Burnley (1), Aston Villa (3) – A Clinical Performance by Our Villans

Our Villans started this critical contest at Turf Moor as if it was an extension of our victory over Norwich which should not have been surprising, but it was!  There were many reasons to feel confident: a better and deeper squad over our hosts and a six-point advantage over them.

Still, this blue sky had some disconcerting dark clouds on the horizon.  Of our remaining fixtures, two were against Burnley and two of the other three were against Manchester City and Liverpool.  What if Burnley won the first game (note that they had won 19 of the last 26 played in Burnley, we had tied 7, and AVFC had won only one – back in January 2020), and extended their winning streak to 4? 

Facing Liverpool with the fans incredibly anxious, would not be a good scenario.  What we also knew was that who scored the first goal was paramount.  If we conceded, the likelihood was that we would be playing for a tie (we have never come from behind to win all season!).

Villa fans’ nerves were further jangled by the starting line-up.  That Ramsey was held out by injury was expected but disappointing.  That Konsa was playing alongside Mings with Chambers replacing Iroegbunam, Douglas Luiz subbing for Ramsey, and Buendia getting the nod over Coutinho suggested Gerrard was tinkering rather than going for the three points.

Certainly, a point away would suit us much more than Burnley and, this way, we had firepower on the bench – specifically Coutinho. It made sense.

As for the team attitude, they seemed to have retained the confidence they had shown against the Canaries.  They were spritely in moving the backline forward and catching a laconic Weghorst in an offside trap in the early going.  From the freekick the ball was played out to the left for Mings to get his trusty left foot in motion, arcing a perfect strike to Buendia who “nodded on” admirably to Danny Ings already in motion.

As Ings entered the penalty box, he attracted the attention of the two center backs focused on denying a shot.  Instead, the experienced pro curved a cross for Watkins to run onto, with only Taylor covering.  Unfortunately, Ollie was caught flat-footed, and he watched the ball cross a couple of feet in front of him.  There was less than three minutes on the clock.

Not to worry, Buendia was just warming up.  Observations from the training facility suggested that the “other Emi” was regularly the star turn.  We could see why.  He was faster and more skilled than any other player on the field.

When a Konsa clearance header came to him at the halfway line, he chested a pass to McGinn, who relayed to Luis, who then found Buendia who was already in motion to space that had opened up.

Instinctively, the Argentinian saw that Ings had a step on Roberts and Collins and his pass was the perfect weight and shape.  Roberts waved vainly for a flag while Collins tried to get close enough to block, while Pope came out to cut the angle.

Before Pope could even get set, Ings had transferred the ball to his left foot – away from Collins – and curved the shot around the keeper’s planted right foot and into the corner of the net. 

While his teammates celebrated this critical first goal, Ings looked slightly embarrassed that he put the sword to his former teammates and fans.  There was less than seven minutes on the clock, Burnley 0, Aston Villa 1.

To their credit, Burnley kept their heads high and stuck to the task but almost compounded their woes when a header from Collins back to his keeper was short and Pope, confronting the speedy Watkins, added to the problem by skewing his clearance. 

Buendia was Johnny-on-the-spot and attempted to fill the empty net with more grief only to repeat Pope’s miscue.  A bullet dodged. Buendia continued to be particularly bright and dangerous covering a lot of ground and spraying accurate passes.  One example was how he was able to track back to block a McNeil shot from just outside Villa’s penalty area and immediately gather the loose ball and launch a pass for Watkins to chase down the inside-right channel competing with Tarkowski.  The solid center back, who has played for England, barely won that duel and may have aggravated his knee in the process (he was withdrawn early in the second half).

Beyond that Weghorst demonstrated what he offers with a snapshot and an excellent header that both came close to tying the game. 

With the play balanced, the next goal became increasingly critical.  This time Buendia got the goal, and it was a goal he deserved for his prior efforts.  When Luiz was fed the pass from a Villa freekick at the halfway line, the Brazilian headed towards the left touch line to where Digne was up in support.

As Burnley’s defense adjusted, Douglas reversed his course and sprayed the ball to McGinn in the inside-right channel and John immediately found Matty Cash on the right wing.  Buendia responded by heading behind Charlie Taylor, creating a distraction for the fullback and freezing him from closing down Cash’s cross.

With time and space, Matty’s ball was on the money to the far post where Watkins cushion-headed it back to Ings who was well-covered, so he passed the ball back to Ollie.  With Roberts in front of him, Watkins held him while he waited for Digne to seize the opening outside and laid the pass out there perfectly.  Despite Roberts’ best efforts, our French international had time to see that Buendia had returned from the right and was just beyond the penalty spot.

Meanwhile, Luiz had kept running towards the goal, dragging Tarkowski and others to the 6-yard box, and allowing Buendia to side-foot the ball towards the goal with zip.  Poor Tarkowski was again in the wrong spot (he was credited with an own goal against Watford).  A slight deflection and Pope had no chance at all to save.  Buendia rose imperiously to demonstrate joy (and aerial credentials). Burnley 0, Aston Villa 2 in the 32nd minute.

Once again Burnley responded with spirit and Martinez had to be alert when Harvey Barnes took a long-range effort, but Emi was sharp for the whole game and went down to gather-in comfortably.

With our Villains cruising into halftime, something went haywire in Ezri Konsa’s head in the 42nd minute.  It was not out of the blue.  Already, Ezri had lost his cool and bundled Barnes over for an unnecessary freekick, and had yelled at his teammates for not getting open and getting him caught in possession, so it was not terribly surprising, but it could have been catastrophic.  Getting an avoidable goal scored against you is not what a team (or its manager) wants to face at the halftime break.

A hopeful pass down the right wing had Konsa dealing with a bouncing ball with Weghorst challenging him.  The obvious thing to do, and what Callum Chambers would have done, is head the ball out of play.  Instead, Ezri took it upon himself to use his body to protect the ball.  The awkward German striker ended up falling over Konsa for which the referee did not blow the whistle.  As Konsa was the first on his feet, he had a second bite of the cherry and could have put the ball out of play.

Again Konsa dithered and McNeil slipped between him and Mings to commit pilfery and head towards Martinez with the our two Villa center backs in pursuit.  That McNeil fluffed his shot straight into Martinez’s waiting hands was a miracle and one that we did not deserve.  Mings body language suggested that he made very clear what he, and Villa fans around the world, were all wondering: “What was Ezri thinking?”

Halftime came just in time for Villa fans and, probably for the team also.  A chance to regroup and strategize on how to maintain a two-goal lead.  The lesson learned, from the Wolves surprise comeback, was to not go into a shell.

In the first minute of second half play, our Villans established that they had no intention of squandering the lead.  A 50/50 ball in the Villa half saw McGinn tussling with Weghorst and coming up with possession and a freekick.  Simultaneously, Tarkowski went down having realized that he was not going to be able to play through his knee problem and Kevin Long came on to substitute.

The Burnley fans’ groans were noticeable.  Within another minute, Watkins almost found the top corner with a slightly deflected curler from the left of the box.  From the corner, Villa attempted the same play that had beaten Everton at Goodison Park 1-0.  Digne’s corner was driven low for Buendia to run towards and execute the slimmest of head-skims.  This one was not fine enough and the effort cleared the bar.

Soon after, Luiz was able to break up a Burnley attack in his own half and the electric Buendia was onto the loose ball and rifling it into McGinn speeding toward the Burnley goal.  John noted, as he went to take control of the ball, that Digne was cutting inside from his left back position and decided to cede ownership.

Seeing that he and Digne had a two on one with the right full back, John ran diagonally across the field to the left wing.  As the right midfielder, McGinn was way out of position, but he (and Digne) knew what they were doing.

Running at Roberts while his teammate had progressed enough, Digne pushed a gentle pass for McGinn to run onto.  Without breaking stride, the Scot sent a sumptuous cross around the three deepest claret and blue defenders (also Burnley’s colors, as a sign of ancient respect) that called for a world class striker to bury in the back of the net.

At this moment in the game, Watkins was as good as Ronaldo or Benzema leaving his two markers in his dust and launching himself horizontally to redirect the orb at blinding speed down to the goal line from where it bulged the back of the net as Pope rolled backwards, helpless.  Burnley 0, Aston Villa 3 in the 52nd minute.

The game was effectively over as a competitive event, but the entertainment continued.   With Villa dominating possession, McGinn had time to see Cash open on the right wing.  A  typically powerful, arced pass was instantly controlled by the Polish international as he closed in on the right corner of the Burnley penalty area and he shimmied enough to glue Taylor to the spot while he rounded him on the right and hit a bullet of a shot at the near top corner of the net.  Pope was ready and he did well to parry away with his left hand.

With Villa enjoying their superiority, Jackson elected to bring on Cornet for Lennon while Gerrard responded with Chukwuemeka for Chambers, Young  for Ings, and Coutinho for Buendía.  Certainly, Chukwuemeka was a good option to replace Chambers in the holding midfield position in that he is remarkably adept at holding the ball based on his size and skill.  It is almost impossible to dispossess him without fouling him.

As for Coutinho, his introduction saw him “kill” the first pass sent his way and nutmegged the audacious Burnley player who tried to tackle him.  Decent sub material!

The only blemish was the loss of a shutout.  We almost conceded a goal when a Villa defender slipped and fell, but Mings executed a perfect slide tackle to save the day, but only for thirty seconds.

Villa found themselves threatening again on the right but Matty Cash decided to overlap John McGinn just as our Scot decided to try a shot himself.  The poor effort went into Pope’s arms with Cash and McGinn stranded.  A quick break saw Cornet split Konsa and Mings and blast an excellent finish past Martinez.  Burnley 1, Aston Villa 3 in the 90 +1 minute.  Ideally, that lesson was not wasted on the team.

Still, an excellent win with lots of positives, especially Buendia’s performance and the clinical strikes by Ings and Watkins.  Solid defense with just a couple of aberrations.

Burnley: Pope, Roberts, Tarkowski (Long 47′), Collins, Taylor, Lennon (Cornet 66′), Cork, Brownhill, McNeil, Barnes (Pieters 72′), Weghorst

Unused Subs: Lowton, Bardsley, Hennessey, Stephens, Costelloe, Thomas

Aston Villa: Martinez, Cash, Konsa, Mings, Digne, Chambers (Chukwuemeka, 69′), McGinn, Luiz, Watkins, Buendía (Coutinho, 80′), Ings (Young, 74′)

Unused Subs: Olsen, Traoré, Feeney, Iroegbunam, Nakamba, Sanson

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