By Jonathan Parkin
New Year, New Formation
With the emergence of a new decade, many hoped a new Aston Villa would appear. 2019 ended with a whimper for the Villans, with three points out of nine against relegation rivals.
In terms of formation and personnel, Dean Smith changed things up big time with a move to five at the back. This was a move that many of the Villa faithful had been calling for. Anything would better than the display against Watford, that highlighted the lack of commitment from some of the players. A huge bit of news was that Tyrone Mings returned, at the middle of the back three, with Villa having looked disorganised in defence without him.
Miraculously it was a completely different looking performance from the Villa boys. It had everything that was needed, quality in the final third, defensive stability and hard work in midfield. The change to the five in defence did a world of good as the wingbacks were less exposed than they had been as full backs. The attack was more fluent, with Jack Grealish and Trezeguet sitting narrower to Wesley and actually offering the big Brazilian support.
It really should have been 3-0 at the break, with a goal disallowed after a few nanometres of Wesley’s heel were found offside after an eternity of checks. Villa didn’t let this get them down and played with ruthless skill. Burnley looked like they were still inebriated from their New Year celebrations. The second half was cagier, but despite a late Chris Wood goal, the Villa held on for a well-deserved three points.
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Tom Heaton- 6
Heaton had little to do for most of the game, but claimed crosses well and was decent with the ball at his feet. The one shot on target that Burnley had went in, despite the athletic attempt from the Clarets former shot stopper, but you can’t really blame Heaton for the goal. His injury after the goal could be a real blow for the future, as Heaton has been the one continuous element of quality for the Villans all season.
Frederic Guilbert- 7
Frenchman Guilbert didn’t set the world alight at right-wingback, but he was solid defensively and made the most tackles of any Villa player. His commitment going forward and hard tackling style should suit the wingback position very well, and means the defence is less open and exposed when he repeatedly gallops up the pitch.
Ezri Konsa- 7
Ezri Konsa was the only member of the defence to make a big mistake. He wasn’t anywhere near strong enough in the air for the Burnley goal, as Chris Wood brushed him aside to head home. His passing however, was good. The 22-year-old played more accurate long balls than any other Villa player. He also did well to cover for Guilbert when he bombed on.
Tyrone Mings- 8.5
The difference that Tyrone Mings made was huge. The defence finally had a leader once again, he shouted and commanded his fellow players from start to finish. He effectively played as the quarter back for the Villa attack too, starting most moves with well placed passes, his passing was the most accurate of all the back line.
Defensively he was a rock, making up for mistakes from other players and being no-nonsense when he needed to be. The Villa team is much more likely to win with Mings at the back.
Kortney Hause- 7.5
It goes without saying that Kortney Hause was dominant in the air once again. He also did very well to cover when Taylor made mistakes or misplaced the ball, showing the perks of the back five. He blocked a number of shots and was firm in the tackle. Hause has bags of ability, and has grabbed his opportunity with both hands since coming into the starting XI.
Neil Taylor- 6.5
Neil Taylor was unspectacular and offered very little on the front foot. In reality though, were Villa fans expecting anything to write home about from the Welshman? He did his job reasonably well, and didn’t over extend himself on many occasions. He was certainly more defensively astute than Matt Targett has been in recent weeks.
Douglas Luiz- 7.5
For once Douglas Luiz didn’t give away stupid fouls outside the box, and moved the ball on much quicker than usual. His passing was clean and he put some teasing balls into the Burnley box. This was more of a performance of a quality box-to-box midfielder, which is what many Villa fans were expecting of the Brazil international when he came to Villa park.
The only downside to his game was that he should have scored at least once when two golden opportunities presented themselves in the second half. He just needs to be more consistently like this and not the lethargic mess that played at Watford.
Marvellous Nakamba – 7
Marvellous, this is what the Villa need from Marvellous Nakamba. He gave the ball away dangerously a couple of times, but his all-round play was much improved. He screened the defence well, while Douglas was more advanced. His energy was high as ever, which is needed in a two-man central midfield partnership, as there is more distance to cover by fewer players.
Though he’s not the most combative midfielder in the world, he’s the closest Villa have to that bit of sand paper in the centre of the park. He’ll be an important figure for the rest of the season unless someone else is brought in.
Trezeguet – 6.5
The hard-working Egyptian Trezeguet put a shift in again, despite not testing the Burnley defence a great deal. His work-rate is admirable and if he can get his technical play to a higher level, he’ll be a very good player. Away from home, he is useful to have in the XI, as he showed in this game, as he dropped into midfield to make it a three on a number of occasions when Burnley were on the front foot.
Jack Grealish © – 9 MOTM
Super Jack Grealish was at it again. Despite being shown as wide left in the formation, he drifted essentially where he wanted to, providing Wesley with support from a much more central area. He controlled the game well, and most importantly got the ball into his feet and ran at opponents.
His late runs from deep were very impressive and would’ve resulted in a goal if the VAR wasn’t so interested in undermining the on-field officials. His finish for the goal that counted was emphatic, and it’s plain to see he’s streets ahead of any other attacking player that the Villa have. As long as the Villans get Jack on the ball, they stand a chance of scoring.
It was all going so well for Wesley until his injury. The big man was causing problems for the Burnley defence and linked up with Jack Grealish exceptionally for the first goal. He ran the channels much more than he has done in the past and this resulted in space for others to run into. He proved his doubters wrong, and it’s great that he got a goal.
He’s young and often frustrating to watch, but you can see a good player is in there, if he gets consistent support from both his team mates and the fans. Let’s hope his injury isn’t as bad as it looks.
Off the Bench
Jonathan Kodjia (70) – 6
The ball didn’t stick with Jonathan Kodjia well when the Ivorian entered the fray. He had one stand out opportunity, where he should have squared the ball instead of letting his shot dribble wide. After Wesley went off, the game shifted quite drastically in the favour of Burnley. There could be problems down the line if Wesley is injured for a significant amount of time.
Conor Hourihane (77) – 6
Conor Hourihane didn’t do a fat lot after coming off the bench. He provided an extra body in the midfield but was unable to utilise any of his attacking talents, as Villa were firmly on the defensive in the last ten minutes.
Orjan Nyland (84) – 6
Claimed one cross well to release the pressure off the Villans late on, but had little to do other than that.
Dean Smith- 8
Much like Dean Smith’s substitutions, the tactical change that Smith made was a long time coming. The switch in formation made a huge difference and actually suited the players that Villa have more than his traditional 433. All three centre-backs are comfortable moving up into midfield with the ball to get things going, and the full-backs are less exposed.
It feels like a weight has been lifted off the team with a win. Moving out of the relegation zone feels a tad undeserved, but can only be good for morale among the players.
Let hope these new injuries don’t compromise Villa’s progress at Turf Moor.
Follow Jonathan on Twitter here – @JonParkinSports