When Tyrone Mings went down at Newcastle to start the season and the Magpies ripped the Villa backline apart, I was extremely worried. Villa’s defence had been dependent on Mings’ leadership and distribution since the return to the top flight. Alongside him, Ezri Konsa established himself as the right-side centre-back and as a foil to Mings. While Mings shouted and directed, Konsa was quiet and listened. Whereas Mings was passionate and hot-headed, Konsa was workman-like and unflappable.
“I have played alongside Tyrone for many years and I felt like he was the one that was the leader. I just used to basically go off him and use him as a guide. It’s unfortunate that he got his injury and we are all behind him, but I feel like it’s time for me to take on that responsibility and help the players that I am playing alongside.” – Ezri Konsa
With the injury to Tyrone, Konsa became the senior statesman in Villa’s back four, and I wasn’t necessarily convinced in his ability to raise his game without his partner in crime.
Well, I can officially say that I was entirely wrong in my misgivings. If you’re reading this: sorry, Ezri.
Not only has Konsa gone from understudy to leading man, but the numbers also say he’s taken his game beyond that of his mentor in many respects.
Let’s dive in.
Konsa’s passing ability plateaued under Dean Smith and nothing changed when Steven Gerrard took charge. In the 2020-21 season, he completed 31.0 out of 36.8 passes per 90 (84.4%) and the following season in 2021-22, he completed 31.8 out of 36.8 passes per 90 (86.4%).
Those numbers jumped once Emery came into the club and demanded Villa play out of the back. Last season Konsa’s per-90 average skyrocketed to 45.6 passes completed out of 51.4.
Let’s play my favourite game: Blind Player Study!
Can you pick out Konsa?
If you said Player A – wrong. That’s Tyrone Mings last season. Pretty good but his pass completion % put him only in the 54th percentile of Premier League CBs.
If you said Player C – also wrong. That’s Pau Torres this season. He’s been busy, but not close to averaging the best-in-class 370+ yards of progressive passing per 90 he had in his last four La Liga seasons.
Did you say Player B? Congrats! That’s Ezri Konsa to start the year.
I think many Villa fans would consider last season to be Mings’ best in a Villa kit with the ball, certainly benefiting from Emery’s system; however, as you can see here, Konsa is going out and besting that. Pau Torres was supposed to be the progressive passing maestro, but it’s quite spectacular to see Konsa right up there with him.
Without Mings and the less defensively inclined Torres lined up beside him, there is an increased onus on Konsa to raise the ceiling on the most consistent part of his game: defence.
He has answered the call. He is averaging 2.0 tackles per game, up from 1.14 last season and Mings’s lowly 0.43 last season. He’s tackling dribblers at a dominant 85.7% success rate. Consider that Torres is only at 37.5% and Mings last season was only at 45%. Konsa is also putting his body on the line, averaging a best in blocks per 90 with 1.57.
He’s on pace for another career-best in tackles + interceptions at 2.71 per 90. The location of those is also key to Villa retaining the ball in key areas of the pitch. In fact, Konsa is in the 94th percentile of Premier League centre-backs in tackles in the attacking third and the 88th percentile for the middle third. That’s giving the ball back to Villa in areas that allow them to sustain attacks and put pressure on opponents.
Other than blocks, Konsa’s numbers in every statistical defensive category mentioned here would be career bests for Tyrone Mings. That’s not a knock on Mings, that’s just how dominant Konsa is right now.
Best of the rest
For the first time in his Villa career, Ezri Konsa can boast that the team have a positive xG +/- with him on the field.
He’s more confident with the ball at his feet, with around one take-on per 90 which puts him in the 83rd percentile of Premier League CBs this season. Speaking of touches, he is averaging 64.9 touches per 90 which is a career-best (and would also be a Premier League best for Mings as well).
He’s also getting keen on drawing fouls from opponents who try and press Villa’s play-out-from-the-back style. He’s in the 97th percentile for fouls drawn by Premier League CBs.
He’s averaging 76 completed passes per 90 in our two European Cup games. In fact, let me just drop this picture here to show you how good his passing has been so far in our short European run.
A star is born
Konsa has expressed how much he loves coming to training and learning from Emery. His willingness to be coachable has helped him in a short time go from decent player to emerging star and he’s still a few weeks short of his 26th birthday. His prime is just beginning.
Some injuries in past seasons as well as playing for lower-calibre managers may have hindered his ascension, but he’s taking the opportunity to lead the defensive line and running with it. He’s had a great role model in Mings to show him how to marshal the defense and he seems to have slid into the backline leader rather seamlessly.
Whereas most defenders who become more prolific in their offensive game end up sacrificing some of their defensive efficiency, Konsa has managed to raise both levels simultaneously.
The two biggest snubs from the latest England squad selection were James Ward-Prowse and Ezri Konsa. A year ago, who would have thought that?
Gareth, sort yourself out.