Aston Villa (0) vs Tottenham Hotspur (4) – Spurs get revenge, as our Villans lose their cool

Sunday, March 10, 14:00 – Villa Park

Referee: Chris Kavanagh

When our Villans beat Tottenham Hotspur last November at Tottenham Hotspur stadium (2-1), the home team had two fullbacks substituting at center back due to the team’s injury problems.  Despite that, they dominated most of the game and we were, frankly, fortunate to come away with all three points.  Still, we were clinical in scoring two goals and we frustrated a potent offense with disciplined positional play.

With Cristian Romero and Micky van de Ven back in the team, this was a much stronger squad that our Villans were facing.  The Argentinian and Dutch international center backs are world class, and they imposed their presence in the first half at Villa Park.

From the kickoff, Spurs lined-up with, effectively, a two-man backline in contrast to our three-man set-up (Konsa, Lenglet, and Torres).  That translated to a man advantage in midfield where every Spurs player (other than the two center backs, goalie Vicario, and striker, Son Heung-min) were in constant motion, pressing high as our back three tried to pass from the rear.  Spurs midfielders flooded every zone the ball was in.

Our Villans put that plan to a test in the 5th minute.  From his own penalty area, Lenglet sent a long pass fully 60 yards for Ollie to run onto.  As the ball landed and bounced on the wet surface, Romero was well positioned to clear with his head.  What he was not prepared for was Watkins to flash across him and, using his own noggin, flick the ball on.

At this point, van de Ven was trailing the play by five yards (he had been man-marking Bailey).  Against any other centerback, Watkins would have been clear to cut across a chasing defender inside the penalty area. 

The Dutchman, an extraordinary defender, was betting on his speed as he threw his 6’3” frame into a sliding tackle.  Van de Ven barely reached the ball before he crashed into Ollie.  Touching the ball, made the collision “incidental contact”.  Not only did Ollie fail to get a shot on goal (or create a penalty opportunity), but he also suffered from a powerful and painful collision.

Incidentally, van de Ven has been clocked during games at Usain Bolt’s 100-meter world record pace.  Being run over by a 23-mph human missile was no fun and it is a credit to Watkins that he bounces back. 

That set the tone for the balance of the first half.  While Spurs carried most of the play, our Villans organization stood firm and prevented Spurs from getting a single shot on goal.  Similarly, our Villans came close to getting good opportunities only for Spurs to thwart every attempt.

As the second half started it was obvious that Emery had encouraged the team to be more aggressive.  Captain John McGinn got the message.  When Matty Cash passed inside to him in his own half and the took-off up the wing, McGinn chipped a perfect relay over Udogie for our wingback to run onto.

Again, Van de Ven was able to recover, catch up with Cash and, when Cash turned inside to shoot, block the shot.

Soon after, Spurs threatened with their press, forcing our Villans to lose possession.  Son and Johnson had a two-on-one with Konsa, but Ezri broke it up, passed to Torres and we had another break.  This time van de Ven blocked a shot by Bailey only for the flag to go up for Leon being offside.

That could have been a pivotal moment in our Villans’ favor as, within seconds, the Dutch centerback dropped onto the turf indicating that he had aggravated his hamstring.  It seems that being heavily muscled and fast has the unfortunate attribute of causing susceptibility to hamstring problems (our own Diego Carlos is equally cursed).

When van de Ven was replaced by Radu Dragusin in the 49th minute our Villans should have benefited from a tactical advantage.  It should have been the equivalent of Man City losing John Stones or Kevin DeBruyne, a player with no equivalent on the bench.

That we did not get that benefit was because Spurs contrived to score a truly brilliant goal exactly one minute after the change.  From the offside kick, Romero found Kulusevski on the right and the Swedish international, when pressed by Digne and Torres found Sarr, intelligently breaking the offside trap and racing down the right wing.  The Senegalese international is 21 years old and he was not to be caught, directing a perfect cross as soon as he was inline with our Villa penalty area.

Even in hindsight, it was hard to criticize the coverage.  Konsa appeared to be blocking a pass to Maddison behind him while Martinez was ready for something he could reach.  In fact, the ball arrived at the edge of the 6-yard box, three feet off the ground and between Konsa and Martinez, and if either of them had ventured to go for it, there was a high probability of a disaster.  Maddison had no such concern as all he had to do was launch himself and deflect the cross into Martinez’s near corner.  He did so expertly and, with Spurs’ first shot on goal, it put the visitors in the lead, Aston Villa 0, Tottenham Hotspur 1, in the 50th minute.

Our Villans responded well, with captain McGinn leading the way.  He crafted a pass around Udogie for Bailey to run onto with only the new substitute, Dragusin, to defend.  The wingback would have none of it, as he acrobatically slid and diverted the pass into touch.

Just two minutes later, Konsa tried to pass out from the back with an energized Spurs ready to pounce.  The pass to Tielemans was nicked by Kulusevski who fed Son.  With Konsa and Cash stranded out of position, only Lenglet was back to thwart the South Korean, so Son passed off to Johnson who clinically lifted a shot over Martinez.  Aston Villa 0, Tottenham Hotspur 2, in the 53rd minute.

Emery almost immediately substituted Zaniolo, Moreno, and Diaby for Lenglet, Digne, and Tielemans, likely with the upcoming game against Ajax in the Europa Conference League in mind.  Then, in the 69th minute he substituted Iroegbunam for Bailey. 

The latter substitution was necessitated by having to replace McGinn.  Over a period of two minutes, our captain had worked with Diaby to create an excellent chance for Zaniolo to score in the 64th minute only for Vicario, the goalie, and Romero, to scramble the ball away.  Then a minute later, McGinn, in apparent frustration, hacked Udogie to impede him breaking away.  It was hopelessly clumsy and dangerous for which he was given a red card.

In an instant, it appeared that any chance of our Villans getting anything out of the game had gone up in smoke.  This time, hindsight offered the possibility of another plot twist.  Dragusin was given a yellow card in the 61st minute and put himself in jeopardy on other occasions by grabbing at jerseys. Referees love to offset red cards against home favorites.

As it was, our Villans finally conjured up our first shot on goal in the 84th minute when a Luiz corner was headed on to Zaniolo whose shot was smothered by the quick reaction of Vicario.  With a two-goal lead, Spurs played effective possession soccer and frustrated our Villans.  When the clock came to the 90-minute mark, our exhausted Villans stopped trying to get back into the game and they were punished with two additional goals that may be factors when the season ends.

First, Kulusevski broke down the right wing and pulled back for Son to one-time a shot beyond Martinez. Aston Villa 0, Tottenham Hotspur 3, in the 90+1 minute and then Son set-up Timo Werner to one-time a shot beyond Martinez, Aston Villa 0, Tottenham Hotspur 4, in the 90+4 minute.

The post-game reaction was that our Villans had shot themselves in the foot and their prospects in Europe and in staying in the UEFA Champions League race were in jeopardy.  With Ajax arriving at Villa Park just four days later and a visit to West Ham scheduled three days after that, few were sure that the team would be ready to bounce back.

 Aston Villa: (5, 3, 2) Martínez, Cash, Konsa (Diego Carlos 85′), Lenglet (Zaniolo 58′), Torres, Digne (Moreno 58′), McGinn, Douglas Luiz, Tielemans (Diaby 58′), Bailey (Iroegbunam 69′), Watkins

Unused Subs: Marschall, Chambers, Rogers, Kellyman

Spurs: (2, 4, 3, 1): Vicario, Porro, Romero, van de Ven (Dragusin 49′), Udogie, Bissouma, Sarr (Bentancur 70′), Kulusevski, Maddison (Werner 87′), Johnson (Højbjerg 88′), Son Heung-Min

Unused Subs: Emerson Royal, Davies, Austin, Scarlett

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