Pablo Fornals’ goal doubled West Ham’s lead, before Jacob Ramsey expertly fired home a consolation goal in the final few minutes, in a game that saw Steven Gerrard’s men fall to defeat at the London Stadium. Let’s take a look at the main talking points from a 2-1 defeat in the capital.
Since the 3-0 away victory over Leeds United in mid-week, there were talks that Steven Gerrard would change things up and rest certain players with the quick turn-around of games and in preparation for a tough fixture against a well-drilled West Ham United side. However, the former Rangers boss laid out the exact side that lined up at Elland Road, keeping to the well-known saying: ‘don’t change a winning side’.
One of those who looked to find his way back into the starting side was Emiliano Buendía, who last started a game in claret and blue in the 1-0 defeat to relegation-threatened Watford at Villa Park nearly three weeks ago. Buendía was named Aston Villa’s player of the month for January, but has only started three games since, and the record-signing has notched up just 24 minutes in the Villans’ last three games. The number 10 was described as one of the squad’s “best trainers” by Argentinian comrade Emiliano Martínez in a recent interview with fellow Premier League ‘keeper Ben Foster, and so his exclusion from the line-up must be solely for tactical reasons.
Given the Argentine’s impact off the bench to set up Jacob Ramsey’s goal, could we see the 24 year-old start Saturday’s game against Mikel Arteta’s high-flying Arsenal? Villa seemed to lack any real creativity until Buendía’s introduction, and he may be key if given the chance from the get-go on Saturday.
Morgan Sanson is another individual pushing for a start after impressive performances off the bench in previous weeks. The Frenchman last started in the comeback draw at home to Manchester United in January, but will be eagerly looking at breaking into the Villa midfield in games to come. Gerrard chose not to introduce the number eight at the London Stadium on the weekend, despite a lack of midfield presence in the second-half. Will the boss alter things in the middle ahead of the next fixture, and hand Sanson a well-earned place in the starting eleven, or keep things the same?
John McGinn, Jacob Ramsey and Douglas Luiz have been the central trio that Gerrard has opted for in the last four games and to good effect too, given the form of the side in the three consecutive victories and the dominance shown from the midfield areas in these games. However, West Ham’s midfield duo of Declan Rice and Tomáš Souček proved too much for the Villa three, and heavily controlled the game’s tempo in the recent loss, despite being outnumbered. Does this area of the team need changing, or was this recent performance simply a blip?
Lucas Digne was taken off through injury inside the first ten minutes of play, replaced by Ashley Young, and with that, Steven Gerrard’s hand will be forced into change ahead of this weekend’s clash with the Gunners. Could we see other tweaks elsewhere on the pitch, with a team ‘reset’ possibly required?
‘High foot’ is an understatement!
It was a rather tasteless first-half, with both teams playing safe and seemingly careful in their offensive approach. The key event from the opening 45 minutes left Douglas Luiz bloody-lipped and Manuel Lanzini in the referee’s book, but should the punishment have been more severe?
Occurring in the 44th minute of play, the ball bounced just outside of the Aston Villa box with West Ham’s Argentine playmaker eagerly anticipating and looking to bring it down. Luiz reacted quickest, however, and got his head to the ball first, leading to Lanzini’s boot meeting the Brazilian’s face, in a challenge that appeared exceptionally high.
Referee Jarred Gillett was quick to stop play and hand a yellow card to the accused, but Villa players were unhappy with the Australian official’s decision, especially goalkeeper Emi Martínez who was adamant the foul was worthy of dismissal. West Ham’s number 10’s foot was incredibly high, with Luiz positioned up-right and not appearing to lean forward to win the header.
Despite a second check from VAR official Paul Tierney at Stockley Park, the yellow card awarded remained, and play was later restarted after Douglas Luiz had received adequate treatment from Villa’s medical team.
Steven Gerrard was questioned on his thoughts regarding the incident post-match, and comedically answered with: “There will be no kissing for him tonight.”, after pointing out the number six will need facial reconstruction on his lip. Gerrard commended the 23 year-old over the fact he played on despite the injury, with the take-away line: “That’s the type of character I want.”
A strike riddled with emotion
Andriy Yarmolenko made the West Ham match-day squad for the first time since their 1-1 draw with Eddie Howe’s Newcastle around a month ago, and has missed action since after taking time away from football to be with his family and friends in connection to the situation unfolding in his home nation of Ukraine.
Ukrainian flags were dotted around the London Stadium in solidarity for Ukraine and more personally for Yarmolenko. The winger was applauded onto the field by both sets of fans, replacing the injured Michail Antonio on 52 minutes, and made quite the impact after sending an unstoppable effort past Emi Martínez to open the scoring.
It certainly didn’t look like a strike from someone who has missed a month’s worth of action, and the 32 year-old forward’s ability shone through with a left-footed half-volley on the turn that nestled perfectly into the bottom right-had corner of Martínez’s goal. It was a goal that sent shockwaves not only through the football industry, but the world.
Whilst it was a goal against Aston Villa, so is one that is not appreciated on a footballing front, in terms of emotional impact and the message it has sent across the world, is a goal that can be respected.
Pablo Fornals scored West Ham’s second goal of the game, which stemmed from a well-constructed counter-attack from the home side. From here, the game looked dead and buried, and given the ‘closing-out’ capabilities of a David Moyes side, and with defensive reinforcements brought on in the shape of centre-back Issa Diop, it looked as if the game was done and dusted for Aston Villa.
Record signing Emiliano Buendía was brought on in with ten minutes to go in place of Douglas Luiz, however, and demonstrated his phenomenal technical ability to create the Villan’s consolation goal of the game.
The 5’7 playmaker brushed aside Kurt Zouma with a fantastically-executed turn into the box before playing a perfectly-timed lay-off into the path of the onrushing Jacob Ramsey. The academy graduate subsequently sent an unstoppable curling strike into the corner of Łukasz Fabiański’s net, as Villa looked to mount a late comeback.
Ramsey’s sixth goal of the season unfortunately wasn’t enough to inspire a late resurgence for the travelling Villans, but the movement and composure demonstrated by Buendía, and the finishing ability shown from Ramsey will please both Steven Gerrard and Villa fans on the back of the defeat.
The boss wasn’t irrational in his views during the post-match interview with VillaTV, and was sure not to be overly disappointed with the result. The former Liverpool captain was calm and collected in his responses, and explained his desire to look positively towards the upcoming Arsenal fixture at Villa Park. Gerrard’s full interview can be seen in the media clip inserted below, where he gives his thoughts on the West Ham defeat, his general consensus on his side’s upcoming fixtures, and the remainder of the season.
"It wasn't our day, so we have to take it on the chin, we have to react from it and have a real strong week going in to Arsenal."— Aston Villa (@AVFCOfficial) March 13, 2022
Steven Gerrard assesses #WHUAVL. ️ pic.twitter.com/FMjelhtSay