Editor's note: We've brought on AnAmericanWatchingVilla to give us a different look at matches. He'll be focusing on away matches and mostly looking at one player in any given match. This week: Ashley Westwood.
On Saturday, Aston Villa traveled to Crystal Palace and lost 2-1. There was a lot that the team got wrong, and there is plenty to be concerned about overall. But if you look around, you can find positives scattered about the pitch. Certain players did things very well despite the flaws of others.
When rewatching this game, before any of the negatives popped up in my mind (I'm looking at you Gabby), Ashley Westwood's performance really popped off of the screen. I couldn't help but noticing him and focusing my attention on him at all times. Westwood was really a bright spot in this game. Playing in a slightly more advanced position than in the last two games due to Carlos Sanchez (who played well himself) getting start, Westwood was able to put in his best performance so far this season, and that's saying something when you consider how well he has been playing. Westwood completed 96% of his passes during Saturday's game and created a number of chances for Villa:
In the pass chart above, provided by Squawka, you can see just how accurate he was in this game.
While it is somewhat obvious by looking at the pass chart, the heat map above from WhoScored paints a clear picture of Westwood's role in the match. He tended to hang around the left side, linking up with Jordan Amavi and Jack Grealish, allowing those two players to do what they do best, attack players with the dribble. Playing more advanced and slightly more to the left allowed Westwood to showcase a nice relationship that he has developed with Amavi. Those two connected on 18 pass combos together (according to StatZone) with Amavi hitting Westwood 11 times and (the highest pass combo for Villa) and Westwood finding Amavi 7 times. Westwood doesn't dwell on the football and makes quick decisions, usually putting the ball in positions for Amavi to latch onto it and go:
The second gif is Westwood in a nutshell. He's a smart player who reads the game well. He knows his strengths and weaknesses and knows the strengths and weaknesses of his teammates. He's not going to try and take on players and carry the ball forward, he seems to know that he has teammates that are better than that and he trusts them to execute. Speaking of reading the game well, the fact that he is able to know what he wants to do with the ball before he gets it really helps his game and his passing accuracy. That quick decision making and passing was on display in the chance that he helped create with Gabby:
That vision and quick passing also helps him switch play from side to side quickly before the defense can recover:
In my opinion, Westwood also does a good job of reading situations and circumstances. After Adama's equalizer, Westwood played as if he knew the team had an advantage in him. He continuously looked to pump the ball into him, and he did a good job of finding him in advance positions, allowing him to create a couple of chances before Palace retook the lead:
What does all this quick and accurate passing do? It makes you the focal point of the defense:
On this sequence, Westwood steps up to receive the pass from Richards. A Palace defender steps up with him, hoping to either take the pass away or not allow Westwood to turn and make another accurate pass. With the defender stepping up, it creates a wide open space for Richards to find Gana. With the defender vacating the area, Gana is allowed to turn and attack (this is the starting sequence that resulted in Grealish's shot on target).
Add this to the defensive work that he puts in -- he made two key interceptions Saturday, one pretty much saving a goal -- and you have a complete player who is only going to continue to get better in my mind. Does he have his flaws? Of course, he's not great at taking corners (a number of his corners on Saturday were far too close to the keeper), and he's not the best crosser of the ball, but hopefully when we are playing at full strength, he won't be asked to do those things. Westwood worked well on the left side with Amavi and Grealish in that slightly more advanced role and with Sanchez finally showing he can be a big time player in the Premier League, I'm excited to see Ashley get more matches in this role. On another day, a performance like this is the type of performance that can win games for Villa.