Aston Villa (0), Tottenham Hotspur (4) – Brilliant Villa First Half Comes to Naught

When Ezri Konsa spoke recently of the team’s need to gain consistency, no doubt he included himself.  Last season when Konsa was tipped for an England spot alongside Tyrone Mings, it was for that very attribute. 

It was Ollie Watkins who was selected while Ezri was passed over, and he let it be known that he was disappointed.  He also acted that way, smiling less as his demeanor appeared to change.  Coincidentally, it has shown in his statistics.  Already this season, he has 7 yellow cards and two red.  He has developed the habit of jumping into the altercations of others and, even, his regular game composure has deteriorated, and he makes unforced errors.

In this all-important Spurs game, it was Konsa who fluffed his first challenge.  It was a glaring error that led to Spurs’ first goal in the 3rd minute.

When Eric Dier floated a high ball to just inside the Villa penalty area, Ezri backed up, unchallenged, and headed the ball out of the danger area – rather that was what he intended to do.  Instead, he got under the ball and it advanced no more than 5 yards where Harry Kane was ready to do what Harry always does, and that is hit the ball towards goal, on the volley.

The shot would have passed well wide of the post except that it was so hard that Matty Cash could not avoid being struck and instead of the shot being harmless, it rebounded back to Son Heung-Min who is even better at scoring than his captain.  Son calmly found the back of the net off the inside of Emi Martinez’s right-hand post.  Aston Villa 0, Spurs 1 with 2’ 46” on the clock. 

That was Ezri’s first header of the ball and an amateurish effort. If the game had proceeded to a 1-0 loss, a great deal of attention would have been directed at Konsa and calls would have been vociferous for Chambers to replace him (worthy of note is that this recent signing from Arsenal was in the side for our Villans’ last two wins, against Southampton and Leeds).

So why no criticism of the poor clearance?  Well, 45 minutes of exciting Villa attacking play that culminated in 19 shots, 8 on-target and multiple superb saves by Hugo Lloris obliterated that nasty thought to be replaced by the frustration of none of those shots crossing the Spurs’ goal line.

In fact, Villa’s response to the Son goal was laudable – the opposite of our Villans’ apathy when they fell behind Arsenal at Villa Park a few weeks back.

This time they shrugged off the deficit and, it seemed, that Spurs were willing to cede them the momentum.  Of course, an in-form Coutinho makes a huge difference, and our Brazilian magician was at his best.  It was also apparent that Coutinho was going to be the major “presser”, harassing Spurs’ backline into hasty passes.  Villa were forcing mistakes and making the most of their possessions.

It also helps when Jacob Ramsey has a scent for goal and both these factors came together in the 17th minute.  A perfectly weighted through-ball to our Academy graduate allowed him to accelerate between Emerson Royal and Dier and, upon reaching the corner of the 6-yard box, lash a shot that would have bulged the back of the net if not for the amazing reflexes of Hugo Lloris.  The French international keeper, somehow, redirected the ball over the bar with his right hand/or arm – too fast to see.

Even the set-up was of-note.  A bullet cross-field pass to Coutinho by McGinn was one-touch, back-flicked to Douglas Luiz who, in turn, provided the pass for Ramsey coming off the wing.  This lad, in motion, is almost impossible to stop and his effort deserved to be a goal.  That would have dramatically changed the game.

None the less, just two minutes later, Coutinho was pulling the strings again.  From the inside-left channel he found Cash open on the right and Matty, again one-touch, laid it back to McGinn, open but fully 30 yards from the Spurs goal.  Our favorite Scot had time to set and shoot with his favored left foot, and the ball flew towards Lloris but with enough sidespin to curve away from the goalie who had to twist in midair and push/punch the ball to the right with his left hand.  Another spectacular save by this long-term star between the sticks.

Then, in the 28th minute a marauding Matty Cash was tripped by Romero as he approached the penalty area.  A trio of Villans converged to the spot indicated by the referee.  While Luiz and McGinn appeared to be deciding whether the location (inside-right channel) and distance (30 yards) called for a left-footed shot (McGinn) or a right-footed shot (Luiz), Coutinho minded the ball.

The defensive line was set along the penalty area perimeter with Villan forwards interspersed, ready to break on the kick being struck.  This was going to be an unusual training ground special, something that became apparent when Coutinho delicately scooped a pass over the “wall” and to a location where Danny Ings could volley as the ball came down.

Ings appeared to time his run perfectly, staying onside until the kick was taken and in the clear, staring over his right shoulder.  Danny elected to slide into a scissor-kick slide.  This would be a variation on the overhead-kick and somewhat more difficult to time.  Ings was “off” by a split second, enough to turn the shot into an embarrassing back-pass to the goalie.  Ings, sprawled on the turf, buried his head with his hands as Gerrard turned away in frustration.  Still, Coutinho’s skill and audacity was thrilling to see.

It was Watkins who next felt the disappointment of the fans (and the gaffer).  This was another well-constructed play.  McGinn again started the sequence with a bullet pass from the right to Digne just outside the area on the left.  Another one-touch pass, and the ball was back in Coutinho’s possession. 

The Brazilian slipped the ball inside to Ramsey and set-off toward the penalty area on Jacob’s left, receiving a return pass as he proceeded.  With fellow Brazilian, Emerson Royal, blocking his way, Phillippe slid outside and headed toward the goal line.  The Spurs wingback was determined to prevent any shot on goal and shepherded Coutinho, appearing to have succeeded.

At the last split-second, the magician made the ball do an amazing trick.  From his left foot it cleared Royal, then Eric Dier standing on the edge of the 6-yard box, avoided a nimble Lloris waiting to pounce, and came down to where a leaping Watkins had risen ready to use his noggin to add to his headed goal tally.  The only problem was that Ollie, for no apparent reason, headed the ball over the bar.  His look mirrored Ings’s just minutes prior.

Poor Steven Gerrard.  He looked ready to run onto the field to show his neophytes how to do it!  Surely, the chances would not keep presenting themselves.  Remarkably, Spurs did not seem capable of gaining any prolonged possession – and more chances came. 

Typical was an attempted Spurs thrust down the right that Digne broke up and Ramsey gained possession.  With uncommon poise, the 20-year-old found Coutinho in a soft-spot between Spurs’ midfielders (Højbjerg and Bentancur) and backline (Romero and Dier) into which the Brazilian had insinuated himself.  The pass was glided as smooth as a saltshaker crossing a dining room table. 

Romero, a robust player, who looks to always get a “piece of flesh”, was on Coutinho as soon as the Brazilian turned, but the ball was elsewhere.  Phillippe had executed a perfect flick-pass to Ings who, with Watkins, raced through the gap left by Spurs’ Argentinian loanee from Atalanta as he stumbled over Coutinho.

With Spurs’ Dier and Davis retreating, Ollie slipped between the two to take a perfectly weighted Ings’ pass as he entered the penalty in the inside-left channel.   Davies timed his run to make sure that Ollie stayed to the left of the goal and narrowed the angle of the shot.  Ollie did his best with what he had, but Lloris managed to get his legs down and block the shot that Dier put behind.

From the corner, Spurs cleared but only to McGinn on the left.  With a couple of Spurs’ players closing him down, the Scot found Ramsey open in the inside-right channel.  With no hesitation, the lifelong Villan whipped a cross “into the mixer”.  The cross was low, but Mings reacted faster than anyone and managed to execute a perfect back-flick that cleared the mob behind him.  It landed exactly in the left corner of the 6-yard box where Ings was poised to meet it.

As Lloris raced over to cover his right post and Emerson Royal slid to block the anticipated direction of the shot, Ings made contact only to skew the shot well wide of the post.

That was in the 38th minute and Ings looked desolate again.  Spurs finally managed claw their way back into the game and almost scored when Mings and Martinez went for the same ball.  Fortunately, the Argentinian’s nose was in the right place to prevent an own goal.

It appeared that our Villans would limp into halftime but the extended break, mostly for Matt Doherty receiving on-field injury attention, gave our Villans time to launch additional offensive thrusts.

First a 30-yard pass was rifled by McGinn to Coutinho at the edge of the penalty area in traffic.  The magician, with a deft left foot, redirected the ball up for Ings to head over Eric Dier for Ollie Watkins to run onto, clear and on-goal.  Unfortunately for Ollie, the much defensively improved Ben Davies had anticipated the pass and was already leaning against him just as the ball came down and managed to disrupt the play.

Then, in the 45+3rd minute Digne whipped a penetrating cross into the box that Dier only partially cleared.  Cash was perfectly positioned at the corner of the box to run onto the deflection.  The Polish international does not spurn opportunities to shoot – he has already counted three important goals that contributed to three Villa victories – and he hit the ball on the volley low to Lloris’s left.

Again, the standout goalie dropped down to get the best position to respond to the powerfully hit curving shot that bounced in front of him.  In fact, the ball popped out of Lloris’s grasp but he was able to gather it in before a claret and blue shirt could respond.

Even then, our Villans were not done.  Another attack was only partially cleared and Coutinho was the quickest to the ball at the edge of the area and, but for Son’s foot, would have challenged Lloris again.  As it was, the ball cleared the crossbar by no more than a foot.

The Digne corner was, again, partially cleared, this time by Romero only for Ramsey to beat Kulusevski to the loose ball outside the area on the left.  The recent Swedish signing from Juventus was irritated to be beaten and pushed Jacob to the ground.  That is never a good idea and, especially when the opposition has a player with the exceptional skill of Phillippe Coutinho.

With the last kick of the half the Brazilian assessed the options and noticed Lloris situated a little too far back on his line and he hit a stunning whipped shot that had almost snuck behind Lloris’s left post before the Frenchman dove over and punched the ball just before it was totally over the line.  The ball hit the ground and Ings was the first to get his head to the inviting orb, only for Dier to be in the way and the ball to end up in the grateful hands of the goalie.

One breathtaking half was over with our Villans still down 1-0.

The second half started with Spurs appearing to have benefited from their break.  They were more composed, and, with the lead, they focused more on retaining possession.  Still, our claret and blues, continued to press and were solid at the back.

Digne gave up a corner to stop an Emerson cross, Mings was the first to head the corner clear, and Konsa blocked a vicious shot by Højbjerg.  The ball rebounded almost to the halfway line and Emerson pushed it all the way back to Lloris, standing outside his penalty area.

The goalie’s clearance came all the way back to well inside the Villa half where Konsa competed with Kane for possession.  Kulusevski bet on Kane winning and cut beyond the pair toward the left. Cash, retreating, almost got a foot to the bouncing ball but missed it and it was left to Mings coming over to head-off the Swedish international.

Spurs’ high-scoring loanee is known to be always ready to shoot and having 6’5” of Tyrone Mings in front of him was not a deterrent.   He feinted to go around Mings, and Tyrone extended his left leg only for the Swede to immediately shoot under that leg and into the net, just inside Martinez’s left post.  Aston Villa 0, Spurs 2, less than five minutes into the second half.

Our Villans gave it their best, but Spurs had more gas in their tank than our lads who had forced the game up to that point.  A series of Villa corners came close to us getting headers on goal and an Ings effort from outside the penalty area was not far over the bar.  Still, it was a move down Spurs right that saw Kane brilliantly control an incisive pass by Emerson into the inside right channel and hit a shot first time that came closest to scoring.

Then, with Villa flagging, Spurs effectively closed the gate.  It was in the 66th minute and it started deep in the Spurs half with no pressure being put on Romero.  The Argentinian could see Harry Kane running into space near the halfway line and hit a drive right on the money. 

The England striker did not need to look, but he did sneak a glance.  He knew that Son would anticipate a headed flick-on, and he did.  With the South Korean bisecting Cash and Mings, he knew that he would be in-possession entering the penalty area.  He was, and he lashed a left-footed shot wide of Emi’s right arm before our goalie could react Aston Villa 0, Spurs 3.

With the game out of reach, Gerrard brought on Bailey to replace Ings and Buendia to replace Coutinho.  They made no impression on the game and only added more fuel to the fire sale that Gerrard is hinted to be planning.

The final straw was from a breakaway and one that showed a lack of commitment on our Villans’ part.  When Spurs fed the ball to Son playing in a striker’s position in the inside right channel, the South Korean international carried the ball to the right wing and waited for support.  Konsa had his progress blocked, but for some reason Douglas Luiz decided to double the coverage and ignore Kulusevski who kept running by.

That was perfect for Son, who passed between his two markers to the Swede.  That meant that Mings had to pick up the run of Kulusevski.  Meanwhile, Son ran past his markers to the penalty area.  When Kulusevski reached the goal line, he steadied himself and waited for Son to get in position and laid a pass that Son could sweep in one motion with the inside of his right foot.  The shot hit the inside of Martinez’s right post and rebounded into the back of the net and a hattrick.

Three clinical goals from three shots on-goal.  A brilliant piece of high-class soccer. Aston Villa 0, Spurs 3 in the 71st minute.  The only thing worse would be for a valuable Villan to get injured.

Sure enough, in the 79th minute, Romero pushed Digne off the field and our talented left back had to leave with his left arm in a sling.

A fourth loss in a row and no end in sight.

Aston Villa: Martinez, Cash, Konsa, Mings, Digne (Young 80′), Philippe Coutinho (Buendía 70′), Douglas Luiz, McGinn, Ramsey, Ings (Bailey 70′), Watkins

Unused Subs: Chambers, Traoré, Sanson, Nakamba, Olsen, Chukwuemeka

Spurs: Lloris, Davies, Romero, Dier, Højbjerg, Bentancur, Emerson Royal, Doherty (Reguilón 21′), Son Heung-Min (Lucas Moura 78′), Kulusevski (Bergwijn 84′), Kane

Unused Subs: Reguilón, White, Gollini, Lucas Moura, Winks, Sánchez, Rodon, Sessegnon, Bergwijn

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