With a trip to Wembley at stake, the second leg of the League Cup semi-final gave the Villa a great opportunity to build on two positive performances against Brighton and Watford. With the first leg against Leicester City at the King Power a stalemate, the aggregate score didn’t matter. Thus the head-to-head with the Foxes at Villa Park was an all or nothing affair. Late drama had grabbed Villa the win against Watford, and once again action at the death certainly wasn’t lacking.
Dean Smith made three changes to the side that had beaten Watford, with Danny Drinkwater cup tied, Pepe Reina suffering with a tight calf and Trezeguet dropping to the bench. New £8.5 million man Ally Samatta led the line, with the addition of a striker greatly welcomed by the Villa faithful. Samatta provided a mostly unknown entity upfront, that could surely cause a few surprises for defenders in weeks to come.
The Villa boys dug in, and put in a fantastic team performance to give the fans exactly what they wanted, a trip to Wembley. A string of outstanding saves from stopper Orjan Nyland kept the Villans in the game early on, as the Foxes could have blown Villa away. After the pressure was dealt with, the ball found itself at the feet of Jack Grealish, who deftly flicked the ball into the path of Matt Targett. The fullback didn’t pass up the opportunity and thumped his shot past a helpless Kasper Schmeichel.
Villa went in at half time one up, and bar the chances from Leicester early on, it felt deserved.
Villa came out for the second half well, and kept up their pressure on the Leicester goal with good pressing, forcing Schmeichel and co into mistakes. Ally Samatta fluffed his lines, as he missed a chance from a cross that was flashed across the face of goal.
After the continued pressure, Leicester broke. Harvey Barnes gained a step on Fred Guilbert to put the ball to the back post, and Kelechi Iheanacho found himself on the scoresheet against the Villans yet again, after Targett got caught ball watching.
The tie looked set to be going to penalties after a well battled 90 minutes, but substitute Ahmed Elmohamady did what he does best, and played a teasing ball from deep. The Egyptian connection fired into life as it was met by Trezeguet at the far post on the volley.
Trezeguet made no mistake of this chance, after he had missed one earlier, and fired home the goal that would send Villa down Wembley Way.
It doesn’t matter who the Villa will face at the national stadium, it just matters that they got there.
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Orjan Nyland- 8.5 MOTM
Orjan Nyland’s early saves kept Villa in the game, it’s as simple as that. The tip of Youri Tielemans shot onto the bar from the big Norwegian, was one of the best saves seen at Villa Park for a good while. Though his kicking wasn’t as accurate as Reina’s, it didn’t prove a problem for the Villa. Without Nyland’s efforts, it certainly wouldn’t be Villa fans singing Que sera.
So good were Nyland’s saves, it was as if Villa Park had been visited by the ghost of Mark Bosnich.
Frederic Guilbert – 7
Fred Guilbert put a real shift in. He made the most tackles of any Villa player, and did well for the most part in dealing with the dynamic Harvey Barnes down the Leicester left. The one time where Barnes really beat Guilbert in close, he set up the Foxes’ equaliser. This one lapse doesn’t take away from the all-round impressive performance otherwise.
Ezri Konsa – 8
By far the best of the back three, Ezri Konsa was composed on the ball and effective when asked to defend. The young centre-back’s passing wasn’t to it’s usual high standard, but Villa had a great deal less possession than in recent weeks, and so this was to expected. With each game Konsa is learning and improving, which is great to see.
Tyrone Mings – 7
There were some uncharacteristic errors from Tyrone Mings early on. His failure to close down an onrushing Maddison led to the first of the Leicester midfielder’s chances. The 26-year-old then managed to get himself in a real pickle when trying to usher the ball to Nyland, when under pressure from Iheanacho.
Thankfully a goal wasn’t the result from either scenario, and the England international improved once the mistakes were out of his system. With the loss of Pepe Reina, Mings stepped up to provide the main voice at the back once again.
Kortney Hause – 7
Teams really need to stop putting their strikers on Kortney Hause and playing the ball long, it doesn’t work. Hause is unrivalled when it comes to his aerial ability and this was on show for all to see. Leicester tried this direct approach late on and the back three stood firm to send the ball back the other way.
Hause has had the ability to give fans kittens when he’s on the ball so far this season. At times he did exactly that against the Foxes, one pass towards Matt Targett was far short of its destination and Leicester broke. Much like Mings’ errors, it wasn’t punished, and it was great to see the Villa have a bit of good fortune.
Matt Targett – 8
Wing-back Matt Targett provided a constant threat down the left-hand side. His interchanging with Jack Grealish was very pleasing to watch, and a good sign for the weeks and months to come. The 24-year-old’s crossing was dangerous, and caused problems for the Leicester defence several times, especially during the first half.
He took his goal very well, and it seemed to spark a lot of confidence. The way he moved on the ball afterwards was that of a player on top form, as he took players on and won the ball back well.
He was guilty of losing Iheanacho, when it came to Leicester’s goal though
Marvelous Nakamba – 8.5
Other than a couple of dodgy passes in the second half, Marvelous Nakamba had a very good game indeed. He screened the defence effectively and nipped in to grab the ball from Leicester time after time. The last two performances from the Zimbabwean have been those of a top player. Perhaps he has just got up to speed with the English game. Either way it’s a good sign.
Douglas Luiz – 7
Even though the Brazilian wasn’t as scintillating as he was at Brighton and against Watford, Douglas Luiz showed some grit. He pushed forward to pressure the Leicester midfield while Nakamba sat deep, and his tackles and interceptions helped Villa to break once or twice.
Much like Nakamba, Douglas seems to very gradually be getting up to speed with the English game. It’s been frustrating at times to watch him do it, but now he’s quicker to react, he’s a better player. There’s still more gears there for him to move through, but he’s young, and the best is still to come.
Anwar El Ghazi – 7
For once, Anwar El Ghazi’s effort cannot be faulted. He spearheaded the Villa press at times, and tracked back to offer support to Guilbert when he was needed. Attacking wise the winger didn’t offer too much, but when he got the ball, he moved it on well. The Dutchman also made Kasper Schmeichel sweat with a free kick just over the bar.
Ally Samatta – 6
Ally Samatta did a reasonable job in his first game in English football. Though the Tanzanian couldn’t make the most of the two chances he got, he found himself in promising positions. The ball seems to stick to him, which is promising, and it looks like he could provide Villa with a good out ball option.
Like with many foreign imports, Samatta needs to get up to speed with the English game. It made a big difference just to have a proper striker leading the line however.
Jack Grealish © – 8.5
Jack Grealish showed exactly why he should be in the England squad, and especially if James Maddison is his competition. The Villa captain drove forward with the ball and created chance after chance for the Villans. His assist for the opener was brilliant, and a couple of the ball he whipped into the box deserved to be put into the net. He won free kicks all over the park, it goes without saying, and other than scoring did everything in his power to send Villa to Wembley.
Off the Bench
Kienan Davis (66) – 7.5
Big man Kiena Davis bullied the Leicester defenders at times. He used his frame well to hold up the ball and bring others into play, and showed the fans what they’ve been missing while he’s been out injured. Davis has real promise, and scares defenders when he throws his weight around, he’s also got a pretty decent first touch for a player of his type. Villa have gone from no strikers, to two solid options.
Trezeguet (76) – 7.5
Trezeguet had the all-important touch that secured the cup final place. He could’ve done anything for the rest of the time he was on the pitch and he would still be a hero. He made up for scuffing an earlier easier shot by making no mistake in the dying embers of the game. He turned up when it counted.
Ahmed Elmohamady (83) – 7
For all of his floors defensively, there’s one thing that Ahmed Elmohamady can do really well, and that is cross from deep. The ball he played was perfect, and it is moments of quality like that, that you need to win games.
[TEAM EFFORT – 9]
Dean Smith – 8
Not only did Dean Smith set up the team well to deal with the threat Leicester threw at them, he made changes that made the difference. The back five is working, and Leicester had no way around it. A bit of luck was needed, but he made sure the Villa boys saw the job through.
It seems a long time ago that the Villa were gung-ho leaving two players back while everyone else attacked. A more measured approach from Smith has been rightfully rewarded with some good league performances and a Cup Final trip. If Deano can keep these performances coming, the Villa faithful will have very little to worry about.