Wednesday’s showing at Burnley was a disappointing one for Aston Villa fans. It was very much a tale of two halves. Villa started off fairly slow, then grew into the game and began to show their quality. They took the lead through a perfect delivery once again from the in-form left back Matt Targett to Ollie Watkins, who executed a delicate and assured finish. Villa fans believed this would be an easy ride. Yet several chances by Ollie Watkins, Ross Barkley and Bertrand Traoré, which could’ve resulted in Villa extending their lead before the half, were rescued by Nick Pope in goal and it remained 1–0 to the visitors. Ultimately, the Villa squad would regret missing those first-half chances.
Second half downfall
With a first half expected goals value of 2.03 xG to Burnley’s 0.08 xG, it was clear Villa were the dominant side. But on more than one occasion they were left in awe of Pope’s ability to keep Burnley in the game, a regular, fortunate occurrence for the Clarets. Following his heroics, Burnley stepped it up a gear in the second half. Villa could consider themselves unlucky, as the score line did not reflect a true representation of the game. Burnley recorded an expected goals of 0.7 7xG whilst Villa had a 2.71 xG. Regardless of what should have happened, Villa came out in this second half a different side.
Did Covid-19 have an impact?
Aston Villa experienced significantly more trouble in the second half, both going forward and tracking back. A combination of a congested run of games after weeks of not training or playing due to the outbreak could be catching up to the young Villa squad. They applied pressure 72 times to Burnley, the lowest of the entire season. For comparison, they had 62% possession on Wednesday and against Newcastle 59% possession, yet against Newcastle they applied pressure 111 times. Villa also recorded a season low in dribbling success rate with only 18.8% completed. The previous low was 57.1% against Wolves, a significant drop. The combination of tiredness and possible lack of fitness following the COVID-19 outbreak could have affected Villa’s longevity in this game, as the second half display was a shadow of the first. Their poor second-half performance was not due to any individual player, but rather the team as a whole.
Man of the match
As usual, one player stood out. There wasn’t much more Jack Grealish could’ve done to drag Villa to a win. He was heavily involved in the build-up to the first goal and scored the second, as well as providing 8 shot creating actions and 2 goal creating actions. He quite literally held Villa up through this game, with 37.7% of the total amount of progressive distance covered by Villa. He also recorded 21 progressive carries–carries towards the opponent’s goal. This was his 2nd most all season, only topped by the emphatic win against West Brom.
Ultimately Villa probably could have done with fresh legs earlier than the 83rd minute, as fatigue was an issue. Given the crowded schedule, this is to be expected considering the events in recent months. They must have time to rest before another tough test on Saturday away at Southampton.