The three moments that defined Aston Villa’s win away to Leeds at Elland Road...
#3: The Flying Dutchman
Villa started their last game against Leicester City in a very sluggish manner and never recovered, so it was vital to get off to a good start against Leeds United; especially given the home sides high tempo style of football – and that’s exactly what happened.
Just five minutes into the match, a corner found its way to Jacob Ramsey.
Instead of just aimlessly whipping the ball back into the box, the youngster showed a maturity far beyond a player making just his second Premier League start to compose himself and recycle the ball to Ollie Watkins in space on the edge of the box.
Watkins slipped as he pinged the ball to the back post/slipped whilst shooting (depending on how you viewed it) to find Anwar El Ghazi.
The Dutchman brought the ball under control and finished low past Illan Meslier in the Leeds goal, doing well to keep his footing on a truly awful playing surface.
El Ghazi is the very epitome of a ‘confidence player’ and when his confidence is high, his ability shines through.
In the absence of talisman, Jack Grealish, El Ghazi was determined to take on the mantle of being Villa’s main man, shooting at any given opportunity.
That’s now 6 league goals this season in 15 appearances, a record most wingers in the league would be pleased with.
Not so long ago there were questions as to whether he was capable at playing at this level, but he’s proven himself to be a very useful player to have in the squad.
#2: Well Executed Game Plan
In the reverse fixture at Villa Park earlier this season, Villa tried to go toe-to-toe with Leeds’ style of play.
The end-to-end nature of the game didn’t suit Villa and they were comprehensively defeated 3-0 with Leeds overrunning them, particularly in the second half.
Dean Smith was not going to make that mistake again.
Having taken an early lead, it allowed Villa to do what they’ve done so well this season – protect it.
Last season, Villa lost so many points after taking the lead, whereas this season they’ve only dropped points after going ahead once - in the still inexplicable loss at Burnley.
Leeds fans on social media after the game accused Villa of being boring and ‘parking the bus’ – if that was the case, someone must have left the handbrake off because Villa actually had more efforts on target than the hosts.
Wise to how Leeds play, Villa made sure they were a compact unit, leaving no space in the middle of the park or in behind in which forced Leeds to attack out wide and trying to hit them on the counter when the chance came.
Due to the disgraceful condition of the pitch, Villa were not going to risk trying to play through the middle, going long to use the pace and intelligent movement of Watkins to stretch Leeds.
As far as I’m aware, there’s no rule that says a visiting team has to play in a style that suits the hosts and Smith can be rightly pleased at a sensible game plan being executed to perfection.
#1: A Marvelous Midfield Performance
Villa’s midfield has come under fire in the last few weeks, after some lackluster performances.
Smith made two changes with Ramsey and Marvelous Nakamba coming in for Douglas Luiz and Ross Barkley and they certainly rose to the occasion.
Ramsey looks a very composed player and is showing why Smith was reluctant to allow him to leave on loan last summer, however, huge praise needs to go to Nakamba.
He was excellent in midfield, constantly snuffing out any danger, whether it was a well-timed interception – of which there were many – or breaking up play with a tackle.
He was always on his toes and was often first to any loose ball; when in possession, he used it well.
His passing questionable passing in the past has often been used as a stick to beat him with, but his passing stats this season would suggest that it’s a false narrative against him.
Villa are yet to concede a league goal with Nakamba on the pitch this season and it’s easy to see why as he offers that extra layer of protection to an already solid defense and goalkeeper.
Villa now have real options in the center of midfield with six players competing for three spots in the starting 11, which can only be a positive as Villa continue their push for a European spot come the business end of the season.
A very good win for Villa and a huge psychological one as well to do it without Jack Grealish in the team.
They can now go into the midweek clash with Sheffield United in full confidence of coming away form Yorkshire with another three points in the bag.