Aston Villa (3) vs Everton (0) – A Steady Build-Up, then the Fireworks

Nothing could have prepared Villa fans for their explosive second half performance at Villa Park! It was something we may have dreamt about as a best case scenario when the team invested in three exciting forwards with the Grealish windfall. It was worth the wait.

Sure, the fans there were excited, expecting a solid performance against a rival, Everton, with a similarly long pedigree at the top echelons of English soccer. Founded in 1878 versus the Villa’s 1874, they have had similar fortunes, with both teams struggling to gain silverware in recent years.

As visitors, Everton entered the game as slight underdogs based on the influence of the home crowd, though somewhat buoyed by their own W2, D2 season record so far. Still, they must have been disappointed to be missing some major players to injury (goalie Jordan Pickford, strikers Calvert-Lewin and Richarlison, and captain Seamus Coleman).

The Villa, despite their impressive performance at Stamford Bridge in week 4, were bound to be a little anxious having only one win to show out of the four games played and a loss and a tie to two of the newly promoted teams (Watford and Brentford).

The game started in a way that was predictable, somewhat cautiously.  Even the line-ups were cautious with Benitez’s Everton set with a 4-4-1-1 and Smith’s Villans maybe even more cautious with a 5-3-2 arrangement.  Neither manager, it seemed, was going to roll the dice on their offences.

What transpired was a solid performance by both teams for two-thirds of the game before the Villa exploded with three dramatic goals in a matter of nine minutes.  There are lots of ways to interpret what happened, but certainly the spectacular strike by Matty Cash, his first Premier League goal, created a surge of confidence that ran through the claret and blues and, equally, deflated the Toffees.

Then there was the exuberant presence of Leon Bailey, one of the most exciting players to grace the Premier League.  The Jamaican oozes with self-confidence that is totally (and positively) infectious.  Anyway, see for yourself what I mean about drama and fireworks:

Before the fireworks there was plenty to entertain the crowd.  Within the first five minutes Everton established that they were capable of posing a real threat.  Out of nothing Iwobi was set on his way down the rightwing and he responded with a perfectly weighted ball into the 6-yard box that Rondón took on the outside of his right foot, ready to strike at the Villa goal, albeit at a tight angle.

In response, Tuanzebe as the center-back was sliding alongside Rondón and Martinez was advancing to cut off any sight of the net.  A split second before the Venezuelan could make contact to shoot, the deceptively fast Tuanzebe had toe-cleared the danger for a corner.

What was significant about this play was that this was as close as Everton came to scoring in the whole game.  Sure, Demarai Gray created a teasing cross that Rondón almost reached for a tap-in later in the half, but Luiz had the angle covered and it never would have reached the striker.  Similarly, Gray himself was able to curve a shot around Konsa in the second half that was just wide of the Martinez’s left post, but the keeper was, at full-stretch, there just in case.

In fact, Everton’s only shot on target, was by the always dangerous Andros Townsend whose brilliant strike had been the winner against Burnley in their previous fixture.  As soon as Martinez saw the play developing, five yards outside the penalty area, he set himself for the left-footed shot, positioned so that he could reach every corner of net.  As it was, the former England international, hit the ball with considerable power but right at Emi who gathered it into his midriff comfortably.

How could the visitors play high quality soccer for 66 minutes and have so little to show for it?  That was because our Villans outplayed them, particularly in midfield.  Luiz, since his return from playing for Brazil, has been at another level.  Dubbed the Samba Style, his touch is exquisite, letting him seize loose balls and either instantly one-touch to a teammate or slide through openings in possession.  Ramsey and McGinn are his perfect foils.  Jacob is deceptively fast and is almost never caught in possession (the one time that happened in the game stood out).  While Ramsey is more likely to carry the ball at the opposition and create openings, John McGinn is just as likely to send a brilliant, curved pass for Watkins, or another teammate, to run onto.  Alternatively, McGinn is not bashful about shooting himself from anywhere around the box.

Despite Villa’s domination in possession and chances, the team’s emphasis on defense has necessitated more creativity to conjure up scoring opportunities.  One noticeable difference this year is in the quality and ingenuity of set plays.  Last year’s Villa would send corners high towards the penalty spot and expect Mings or Konsa to out-duel the opponent’s defenders.  After the first eight games of the season, that gig was up and not only did we not score, we did not even look like scoring until the final game of the season when Traoré scored against Chelsea.

Under the tutelage of recently hired specialist coach Austin McPhee, we are zipping corners over to the near post and using long throw-ins and other set-plays to create chances.  As early as the 7th minute against Everton, we almost scored.  Luiz zipped an inswinger corner to the near post.  Mings who had set himself at the post came toward the ball, rose and redirected the ball down towards the top corner of the net.  The goalie, Begovic, managed to get one hand on the ball and redirect the powerful header onto the bar from where it rebounded in the air.  McGinn would have had a simple nod-in goal if not for Keane rising above him and clearing (and ringing John’s bell in the process).

Another McPhee creation was from a freekick from the inside-right channel.  The angle and distance made were not favorable but lent themselves to creativity.  Cash took the kick but pulled it laterally to Matt Targett.  The left wingback then lofted the ball to Konsa who had started the play alongside Cash, but had then taken off towards the goal line to the right of the goal, unmarked.  Ezri rose to meet the cross and headed towards Mings at the penalty spot and Tyrone, then, cushioned a header to Danny Ings standing nearby to the right and twelve yards from goal.  Ings hit the ball with the outside of his right foot, and it curved just outside Begovic’s right post with the goalie stuck to his line.

Three one-touch passes had given Ings a golden opportunity.  The only reason that Ings did not find the corner of the net was because Everton had assigned someone, Allan, to cover him and his presence necessitated the shot having to be curved.  It was curved, but just not enough.

Such was play until the 40th minute when McGinn, still feeling the effects of the head-bashing from Keane was replaced by Nakamba, whose inclusion continued our claret and blue dominance in midfield.  Then in the 61st minute, Smith brought on Leon Bailey for Targett, signaling that the boss was making his move to win the game.

Within minutes, our Villans executed an incisive play down their right wing with Ings coming over to be an extra man.  When Ings passed inside to Luiz the Brazilian’s pass was immediate and pinpoint inside of Digne with Cash cutting past him.  Matty brushed off the French international as he took possession and ran straight at goal and Mina who stood in his way.  The defender froze as Matty put the ball onto his left foot and blasted a shot into the near top corner of the net giving Begovic no chance.  Aston Villa 1, Everton 0 in the 66th minute.

What was almost as impressive as the quality of his first Premier League goal, was the 75-yard race that young Matty made to the far corner of the field and the impressive slide, arms high in the air.  The commentators correctly deduced that it was his Cash family support that the young lad was recognizing, and celebrating, as well he might.

The Villa crowd went crazy.  It was a combination of joy, appreciation and, yes, relief.  Yes, there is life after Jack!  Not only that, it could be even better than before.  The home team were immediately filled with confidence while the visitors visibly sagged.  Our Villans won a corner and, with no McGinn to take it, Leon took charge.  Almost the Jamaican’s first touch of the game, the cross was totally nasty for a defender to confront, with whip and spin it was on Digne before he could fully rise and, instead of heading clear, he barely touched the ball.  That was enough to clear Begovic’s hands and it was in the back of the net.  Only three minutes had passed since Cash’s goal. Aston Villa 2, Everton 0 in the 69th minute.

It was clear the game was over, but the Villa were not done.  When Ings gained possession inside his own half, the wily veteran immediately noted that Bailey was open to the left of midfield and also in his own half.  A perfect lofted pass with the outside of his right foot and Bailey was off to the races, reaching the bouncing ball outside the penalty box and heading it forward so he could run onto it and, then, lashing the ball ferociously with his left foot over the goalie’s head before he could even raise his hands.  The net bulged and the fans at the Holte end went wild.  Brilliant, in every way.  Aston Villa 3, Everton 0 in the 75th minute.

The game continued and substitutions were made, including Bailey’s.  That was worrisome but not enough to take smiles off Villa fans’ faces.  If anything, it was more enjoyable than the team’s stunning victory against the other Liverpool club, the Reds, last year.  That was so stunning that it was almost too good to be true.  This felt very real and very deserved.

Before closing, it should be noted that this Villa aggregation did not have a weak link.  While our midfield was outstanding, Konsa, Tuanzebe, and Mings were faultless and commanding.  Cash and Targett dominated on their respective wings whether going forward or defending.  As for Watkins and Ings, they covered miles of Villa turf and were constantly pressing out of possession and always threatening in possession.  The goals will come for them as a duo and soon.

A very important and impressive win.  On to Manchester for our next Premier League game.

Aston Villa: Martinez, Mings, Targett (Bailey 61′ (Young 82′)), Cash (Traoré 86′), Tuanzebe, Konsa, McGinn (Nakamba 40′), Jacob Ramsey, Douglas Luiz, Watkins, Ings

Unused Subs: Archer, Buendía, Hause, Steer, El Ghazi, Traoré

Everton: Begovic, Digne, Godfrey (Kenny 80′), Mina, Keane, Doucouré, Allan (Gordon 72′), Iwobi (Davies 81′), Townsend, Gray, Rondón (André Gomes 63′)

Unused SubsBranthwaite, Simms, Davies, Holgate, Lonergan

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