For the first time maybe in this entire Premier League season, Aston Villa actually look like a team that can have success in this league.
Saturday's 1-1 draw with Leicester City didn't bring the three points Villa really needed, but it did maintain the momentum that the team has built this week after beating Crystal Palace on Tuesday. With four points in two matches over the last five days, Villa produced half as many points as they earned in the previous 20 matches over 157 days. That certainly counts for something and even with 17th place and safety still nine points away, Villa built some belief this week.
After another encouraging effort for Villa on Saturday against their Midlands rivals at Villa Park, here are the Aston Villa player ratings, based on a scale of 1 to 10, with analysis and stats as well:
GK: Mark Bunn, Rating: 8
Villa's savior on Saturday with his stop of Riyad Mahrez's penalty kick late in the first half that kept Villa within one goal and may have given the claret and blues a lifeline in the Premier League. Also made one spectacular stop on Jamie Vardy and two other routine saves. And although his sweeper-keeper mentality earned him a yellow card and (arguably) cost Villa a goal in this match, it's still hard not to agree with manager Remi Garde's post-match assessment that Bunn gives the Villa team more confidence right now than Brad Guzan.
RB: Leandro Bacuna, Rating: 7
A real offensive outlet for Villa, especially in the second half, Bacuna created two chances and was again involved throughout from his aggressive right back position with Villa playing a narrow midfield. He also mostly defended well on Marc Albrighton.
CB: Jores Okore, Rating: 6
I said that you could argue that Leicester's goal was on Mark Bunn for being off his line unnecessarily as Vardy broke through on goal in the left channel and chipped the Villa goalkeeper -- but the real fault on that moment, which eventually resulted in Leicester's goal via Shinji Okazaki on the rebound after Bunn's acrobatic save, was on Okore for switching off and allowing a direct kick from Leicester's goalkeeper to find Vardy in that area. Okore still earns a 6 because, besides that moment, he was great on Saturday in handling Leicester's attacking with five clearances, three tackles and three interceptions.
CB: Joleon Lescott, Rating: 6
A tough challenge for Lescott with Leceister's pace, but he coped well with the Foxes' crossing and otherwise read the game well for the second consecutive fixture. Seven clearances led the team as the veteran defended like one.
LB: Aly Cissokho, Rating: 6
Another athletic and involved performance from Cissokho, who appears to have nailed down the Villa left back spot for the time being. And thank goodness for that. Facing a real challenge against Mahrez, he managed to keep the talented right winger relatively silent and even got forward and provided width for Villa when needed.
CDM: Idrissa Gana, Rating: 8
Started slow but really found his footing and absolutely ran the second half in midfield. Seemed alone in defensive midfield at times, but still managed to make an incredible eight tackles in this match with 87-percent passing too. Gana appears to finally be finding his feet in the Premier League on a more consistent basis.
RCM: Jordan Veretout, Rating: 4
A disappointing match from Veretout, who had his worst performance in weeks. Played some really sloppy passes and his crossing was very poor. With Bacuna so high up the pitch, the Frenchman is left playing in a strange right back-ish position at times and it doesn't suit him. But the thing is, Veretout still contributed to Villa's splendid second half; and despite this down game, he remains a very good Premier League player.
LCM: Ashley Westwood, Rating: 5
Another steady but not stellar outing for Westwood. Honestly, if there's one position that I'd like to see Villa address in this transfer window, it might be to try and find a quality midfielder to replace Westwood, who just isn't making any real difference for Villa this season. He continues to be a solid squad player and professional, but seeing him miss his chances at scoring and otherwise play average games is getting pretty frustrating.
RAM: Carles Gil, Rating: 4
Quiet game from Gil, who could have no complaints at being taken off. His passing and movement wasn't as crisp, and he appeared to be the one Villa player who struggled to cope with starting two league games in the same week.
LAM: Jordan Ayew, Rating: 6
Another solid performance for Villa's undoubted best player this season. Popped up all over the pitch, completed 85-percent of his passes, won four headers, had two take-ons and one shot -- all without creating anything of real meaning, unfortunately.
ST: Libor Kozak, Rating: 5
Kozak's hold-up play was actually really good as he won 12 aerial duels and connected with his attacking teammates well at times. Unfortunately, his finishing touch wasn't there as he missed a great chance in the first half and spurned other half-chances as well. However, he SHOULD have earned at least one penalty kick for Villa if Leicester Man of the Match Roger East wasn't refereeing. But Kozak may need to go on a goal-scoring run for Villa to have any chance of staying up, and Saturday didn't show much promise of that happening.
ST: Rudy Gestede, Rating: 8
Scored the tying goal, albeit thanks to a slight deflection. Really made a difference after coming on as Villa went more direct and reaped the reward. Does Gestede deserve another chance at starting based on this? Not sure about that, but it was still nice to see Rudy contribute again in a positive way.