Aston Villa 0 – 0 Burnley
Considering the last time Aston Villa met Burnley, they lost both Tom Heaton and Wesley to season-ending injuries, Dean Smith’s men knew they were in for a physically demanding evening. A win against Wolves was a good way to start the winter off, but beating teams like Burnley at home should be Villa’s bread and butter, if they want to be recognised as top half material.
Dean Smith was forced into a pair of changes, after bans for Matty Cash and Douglas Luiz. Ahmed Elmohamady and Marvelous Nakamba were the obvious like-for-like replacements. The lack of Ezri Konsa in the squad left many of the Villa faithful scratching their heads, with Kortney Hause taking his place at centre-half. It was later revealed that the Villa centre back was ill. The fans will be hoping that Konsa won’t be out for long, as he has been a rock at the back so far this season.
Jacob Ramsey was the final player to be replaced, although there was no return for Ross Barkley, the young midfielder lost his spot to last game’s match-winner, Anwar El Ghazi.
Villa could and probably should have had at least one goal at half-time. The visitors were doing their best to clog up the penalty area and frustrate Villa, and they succeeded. If Bertrand Traore had a right foot, he would have had his first Premier League goal of the season. The ball avoided every player in the box to fall at his feet, but he overplayed and his shot was blocked. A deflection off Ollie Watkins was cleared off the line by Matt Lowton, and Kortney Hause couldn’t direct his header on target as it clattered the upright. Burnley did show their teeth though, as Chris Wood headed on goal for Emi Martinez to save. Anwar El Ghazi nearly produced a worldie, with his firmly struck free kick tipped onto the bar by Nick Pope. Villa would have to up the tempo of their attack, and take their chances in the second half.
Villa’s finishing didn’t improve in the second half. Grealish, El Ghazi, Traore, Mings, it’s hard to think of a player that didn’t have a chance to put Villa ahead. Burnley were one dimensional and hoofed balls up the pitch, which hardly troubled the Villa defence. The visitor’s best second half chance came when Martinez’s clearance cannoned off Nakamba.
Shot after shot rained on the Burnley net, but it wasn’t as if they were ferocious strikes, most were soft and straight at the keeper, or powered well wide.
Burnley were far and away the least threatening side Villa have faced this season, and Dean Smith’s men couldn’t put them to the sword. What it did hammer home was the need for another winger in January, preferably one that can get their shots on target. After Trezeguet managed seven shots against Brighton without success, El Ghazi surpassed even that with eight efforts.
Aston Villa Player Ratings
Emiliano Martinez – 7
There was one moment in which Emi Martinez didn’t cover himself in glory. A low and overpowered pass bounced off Marvelous Nakamba, and nearly sent Ashley Barnes through on goal. Thankfully some great defending by Kortney Hause put things right. Otherwise, the Villa shot stopper was sharp when he needed to be, including a decent save off a Chris Wood header.
Ahmed Elmohamady – 7
Experienced full-back Ahmed Elmohamady had a solid game, filling in for Matty Cash. The Egyptian was there to offer an option on the attack, and put in a couple of testing balls from the right. Though Burnley didn’t attack a lot, when they did, Elmo was there to sweep up and get the ball moving in the right direction again.
Kortney Hause – 7
As was mentioned previously, Kortney Hause came to the aid of Martinez and Nakamba in the second half with some brilliant defending. More often than not, when Burnley went route one, Hause was there to beat the Burnley striker in the air. There wasn’t a lot of pressure put on Hause’s play with the ball at his feet, which meant the game played to his strengths. The 25-year-old was also a menace in the box, as he flashed a header off the post. He did well to get his header even vaguely near the goal, as the ball came at him so fast.
Tyrone Mings – 7
Much like Kortney Hause, Tyrone Mings was a dominant force in the air. There were obvious signs of frustration from Villa’s defensive leader as he had to resort to long punts forward or passes back to Martinez. He had two golden opportunities from headers, and should have at least put one of them on target.
Matt Targett – 6.5
In the opening stages, Matt Targett’s passing was off, and ended some promising moves prematurely. Most of Villa’s attacking play came down the left, but Targett wasn’t really an attacking menace. The left-back wasn’t tested at all defensively, and so only made one interception and no tackles in the 90 minutes.
Marvelous Nakamba – 6
Whenever Nakamba gets the ball in space, it’s a lottery where the ball will end up. When he passes the ball simply, and moves it on quickly, he is a useful player to have. But when he gets even a little bit adventurous, or holds on for one second too long, he’s liable to kill any attacking momentum. He did break up the play with fouls, making four in total, but these fouls were often unnecessary, and broke up an already disjointed game.
John McGinn – 7
This was an accomplished midfield display from John McGinn, against a highly physical Burnley team. Super John battled for second balls, and stuck his bum out when it was necessary. His long passing caused a few problems, and he was able to burst ahead and start off attacks from a deeper midfield role.
Bertrand Traore – 6
There was more of the clumsy, yet skilful, Bertrand Traore on show. His first touch can be truly dreadful, and his ability to loop a clearance up into the air is quite incredible. On the other hand, every now and then, he bursts into life and finds some space or beats a man. His finishing like the rest of the team, was diabolical, and his lack of a right foot makes you want to rip your hair out.
Jack Grealish © – 7.5
A brilliant performance from Jack Grealish felt like it was destined to be capped off with a goal, as some space opened up late on. The over hit shot into the Holte end that came from it, summed up Villa’s evening. Grealish drew defenders as well as his elaborate pre-court distraction drew ‘journalists’. His touch drove him past these defenders, and his passes created a myriad of chances. The supporting cast that met these passes weren’t on the same level however, most of the attempts were off target.
Anwar El Ghazi – 6.5
Every part of Anwar El Ghazi’s game was fantastic, apart from his finishing. To say his finishing was a bit off would be an understatement. He was able to dribble past players, burst forward with speed, create chances, but there was that one thing missing. On another day he would have had a hat-trick easily, but in front of goal it just wasn’t happening.
Ollie Watkins – 6.5
Ollie Watkins had two great chances, in a game where he had a worryingly small amount of influence. The first he knew little about, as it bounced off him and towards goal. The second was a brilliant opportunity to drag the ball back to another player, or put his foot through it. Watkins did neither, caressing a shot into the arms of Nick Pope. When he doesn’t get enough service, the 24-year-old drifts out wide, where he is much less effective.
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Off the Bench
Keinan Davis (80) – n/a
Keinan Davis came off the bench to make his first appearance since October. He only had six touches in 12 minutes. He replaced Bertrand Traore, and appeared to stay out on the right. Having Davis as an option on the wing is an interesting prospect, and may suit him more, as he can hold up the ball out wide, and bully opposition full-backs.
Dean Smith – 7
There wasn’t anything more that Dean Smith could have done. The defence was hardly tested, and dealt with what little threat there was very well. Going forward they created the chances, the ruthless finishing just wasn’t there. This aspect of the game will have to improve before the next game at the Hawthorns. Newly appointed Sam Allardyce will set up his team much like Burnley’s Sean Dyche, to frustrate and dig in.
What should have been six points from two games will have to be four points. Anything less and questions will be asked about Villa’s cutting edge, and whether there has been enough progression.