Leeds (0), Aston Villa (3) – Coutinho and Villa Methodically Dismantle Leeds

Success makes a team confident, and our Villans certainly started this Thursday evening fixture in Yorkshire on the front foot.  On the back of two victories with a combined score line of six to zero, at Brighton and hosting an in-form Southampton, they saw no reason that a Leeds team in turmoil would bother them.  If anything, they were over-confident.

It showed.  Ollie Watkins competed for the opening pass from the back and succeeded in getting a corner with only 18 seconds on the clock.  They decided that was a perfect moment to introduce a trick play.   Digne joined Luiz at the right corner flag and then two, or possibly more, Villans ran decoy routs, and one Brazilian delivered a half-volley cross to another Brazilian just outside the penalty area.  So far, so good.  Unfortunately, the pass was impossible to keep down and Coutinho’s shot went nowhere near the goal.

Another training ground play was called for in the 12th minute.  It featured Tyrone Mings attempting a half-volley shot with his right foot and that play had the same amount of success.  Then, Digne dawdled clearing out from the back and when he decided to blast the ball, it rebounded off Raphinha and would have been dangerous if not for an offside call on the Leeds player.  It was immediately apparent that Villa had to settle down to the kind of play that prevailed over the last two opponents. 

That was made possible by the skill of Coutinho.  First, when Raphinha showed his appetite to race down the right wing on a break, it was his fellow Brazilian, Luiz, who stripped the ball from him.  Then, with four Leeds shirts around Coutinho, he completed a cheeky backheel to escape their attention.

With the ball still on that same wing, only in the Leeds half, Coutinho decided to spray a pass to Matty Cash on the opposite side of the field only for the pass to canon off Ramsey who was too close to get out of the way.

Not to worry, the ball came down to Luiz’s head, from whence he forwarded it to Digne’s foot, then over his marker (Dallas) to Danny Ings for him to head it on to Digne who was already racing up the wing with a ten-yard advantage over Dallas, Forshaw, and Ayling.  With Struijk attempting to cut off the angle, the French international whipped the ball along the 6-yard line for Watkins coming in.  If not for Firpo pulling our striker down from behind, it would have been a shot on goal.  Instead of waiting for the referee’s call, Cash raced to the goal line to retrieve the ball and pulled it back to Ings.

Ings slightly overran the ball and elected to let it run to Coutinho, standing one yard inside the area and ready to stroke the ball along the turf to Meslier’s right.  Just as the keeper dove, Struijk attempted to block the shot but only succeeded in deflecting the shot, giving Meslier no chance.  Leeds 0, Aston Villa 1 in the 23rd minute.

Two minutes later another attack that featured Cash and Ings led to an excellent header by the rejuvenated striker that looped just over the bar.  Not long after that Luiz tried to catch Meslier out of position on a freekick from the left.  With the goalie anticipating a high cross to the far post, Luiz let fly with a dangerous shot to the near post that the accomplished goalie was alert to and saved. 

Leeds slowly clawed their way back into the game but lacked the composure to fashion a shot on goal. Then, when their defense failed to play the ball out safely from the back the ball, naturally, ended up with Coutinho again.  This time he held the ball at the edge of the area almost daring a defender to bite.  While they held back, McGinn ran a loop behind his teammate and the magician executed a delicate backheel for the Scot to take on-the-fly and weave around Koch onto his right foot before curving a powerful shot headed just inside Meslier’s left post.  It took an excellent dive and strong left hand to push the ball wide for a corner.

McGinn took the corner and the ball ended up beyond the far post where Ings managed to head it back “into the mixer”.  This time, it was the white shirts who prevailed breaking in numbers towards the Villa goal – a classic Leeds counterattack.  In response, a classic McGinn move.  The Scot raced from the corner flag and caught up with Daniel James, retrieved the ball and started a new Villa attack.

As the game neared halftime, Leeds were doing their utmost to establish their presence in the game, maybe even get a shot on goal but it appeared that Coutinho was everywhere.  When McGinn rolled the ball out to the former Reds star on the left wing, deep in his own half, Coutinho carried the ball inside and, as he reached the center of the field, he waved at Ollie Watkins to make a run down the right wing.  Then Coutinho led him with a 60-yard pass that allowed our striker to go around Struijk at the goal line.  Credit to the Belgian for managing to get back and block Ollie’s shot on goal.

The ball went high in the air and landed just outside the area to none other than Coutinho, who killed the spinning ball and backheeled to Luiz to get another shot on goal for Meslier to save.  Coutinho is human.  He took a deep breath.

Going into the halftime break, there was the sense that the harder Leeds tried, the more likely it was that Villa would add to the lead.

When the whistle went for the restart, Leeds had replaced the ineffective Rodrigo with Gelhardt.  They also had more pep.  They could have scored when Raphinha found an opening for an excellent pass through to the 6-yard box for James only for Matty Cash to anticipate the danger and make a sliding clearance.  Brilliant defending.

Despite their best efforts, Leeds had not really threatened, and, in the 58th minute, they called upon Patrick Bamford, fresh from his injury to see if he could make a difference.  The Leeds fans responded, but Villa continued to create more chances.  Typical was Coutinho picking up a loose ball on the left in the 60th minute and setting up McGinn for a sharp shot that Meslier was prepared for and saved well.

Then, out of nothing, Villa doubled their lead.  Both strikers were on the left wing and Leeds defense was focused there too.  When Ings cut inside, he had the option of passing to Coutinho, close by, but noticed Matty Cash waving to show he had lots of space heading into he penalty area on the right.

Ings’ pass was perfect, and Cash trapped it 12-yards from the goal with his right foot.  Meanwhile, Firpo desperately rushed over to block any shot.  Instead of rushing the shot, Cash pulled the ball back and let Firpo go by.  Meslier was frozen to his line, conscious that he was too close to his left post.  It probably did not matter since the shot was rifled to the goalie’s left and the power was such that it was past him in a flash.  Leeds 0, Aston Villa 2 in the 65th minute.

Leeds brought on Klich for Forshaw hoping the fresh legs might help and set about trying to respond to their two-goal deficit immediately.  Some clever dribbling by Raphinha allowed him space to slip a pass between Mings and Chambers, but Villa’s Chambers had no trouble cutting it out and passing deep to Watkins down the leftwing only for Ayling to intercept. 

Ayling pushed the ball forward to Klich who fired a cross field pass to Bamford with space on the left.  Cash, returning to his defensive duties, was alert, tracked the ball for 20 yards, brought it under control, and headed back up the wing, easily evading Firpo on the way.

Credit to Gelhardt and Firpo for chasing our Polish international all the way until they clattered into him and gave Cash a well-earned freekick.  Gerrard must appreciate what an important contributor Cashis to the team, with his alertness, skill, and fitness turning threats into Villa opportunities.

McGinn arced the freekick wide to the left of the penalty area for Digne to run onto, forcing Leeds to give up another corner and continue to defend.

While the corner did not create a chance, it did lead to some wonderful interplay with Coutinho in the middle of it.  This time, the magician found a way through every white shirt in the penalty area, only to be facing the wrong way.  The cheeky backheel was not strong enough to beat Meslier but it was worth a try.

In the 71st minute, Sanson came on for Ings who appeared leggy, despite the perfect assist on Cash’s goal.  Sanson got into the action right away, tracking back and intercepting a Leeds pass then feeding Ramsey who carried the ball all the way from the halfway line to the Leeds box before slipping a pass outside for Watkins to get another shot on goal.  This one was blocked by Ayling’s excellent slide.

The ricochet ended up on the leftwing and a frustrated Leeds conceded another freekick that gave voice to the large Villa contingent who sang their encouragement.  It seemed to work because when Digne’s cross was only partially cleared, it landed at Mings feet.  Mings calmly slid a pass back to Chambers who was better positioned.

What happened next was spectacular and surprising.  Mings and Chambers were the targets for the freekick due to their height and prowess in the air.  It was a forward’s touch that let Tyrone set up his fellow center back and it was a striker’s response that saw Chambers’ shot rifle into Meslier’s top right-hand corner of the net.  A superb shot.  Leeds 0, Aston Villa 3 in the 74th minute.

With a commanding lead, our Villans finally let their guard down.  A quick freekick was on the money for James to split Chambers and Cash but the former Man U player totally missed the pass, and the ball went out for a goal kick.  It was that kind of night for Leeds.

It could have been worse.  Klich was heavy with his control when he attempted to intercept a Cash pass to Watkins.  Coutinho, coming in from the right wing, neatly picked his pocket and headed to the center of the field before picking out Ramsey who found Sanson, open on the left.  Excellent interplay that included Digne concluded with Ramsey feeding Coutinho just outside the area.  The surprise was that Coutinho’s shot did not bulge the net.  Instead, it zipped just wide of the left upright.  Gerrard decided that was enough Coutinho for the night and Emi Buendia (an Argentinian) came on for the Brazilian in the 76th minute.

The fresh legs only added to Leeds’ woes as Villa’s acquisitions (Sanson, Buendia, and Digne) plus Watkins cut through the Whites’ defense with Meslier having to dive at Digne’s feet to block his shot.  The ball spun over the goalie’s body into the 6-yard box with Watkins waiting for the tap-in only for a desperate foot by a defender to clear.

When frustration crept into the Leeds team, there was the usual mini barging.  Unfortunately, in the midst of this, Firpo appeared to go over on his knee and had to be stretchered off with time running out. 

Ashley Young was brought on for Luiz to give him a break and to avoid the possibility of getting a second yellow card.

The final whistle came to the relief of both teams.  Our Villans maintained their shutout while Leeds were anxious to hit the showers and forget the game.

Now Villa can regroup for a weekend trip to London to face West Ham.

Leeds: Meslier, Dallas, Struijk, Firpo, Ayling, Rodrigo (Gelhardt 45′), Harrison (Bamford 58′), Raphinha, Koch, Forshaw (Klich 67′), James

Unused Subs: Klaesson, Summerville, Cresswell, Llorente, Greenwood, Gelhardt, Bamford, Shackleton, Klich

Aston Villa: Martinez, Young, Chambers, Mings, Cash, Ramsey (Bailey 78′), McGinn, Luiz, Ings (Sanson 71′), Watkins, Coutinho (Buendía 81′).

Unused Subs: Konsa, Olsen, Traoré, Iroegbunam, Chukwuemeka O’Reilly.

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