It was an out of sorts performance from Aston Villa on Wednesday night as the players, from the first whistle never looked at it. We looked lathargic and never really had control of the game or played with any zip. This is much unlike Villa who have wowed the Premier League at times with stunning football and some great, energetic performances, but tonight, Villa fans were comparing this to the Leeds game, the game we got out fought and outplayed and there were similariites. West Ham didn't let Villa play, they manmarked Grealish and played a system that Villa couldn't cope with.
West Ham matched Villa man for man and played a 4-2-3-1, after playing a 5 in recent weeks. This was clever as Benrahma, Lingard and Antonio were constantly changing positions and all being allowed to play free roles. It was a fluid formation from West Ham, something that is not normally attached to a David Moyes team, but it was that movement and fluidity that caused Villa's midfield problems all game. The two 'holding' mids for Villa Luiz and McGinn didn't have spatial awareness last night, they didn't seem to know what was going on around them or the postions they were in on the pitch, it was bizarre, as West Ham always seemed to flood us with attacks, they were overwhelmed, and this is something that Smith should have seen sooner, with no changes made to that midfield until the 80th minute when Sanson made his debut. Lingard, who was playing in the hole, was always behind McGinn and Luiz, so when he had the ball, it was always dragging a centre back out of position and Luiz/McGinn were already out of the game, this caused us a lot of issues, and he was allowed to do that with the more defensive right hand side (Fredericks/Coufal) which combatted Grealish's threat.
West Ham started well as Martinez was forced into some early saves, one from Antonion and another one from Lingard, Villa did have some chances in the first half, but they mainly came because of lapses in concentration from the Hammers' defence. Dawson miscontrolling the ball, set Jack Grealish away who teed up Ollie Watkins, but his shot just hit the outside of the post, Watkins also had a free header after some good work on the right hand side, but he seemed to jump over the ball and headed it over the bar, thats was the closest Villa came in the first half, as Smith admitted that West Ham "shaded the first half" But I thought West Ham controlled the first half, with and without the ball. Smith always likes his Villa side to control the game without the ball but I thought all game West Ham did that superbly with their energy and their pressing.
Dean Smith said Villa started the second half brightly but it was after only 5 mins when Soucek had the ball in the Villa net. After a laboured ball from Mings up towards Watkins, a ball Watkins was never gonna win, against Dawson. The ball then fell to Antonio who was not under enough pressure from Mings and was allowed to lay off to Benrahma who played the ball to Soucek who's run was not read by Mings or Targett as Villa were too slow to react. Once Soucek was in, there was no doubt he was going to finish it, with the form he is on, terrific finish from the Czech international, who has been likened to Fellaini. I would say he is more of a Yaya Toure, not as techinical as Toure, but he is dangerous and his runs into the box are becoming a real nuasance for teams.
The second goal was deemed by Smith as "horrendous" and likened it to "Sunday League defending" It all started with terrific work from Matt Targett to get out of a horrrible situation surrounded by 2 West Ham United players, he then played a ball into Ollie Watkins that he couldn't control in the box, led to a break from Benrahma then found Antonio, who was a menace all night, Lingard was unmarked on the left side, and he fired home past Martinez, few things for this goal; How did Villa allow a 3 vs 1 situation. Douglas Luiz did get back as well to be fair to him, but never had the spatial awareness to look over his shoulder and see the unmarked Lingard. Barkley also got back in the end, but was too late to block the shot from the debutant. Martinez, also could have done better as the shot wasn't that well struck from Lingard, McGinn was also getting back on the line, maybe he could have tried to go towards the ball or Lingard to block the shot rather than try to clear it off of the line.
After that Mings made up for his laboured pass for the first goal, with a teriffic goal line clearance to deny Antonio, Antonio who was played through expertedly, attempted the lob over Martinez and succeeded but for Mings who looked to have injure himself in the process as he let out a scream when colliding with the net. After that Villa did put a bit of pressure on the West Ham goal and actually got a goal back in the end with their first shot on target, Grealish, who had since moved over to a more free roam role after finally escaping Coufal with Barkley being dragged off, played through a great weighted ball through to Watkins who slid home a goal past Fabianski, who surprisingly in 9 appearances against the Villa has never lost. It was a good finish from Watkins and after that it looked as if Villa had their tails up, Cash played a through ball to Grealish who was on the righ again and he cross in a nice ball to Watkins, but Dawson recovered well to block any shot Watkins had.
It didn't last long though as a ball from the new boy Sanson was directed towards Watkins, who failed to control with the loose ball falling to Soucek. This spelled trouble as he immediately cut Villa open with one pass to Antonio, McGinn nowhere to be seen, Antonio drove on somehow attracting 3 Villa players towards him, leaving LIngard free, who in all honestly should never score, Martinez would be very frustrated he let that one in, the shot straight at him, but somehow ending up in the back of the net, but 3 defenders should never be attracted to Antonio, Konsa had Antonio and Sanson was chasing him down, there was no need for Mings to go over and leave Lingard free, especially as Targett was halfway up the pitch and still sprinting to get back in position.
The screenshot above furthers my point that, Sanson and Konsa probably has Antonion covered, MIngs probably should have been further back 5 yards and meeting Lingard when the ball arrives to him. McGinn seen on the left of the picture was still jogging back as Lingard was played through.
Overall, the performance wasn't good enough, was it fatigue? Was it laziness? Only Smith can pinpoint what the real problem was, maybe he should have made more changes especially in mid as we looked so leggy.
Emi Martinez: 6.0 - This is probably the lowest score I have given Martinez all season and probably the lowest score he will get all season, it was a bit of an off day for the Argentine who made a few errors and misjudgements for the goals, we have relied on him so much this season, everyone is allowed and off day and it probably won't happen again this season, also thought his distribution was terrible tonight.
Matty Cash: 6.5 - Thought Cash looked leggy and tired, didnt sprint forward as much as he usualy does and seemed to want to pass the ball on as much as possible instead of usng his blistering pace and energy, was out of position at times.
Ezri Konsa: 7.0 - Thought he was sollid, thought he was wasteful in possession at times, which put us on the backfoot, especially in the first half.
Tyrone Mings: 6.0 - Thought MIngs' positioning was poor last night, didn't think he was up to standard, he obviously did that incredible piece of defendign to deny Antonio, but I can't give him more than a 6 for his positioning on the third goal and his pass for the first.
Matt Targett: 7.0 - Thought Targett was onw of our better defenders, could have been in a better position for the third goal, but had some nice touches at times.
Douglas Luiz: 6.0 - Thought he was ineffective, didn't control the midfield well enough and was dribbled past way too easy at times.
John McGInn: 5.5 - Thought McGinn looked leggy for all three goals, I thought maybe an energetic McGinn could have been in better positions to stop the passing lans or shots. Ran around like a headless chicken at times as he was the only one pressing.
Anwar El Ghazi: 4.5 - Lazy, no quality, no energy, subbed at Half Time
Ross Barkley: 5.5 - Held onto the ballfor way too long and never looks up for the pass, literally slowed every attack down and hindered us more than he helped us.
Jack Grealish: 7.5 - Thought Jack was poor, but that was because Coufal and Fredericks were on his toes all game, thougt when he moved towards the middle he was better, I have given him a 7.5 because his stats were still right up there and he assisted the goal for Ollie.
Ollie Watkins: 7.0 - Gave the ball away too easily today, and didn't hold the ball up as well as he usually does, scored the goal though and looked deadly at times.
Bertrand Traore: 6.0 - Thought Traore was better than El Ghazi when he came on at HT, but was still rather ineffective.
Trezeguet: 6.5 - Showed good energy, and gave us a bit more of a threat in the second half, when he replaced Barkley.
Morgan Sanson: 6.5. - Thought he showed some nice touches, didn't have enough time to influence the game, hope to see more of him against Arsenal.
Let's bounce back vs Arsenal, UTV!