Aston Villa’s victory at Leeds United proved to be extra sweet for Anwar El Ghazi.
Words: Harry Trend | @HazaTrand
Aston Villa’s victory at Leeds United proved to be extra sweet for Anwar El Ghazi. Unfairly sent off in the Pride’s controversial 1-1 draw with the The Whites back in 2019, El Ghazi exorcised his Elland Road demons with an early strike which proved to be the decider between the two sides.
It was a slow start which cost Aston Villa in their game against Leicester City last week with the Foxes getting both their goals before the 25-minute mark. And, aside from his part in Bertrand Traore’s goal, there was nothing stand-out about the Dutch winger’s performance that day either.
Despite this, Dean Smith afforded El Ghazi another start tonight, and this time the Dutchman was the difference between Villa and their opponents.
“The gaffer told us that we have to be on it from the start because we know that Leeds are a very good team,” explained El Ghazi, who was anything but slow in the opening moments against Leeds; the Villa wideman showed excellent anticipation to control Ollie Watkins’ slipped shot with his right before finishing low past Illan Meslier with his left.
El Ghazi’s form often snowballs. Start well and his self-belief will rise – that’s when we see the flicks and driving runs which persuaded Villa to make his loan from Lille permanent back in 2019. El Ghazi certainly showed that self-belief in December when he scored five goals in five.
However, El Ghazi didn’t quite hit those heights in January albeit initially being taken out of the team at the start of the month.
The 25-year-old is a ‘moments’ player – at Premier League level he’s never going to take the game by the scruff of the neck for the full 90 like Jack Grealish does. Then again, as a more traditional winger, that’s expected.
And talking of moments, El Ghazi troubled Meslier twice more after his fifth minute goal; the Dutchman seeing clean strikes tipped over then parried away down low by the Leeds goalkeeper.
But Meslier couldn’t get near to El Ghazi’s low first-time effort from Ollie Watkins’ half-pass-half-shot, an effort which rolled wide but could’ve easily found the bottom corner on another day.
El Ghazi’s pace was causing problems for the Leeds defence too. A Leeds defence who grew wary of diving in on the Dutchman. As the game became more stretched, it was El Ghazi’s driving run which forced Mateusz Klich to clip his heels and pick up the yellow card.
Not that Leeds wanted to be conceding fouls; on multiple occasions did El Ghazi find Tyrone Mings with arcing, arrowing set-pieces.
On the other hand, Smith was smart in replacing El Ghazi for Trezeguet with two minutes plus stoppage time to go. The former Ajax man, be it through tiredness or lack of awareness, failed to track Luke Ayling down the right in a Leeds attack which nearly led to them equalizing through Pablo Hernandez.
And if you were to get critical, you might say that El Ghazi should have angled his intercepted pass better when attempting to play Traore in on goal.
Nevertheless, El Ghazi can be more than pleased with his showing at Leeds. Not only as a match winner, but as a man who exorcised past demons.