 5.5
Ally Samatta didn’t offer the same threat as Davis to the United backline. He ran about and tried to press somewhat, but his eight touches and two passes while he was on the pitch demonstrate how little impact he had.
Marvelous Nakamba (75)- 6
Despite one dodgy passage of play Marvelous Nakamba didn’t do a lot wrong. Sheffield United didn’t threaten too much late in the match and the Zimbabwean made a couple of tackles and interceptions to help halt any progress from the opposition.
Ahmed Elmohamady (75) – 6
Egyptian Ahmed Elmohamady didn’t do anything wrong in the dying moments of the game. He attempted to put in a couple of crosses that were unsuccessful, but other than that it was an uneventful outing for the experienced full-back.
Dean Smith- 7
Dean Smith has done an admirable job in preparing the team in these unusual circumstances. This is even more admirable with the sad news of the passing of his father during the break. The defence looked more organised and there were plenty of bright spots going forward. A loss would have been awful and so Smith has achieved the minimum from this opening game in gaining a point. With some tough games coming up, there will have to be some big performances if Deano is to guide the Villans to safety.
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