Against Leicester City, Aston Villa were able to use goals from Jack Grealish and Carles Gil to take a 2-0 lead on the road. With things looking to be wrapped up, Tim Sherwood subbed Gil off seconds after he scored. Once that happened, Leicester City surged back and won the game 3-2. Rewatching the game, it was easy to see how important Gil was and why Leicester City was able to mount a comeback with him off of the pitch.
From the start, Gil was engaged and positive. He looked to take players on, even in tight positions and was looking to create things from nothing:
Though the results from these two plays weren't positive, it set the tone and showed how Gil wanted to attack the game. Backing up a little bit, Gil started the game on the right side, and with Ashley Westwood playing a little bit deeper in this match, Gil sort took on the role that Westwood thrived in during the game against Crystal Palace (though Westwood was on the left). Gil was the midfield player that was used to retain possession, hold up play, and transition the ball to the other attacking players.
It was a very good performance, and one that was pretty comparable to Westwood's. He even set Gabby free with a wonderful through ball:
There were two things that helped set this performance apart from Westwood's a few weeks ago and it's why I think Gil can thrive in this role. First, Gil is very good with the ball at his feet. This is important, because it helped Villa retain possession. Gil was able to receive a pass, take a few touches, put himself in a better position to make another pass and move the ball on.
Additionally, Gil was either given the freedom to roam more or he was more willing to do it. Here is a look at Gil's touches from the match, provided by WhoScored:
As you can see, most came from the right, but he also roamed over to the middle/left side of the pitch to help Villa maintain possession:
It was that willingness to roam and change sides that allowed Gil to be in position to get his goal:
After his goal, Gil was taken off of the pitch and Jordan Ayew replaced him. Westwood got pushed a little further up the pitch to help be that outlet to pass the ball to. However, neither Ayew or Westwood were able to replicate Gil's skillset and his impact on the match. For as good as Westwood is (and I love him as a player), he doesn't have the ability to make plays with the ball at his feet and that hurt him once Gil came off:
In the clip above, Westwood has plenty of space to control the ball, carry a little bit and then move it on. Instead, he tries for the first time pass, and that is intercepted. Ayew also had a few opportunities to replicate what Gil provided and while he is more willing to try to take on players with the ball, his touch failed him a few times:
That turnover led to Leicester City's final goal. In his interview after the match, Tim Sherwood talked about Villa's inability to maintain possession during the stretch of the game where they gave up the lead:
"The only way you stop momentum is by keeping the ball off the opposition, and we gave it back to them so easily in the last half an hour and it’s something we need to improve on.
"We could have done more to stop them. They weren’t breakaway goals. It wasn’t our defending it was when we had possession and turned it over so cheaply, giving them the opportunity to attack us – that’s the most disappointing for me."
You know who helped keep the ball? Carles Gil. When Gil was subbed off, Villa had 53% of possession and were completing 78% of their passes. In the 30 minutes that Gil was off of the pitch, Villa only had 45% of possession and only completed 67% of their passes. Yes, there were other factors why Villa lost the game, but if the manager wants to blame the players for giving away possession too cheaply, he probably should have kept the player on who wasn't doing that.