For a little while, Anwar El Ghazi’s Aston Villa career looked to be over. Not over in the sense that he’d never play again, but over in the sense that the loanee had been seen to be a flash in the pan - and when Villa looked for him to be a spark against a dominant Norwich City side, he fell short - disappointingly short.
And just like that, Anwar was gone. Albert Adomah and Yannick Bolasie entered the fray - and Ahmed Elmohamady deputised on the wings. Jonathan Kodjia started out wide. There was no room at all for El Ghazi. After seeing action against Norwich, it’d be a good few games before he saw the bench, and a few more before he stepped off that same bench.
In no uncertain terms, it seems that Dean Smith’s decision to drop El Ghazi now appears to be some kind of a masterstroke. While Anwar was no poor performer, his initial role at Villa left the side unbalanced. The tricky El Ghazi seemed determined to play a more attacking part for Villa - leaving his full-back on an island and facing an overload. Speaking with AVFC’s media team, El Ghazi revealed that his Head Coach Smith had asked him to work more holistically on his total game - including a focus on defending. El Ghazi has clearly obeyed Smith in this regard, and after bagging four goals in a mid-season exhibition match and finding his way back onto the pitch, the Dutch youngster looks much better for Smith’s coaching.
While his pressing from the front and his involvement in the defensive phases of the game have improved, Anwar’s attacking abilities are still his main selling point (and boy, I hope Villa are buying). A solid strike against Nottingham Forest brought Villa back into the game and his performance against Middlesbrough seemed to stun the Teesiders. However, his display in the West Midlands derby against West Bromwich Albion this past Friday tops the lot. El Ghazi displayed his full attacking talents and seemed to thrive on a slightly hostile atmosphere. With the opposition focused on shutting down Jack Grealish through the middle, El Ghazi found room to impress when underlapping his full-back - a move which saw him score two identical (in effort) goals, with the second a particular highlight. The winger found room to hit the ball after cutting inwards and it seemed destined to find the top corner. Even without the goal, his wizardry and direct running cut West Brom apart with relative ease - taking the pressure off the side.
A narrative of Villa’s season thus far has been the emergence of key players. John McGinn and Axel Tuanzebe dominated the first section of the season with their displays - and Tammy Abraham has went from strength to strength. Yannick Bolasie was another to emerge as key player in the past few weeks. Now, we add Anwar El Ghazi to the list of new additions who are proving key to Villa’s promotion efforts this season. A team of MVP’s amongst the already established stars. How lucky are we?