Aston Villa’s 1-0 win against Leicester showed a strong defensive display – likely the best one of the season so far.
Words: Harry Trend | @Hazatrand
Whilst Aston Villa’s 7-2 victory against Liverpool has been the standout result of 2020-21, Villa’s 1-0 win away to Leicester City represents our best defensive display this season.
Yes, there was no Jamie Vardy to marshal, but many a Premier League defence would have struggled against a front three of Ayoze Pérez, Kelechi Iheanacho and Harvey Barnes.
However, Aston Villa’s back four, aided by the midfield protection of Douglas Luiz and John McGinn, had no problem dealing with the Foxes’ Champions League-chasing frontline, with the Pride restricting the home side to just five shots on target and more importantly zero goals, thus guaranteeing that Ross Barkley’s late strike would be the winning goal.
Emiliano Martinez has kept more clean sheets (3) than he has conceded goals (2) this campaign. Early on, the Argentine came out of his penalty area to face up to an onrushing Kelechi Iheanacho with the Villa backline caught out. The moment brought back memories of Pepe Reina’s calamity leading to Harvey Barnes’ goal in last season’s 4-0 defeat to the Foxes. Nevertheless, Martinez got there first to clear. Play would eventually be called back for offside, but the incident serves as a small reminder of how Villa have shored up their backline this season
Martinez didn’t have the busiest of games, but the 28-year-old was flawless when called upon. The Villa goalkeeper did well to foil Timothy Castagne at an angle in the first half before denying Youri Tielemans a deflected opener an hour into the second.
A common theme in Villa’s defensive success this season has been communication. Tyrone Mings and Ezri Konsa were in perfect sync at the heart of the Pride backline – so much so that Leicester looked reluctant to attack through the middle.
Mings was certainly one of Villa’s better players last campaign, but the former Bournemouth man has stepped it up in 2020-21. The England international will often inject a turn of pace in a tackle to get by a closing forward and set Villa on the attack, an example being when he evaded an oncoming Iheanacho in the Villa penalty area early on.
His defensive partner, Ezri Konsa, was just as impressive last night. Since Dean Smith has deployed the former Brentford man at the heart of defence, Villa are undefeated with six wins out of eight whilst conceding just four goals in the process. Konsa’s highlight at the King Power came when he gave Islam Slimani no chance of beating him one on one. An England call up is beckoning.
Due to Leicester’s liking of attacking the flanks, Matt Targett and Matty Cash knew they’d be getting through a lot of defensive work, and that they did. At Fulham in 2018, many pointed out that Matt Targett’s protection allowed his winger, Ryan Sessegnon, to flourish in their promotion campaign. Similarly, Jack Grealish has been afforded greater freedom on the left this season thanks to Targett’s work.
Matty Cash’s stats say it all when assessing his performance; four clearances, five interceptions, 100% tackle success and 100% aerial dominance. The former Forest man’s highlight came in the first half when he made a fantastic recovery sliding tackle on Dennis Praet despite looking second best to the ball.
I’ll say it again; the 7-2 thrashing of Champions Liverpool might have been Aston Villa’s most impressive performance this season, but the win over Leicester City was the true example of a Dean Smith defensive masterclass.