The theme of the previous week around the Villa should be to expect the unexpected. The start of the week brought the likes of Ross Barkley in on loan and unfortunately saw Aston Villa look poor against Stoke at home during the round of 16 in the League Cup. To cap off such an interesting week, it is only fitting that Aston Villa put in one of their greatest performances against such unlikely opponents. While welcoming the league champions to Villa Park, the Claret and Blue decided to put 7 goals into the back of the net and comfortably rolling onto a 3 game winning streak in the league heading into the international break.
Liverpool were missing their Number 1, Allison Becker and Superstar Sadio Mané against the Villans but the expectation from everyone outside the Aston Villa dressing room was that Champions would be able to make short work of the home team. Aston Villa began to defy expectations in the fourth minute while capitalizing on the replacement keeper’s mistake while passing out the back, Jack Grealish picked up the passed ball and gave it right to Ollie Watkins for his first Premier League goal. The match from then on played out like a dream, Villa got on the right side of one of the best defensive lines in football time and time again. On an even better day the score could have been even more shocking though, as there were opportunities squandered on several occasions. Nevertheless, these days do not come often, but they should be seen as a signal of intent to the league: Dean Smith’s Aston Villa is here to compete.
Heading into the game, Martinez was the only keeper to have kept a clean sheet in each of his last games in the Premier League and was the last keeper to win against Liverpool in the Community Shield and in the League with Arsenal. In this game Emi had his ups and his downs but ultimately a pretty solid game and importantly kept his perfect record against Liverpool. The goals that he let up were ultimately caused by lapses in defense combined with unlucky bouncing balls falling to the most dangerous man on the pitch, Mohammad Salah. Martinez did well in a few saves off of shots from Diego Jota and Andy Robertson to keep the score at 2 and keep the game from being competitive. His saves off of Robertson’s shots in particular were fantastic as they were both reaction saves from within 5 yards and were not deflected into the danger. Rating: 7
Matty Cash (87th Minute)
Over the past three games there has been consistency from the Villa backline that usually only comes from a tight knit group that has been playing with each other for some time. The catch is though, Matty Cash has only arrived a month ago but already looks like a mainstay in the Claret and Blue. Cash was vital in the buildup along the right side and linked up well with Barkley and Trezeguet to get the ball forward. In the defensive half, Cash did well playing against what was essentially a constant overload with world class players in Robertson and Jota. Also, he provided a few emergency tackles when called upon with the composure typical of a seasoned veteran. Rating: 7
Liverpool is an interesting matchup to face as a center half because the usual tactics needed to mark a traditional striker prove a bit useless against their system as Firmino acts as a false nine to play in the wingers in a fluid front three. Regardless, Konsa did he best to get stuck in and was able to rack up 5 clearances in a system that was set up to deal with pressure. Despite playing in a more zonal defending role than he is typically used to, the young center half also was able to provide some emergency heroics and block a shot from Diego Jota from a ball which fell to the Portuguese winger near the penalty spot. Rating: 6.5
Usually, Mings acts as the zonal/aerial defender of the unit when paired with Konsa and the game against Liverpool played to these strengths. While under pressure throughout the match, the leader of Villa’s backline organized those around him to create a cohesive unit and to sniff out the danger before it became a problem. To this end, Mings was able to rack up 6 clearances and block two shots. Liverpool also famously plays a high line which Mings exploited with his pinpoint accurate balls over the top to Watkins and company. The highlight of Mings’ day was a passage in play which saw him successfully win the ball away from a Liverpool attacker, make a fantastic run up the right touchline, and drop the ball at Trezeguet’ s feet to jump start the attack. Rating: 7.5
After some dodgy performances against the stingy offenses of Sheffield United and Fulham, it was completely expected for to Targett get rocked against Ballon d’ Or candidate Mohammad Salah. However, he instead pulled out one of his best performances in a Villa shirt and neutralized the threats coming down the left wing. Salah only found success while playing more centralized and Trent Alexander Arnold he usually makes his name operating on the left was quiet all game. Targett was in and around the action while racking up 6 clearances including an acrobatic diving clearance to save what looked to be a sure goal opportunity. Although there wasn’t much to speak of offensively from Targett, the defensive shift he put in was plenty impactful. Rating: 7.5
Douglas Luiz (Subbed 80th)
Typically Luiz operates as a lone number 6 in the midfield and is responsible for recycling play between both sides while in possession and breaking up the play while in defense. However, against Liverpool Dean Smith knew that Villa would be starved for possession and game planned accordingly. This meant that McGinn would drop deeper in midfield as a partner with Luiz in the number 6 role and that Luiz would rarely be able to make an impact in holding possession. Within the game plan, Douglas Luiz played well and held down the midfield while play went down the wings with the fullbacks that Liverpool boast. This play is evidenced by his defensive numbers with successful tackles, interceptions, a clearance, and a pair of blocked shots. Also, he was able to flaunt he knowledge of the dark arts by fouling on a couple of occasions to stop counter attacks and earned a yellow for the effort. Rating: 7
With the arrival of Ross Barkley, the Villa midfield was suddenly crowded with offensive playmakers and it was unclear how Dean Smith would utilize everyone’s talent. Despite Deano noting that he prefers a system that utilizes two number 8s, against Liverpool he dropped McGinn into a number 6 role alongside Douglas Luiz with a license to go forward. It remains to be seen if the role is a permanent change but McGinn took to it like a fish to water. In defense he was able to impose himself on the play and win the ball back with relentless pressing with multiple tackles and a pair of interceptions. Offensively, McGinn went forward with purpose and filled in behind Grealish and Barkley while either ran into the box. The Scot got onto the score sheet in the 35th minute with a rocket volley off a corner which was deflected past the keeper for the 3rd Villa goal. McGinn wasn’t done though as he assisted Jack Grealish’s second goal with a brilliant through ball which left the Captain in acers of space. Throughout the game McGinn adapted well to a tweak in his role while still offering the intensity going forward that he is known for. Rating: 9
Trezeguet (Subbed 87th)
While he only shows up on the scoresheet once with an assist, Trezeguet was a one of the most influential Villans throughout his time on the pitch. The work that Trez put in while pressing and making runs behind the defense broke the Liverpool back line on multiple occasions. In fact, Trezeguet was working himself into so many creative and attacking positions he looked likely to score multiples if he had the final ball sent to him. Also, this work rate showed itself in his willingness to track back and support the defense which is entirely necessary against the Liverpool fullbacks who are known for their attacking prowess. The winger also showed plenty of quality to go along with his grit as well. Trezeguet was able to flip the pitch on several occasions with crosses which showed with 3 through balls in the match. Not to mention the inch perfect cross that he put across the face of goal to assist Ollie Watkins’ perfect hat trick. Coming into the season the fan base saw Traoré as Trezeguet’s replacement but with more performances like this the Egyptian will keep the new man at bay. Rating: 8.5
After a shock loan signing in midweek, Barkley was able quickly get into the side to feature against his boyhood rivals Liverpool. Although initially branded as a number 8, the debutant played higher up the pitch in a number 10 role right behind the striker. Barkley was often the pressure release valve for the defense as he collected many out balls and distributed them forward for the attackers or took them on a run himself. From the first whistle, Barkley seemed to be a different attacking threat as he made runs from midfield into the box and often found himself in front of goal. In fact if he converted his chances at a higher rate, then Villa could have seen themselves with 9 or 10 on the scoreboard tonight. The goal he did score was a beauty though as it came off a quick 1-2 with Grealish and ended with Barkley curling the ball over the keeper, added by a deflection. However, it was the selfishness which denied Trezeguet a couple of golden opportunities at goal and consequently a couple of assists for Barkley, but with a 5 goal difference between the oppositions this can be overlooked a bit. Barkley looks good already, but with a consistent spot in the team he could knock off the rust and really be something special. Rating: 8
Against Liverpool, Grealish was nothing short of amazing. The talisman was able to captain his side through a demolition of the top side in the country, possibly the world, and collect five goal contributions for himself along the way. The captain began his day by collecting a wayward ball from Adrian, forcing Joe Gomez to retreat, and putting it on a plate for Ollie Watkins. Then Grealish earned his second assist by placing a perfectly weighted through ball in the path of a running Watkins who then curled it into the top corner. The final assist to complete the assisted hat trick came from a link up with Ross Barkley in which the pair played a one two in the middle of the pitch and the run from Grealish which distracted the defense and allowed the shooting opportunity.
Super Jack wasn’t finished though, in the 66th minute he collected a ball from Watkins in space and while curling it on target deflected the ball off of a defender to put it past the diving keeper. The night was capped off with a brace from Grealish in the 75th minute where the captain did well to break the high line of Liverpool and take a through ball from McGinn into a 1 on 1 with the keeper and earn the brace. Aside from all the goal scoring the captain put in an inspirational performance by tracking back along his flank, keeping the squad organized, and pressing the opposition relentlessly. This was the best night Grealish has had as a footballer and reinforces the importance of the five year deal he signed a few weeks ago. Rating: 10 (Man of the Match)
Through the last two games, Ollie Watkins showed that he does all the things that a striker should do but just missed out on goal. Against Liverpool, Watkins cashed in all that hard work for a perfect hat trick against the reigning league Champions. For the first goal, Watkins showed a keen sense of awareness in the 6 yard box and playing with intensity while pressing. For the second, Watkins displayed the individual talent which made him a Dean Smith favorite and Villas record signing while dribbling around the defense and curling a beauty in the top corner. To complete the perfect hat trick, Watkins displayed his aerial prowess and his pace to beat the defense. For reference, the last Premier League hat trick from a Villa man was from Christian Benteke in April of 2015, against QPR.
The record signing even did the dirty work of hold up play throughout the match and assisted Grealish for goal number 6 with a lovely effort which saw him win the ball from pressing and imitate his captain by gliding forward and just placing the ball in front of the talisman. Also, speaking of pressing the effort off the ball from Watkins cannot be denied as it literally led to the first and sixth goals of the match. Lastly, Watkins was so instrumental in breaking the Liverpool high line that he forced the substitution of Joe Gomez and the change in shape from a team which went unbeaten through January of last year. Through the match Watkins proved that he is fully capable of doing everything that could possibly be asked of a Premier League striker, but he did it against one of the best defenses in the world. Rating: 10
Marvelous Nakamba (Subbed on 80th)
Brought on late to protect the lead and Douglas Luiz from a second yellow, Nakamba saw out the game and almost had an effort from long range squeak through the keeper’s arms. Rating: N/A
Ahmed Elmohamady (Subbed on 80th)
Brought on to provide a veteran presence, Elmo put in a fine cross late for an opportunity but didn’t do much else. Rating: N/A
Bertrand Traoré (Subbed on 87th)
Took 8 touches and a shot off target while seeing out the result. Rating: N/A