Lucas Digne assists on his return to Goodison Park as Steven Gerrard’s side capitalise from another set-piece. It wasn’t a pretty performance from the Villans, but was enough to see the game over the line, and the claret and blue side climb into the top-half of the table as a result.
Here are the main talking points from Saturday’s early kick-off on Merseyside...
Money well spent after all...
Aston Villa’s current form player is Emiliano Buendía, and it was the Argentine who made the difference once again this weekend. Having faced his fair share of criticism in the six months he has spent at the club, the number 10 can receive absolutely no hate from pundits and Aston Villa fans alike with the way he is playing at the moment.
Buendía is Villa’s record-signing after joining from Norwich City last summer for a reported £38 million, and whilst not hitting the heights from the get-go, the 25 year-old really looks like he is coming into his own as of late.
The creative midfielder was deemed the best player on the pitch by many in the previous game against Manchester United, despite Philippe Coutinho and Jacob Ramsey winning most of the plaudits for their goals and assists on the night.
A staple of his game from both matches was his ability to receive the ball on the turn and drive at the opposition defence, manoeuvring and outwitting on many occasions. This aspect of the former Norwich man’s game is what the Villa faithful expected to see from the start of his career in claret and blue, and whilst they have had to wait to see it on a consistent basis, his play can be quite the spectacle at times and the 5’7 man is hugely effective in this Steven Gerrard side.
Despite being the man to bring him to B6, it did not seem as if Dean Smith could get the best out of his record-signing, but under Gerrard’s stewardship and guidance, the Premier League is really starting to see the best of Emi Buendía; evidenced most recently through his game-winning goal against Everton.
Lucas Digne is another man who has proved his worth since joining the club earlier this month, and it was his perfectly-executed ball in from the corner that created the game-winner. On the stroke of half-time, the former Everton full-back swung a delightful ball towards the front-post where Buendía found himself after making a quick dart away from the Everton shirts that were marking him.
The little Argentine deftly lofted the ball over the unsuspecting Jordan Pickford — who quickly attempted to claw the ball away from his goal, but could only poke it over the head of Andros Townsend on the far-post.
It was a fine goal from the away side, a move that had clearly been worked on at Bodymoor Heath, and was executed with precision and the upmost effectiveness. The header was nothing short of perfection, and was a finish any tall strikers or towering centre-backs would be proud of, highlighting just how incredible the goal was, given it came from the 5’7 frame of Emi Buendía!
The home crowd at Goodison Park would have known all about the capability of Digne from dead-ball scenarios, and the magic he can create with his wand of a left foot after watching him as one of their own over the years. His former teammates would have also been just as clued up on the Frenchman’s crossing abilities, indicating just how remarkable the assist was that it could deceive those who know him all too well.
Digne picked up not only his first assist in an Aston Villa shirt, but his first cleansheet too, and whilst it was not the tidiest of displays from anyone in Villa colours, each and every one of them can take credit and pride for the way they battled and fought from start to finish, in order to earn those valuable three points.
Steven Gerrard was undeniably delighted with the victory, and will be hopeful this win can be the first of many over the next several weeks, with his side facing three teams that occupy the bottom half of the table up next in Leeds United, Newcastle United and Watford.
Don’t lack the bottle...
The last few weeks and months for Everton have been incredibly difficult, particularly for the fans. A single win in their last 13 games, poor performances and frustrating decisions have been the epitome of the Toffees since their four game unbeaten run at the start of the season came to an end.
Rafa Benitez was to blame for many of these concerns in the eyes of the Everton fans, as well as owner Farhad Moshiri, and these frustrations were bound to be expressed at Goodison Park for this fixture, and are likely to be conveyed at the ones that follow.
Interim Manager Duncan Ferguson highlighted before the game that it would be “an incredibly tough game”, and that his side needed the home support to be up for it, saying: “We really need them to push us across the line for the whole game.” Ferguson’s pre-match war cry, partnered with the already feisty atmosphere meant it would certainly be a hostile environment around the ground, especially if the Blues were to go a goal down.
Of course Aston Villa were the side to break the deadlock, and former-Toffee Lucas Digne was the craftsman. With that, the built-up frustrations and discontent around Goodison Park starting to vent out, especially with Steven Gerrard’s men gathering by the corner flag to celebrate.
To follow was a moment of madness, as an outburst of pent-up aggression emerged from the Gwladys Street End that led to a number of fans throwing bottles and coins at the huddle of claret shirts. Lucas Digne (unironically) and Matty Cash were the two Aston Villa players to be struck by the flying objects, and as a result, hit the deck.
This type of act is totally uncalled for, regardless of circumstances and goings on, and must be condemned in football. The event has led to the arrest of one fan, and Everton have since released the following statement:
Police have arrested a supporter at Goodison Park for throwing a missile onto the pitch during today’s Premier League match against Aston Villa.— Everton (@Everton) January 22, 2022
Of course the scenes were ugly and unpleasant, but the half-time whistle followed shortly after and with his side entering the break at 1-0 to the good, Steven Gerrard had the opportunity to ready his men for the second-half.
Overall, the second 45 minutes from Aston Villa was relatively unattractive and lacked quality at times, but neither the team, the fans or the coaching staff will mind, as another resolute performance left the Villans with all three points on the day.
Each player can take a lot from such performances, and on days when the football is not the prettiest and the occasion is reasonably grim, you can still prevail and come away with a victory through hard-work, fight and desire.
Head Coach Steven Gerrard supported this viewpoint with his words in the post-match interview, saying “We knew we would have to stand up and be counted today. To a man, we were excellent all over the pitch.”, and finished the point with “I’m really proud of what the players gave.”
These types of games test the character and resilience of teams, and Aston Villa showed they have these characteristics in abundance. Each individual put in 100% effort and demonstrated their desire to work for the shirt and fans. Performances like these will not happen just the once over the course of a campaign, and if Gerrard’s men are to make a late push for the top eight and land a European-place finish, they will have to replicate this courageous display.