Analysis: Trezeguet the unlikely hero as Aston Villa take first steps of daunting climb to safety
Villa still have a mountain to climb if they are to avoid relegation from the Premier League but at least they now have a view of the summit.
Follow up Sunday's win over Crystal Palace by beating Everton on Thursday night and Dean Smith’s men will have clawed themselves back to within a point of safety and rivals West Ham and Watford, who then face each other 24 hours later.
To suggest a team who have only just ended an 11-match winless run in all competitions could now record back-to-back victories in the space of five days might seem fanciful, yet there was enough in this showing to suggest Villa are not ready to relinquish top-flight status without a fight.
With the pressure having been ramped up further after results on Saturday cast them seven points adrift, their response was nothing but impressive. The odds remain stacked against them, yet a little hope has been restored to a situation which had started to appear hopeless after Thursday’s limp 3-0 defeat to Manchester United.
So too has the fortune which appeared to have deserted Villa, after the controversy surrounding the wrongful award of the penalty which allowed United to take the lead in that match.
Here, Smith’s team were the beneficiaries of a highly-questionable VAR call. Jon Moss, who in a delicious twist had been the on-field official on Thursday, chalking off what would have been Mamadou Sakho’s seventh-minute opener after ruling the ball had gone in off the Crystal Palace defender’s upper arm and not his shoulder.
Villa made the most of the lucky break, going ahead on the stroke of half-time when Trezeguet arrived at the far post to drill home Conor Hourihane’s free-kick.
After Moss had intervened again early in the second half, this time to Villa’s disadvantage when he ruled Martin Atkinson wrong to award Jack Grealish a penalty, Trezeguet then doubled the lead with his second of the match just prior to the hour mark.
The Egyptian international was something of an unlikely hero after a season in which he has largely failed to match the fanfare which greeted his £8.5million arrival from Kasimpasa last summer.
Yet while his talent might rarely have come to the fore, his work-rate and determination have never been in question. Though he was guilty in the first half of too often running down blind alleys, the goal saw him transformed. Somehow he failed to become the first Villa player to net a Premier League hat-trick since Christian Benteke when he failed to connect with Matt Targett’s late cross. Benteke was playing for Palace yesterday and the controlled aggression of Villa’s performance all became too much for the Belgian striker, who kicked out at Ezri Konsa after the final whistle and received a red card.
His season is over and Roy Hodgson, the visiting manager, could barely hide his disgust.
Much of Villa’s bite was provided by Douglas Luiz, who did a superb job of marshalling Wilfried Zaha, together with the recalled Hourihane, the Republic of Ireland international playing a key role in both goals and twice drawing sharp saves from Palace keeper Vicente Guaita.
The home side also benefited from what was comfortably Jack Grealish’s best performance since the league’s restart. Restored to the left of an attacking three, the skipper grabbed the match by the scruff of the neck in the second half and as Villa, fuelled by Trezguet’s goals, visibly grew in confidence.
“It was a much more mature performance from Jack,” said Smith. “I thought he got on the ball and made things happen in the final third.
“Jack doesn’t get overawed or nervous about anything. That is just the way he is made. He has been trying in every game but it has not quite happened. This was more like the Jack we saw before the pandemic took hold.”
This was also a huge win for Smith. After six matches without a win since the season resumed, there seemed a real danger of his team being relegated without landing a punch and scrutiny on his position was beginning to build. One win doesn’t make that disappear yet it does buy a little breathing space and build belief that just maybe the battle is not lost yet.
This was also Villa’s second clean sheet since the restart, further strengthening the argument Smith has made them into a more solid unit. Defensive rigidity was maintained despite a late switch which saw Kortney Hause, injured in the warm-up, replaced by Ahmed Elmohamady.
In truth the change worked in Villa’s favour, Elmohamady dutifully carrying out his defensive duties while providing a handy attacking outlet down the right. Twice in the opening 25 minutes he delivered dangerous crosses, one from which Grealish brought a save from Guaita while the other was headed over by Mbwana Samatta.
The latter’s performance was the day’s biggest disappointment and Villa’s lack of firepower, particularly at centre-forward, may still prove their downfall. When Trezeguet opened the scoring in the fourth minute of stoppage time, he became the first Villa attacking player to score a Premier League goal in nearly 15 hours.
Smith must hope the confidence gained from this performance and result will carry over to Goodison Park three days from now. Villa still have an awful lot of climbing left to do if they are to pull of the most surprising of escapes but at least they have made a start.
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