Analysis: Trezeguet the unlikely hero as Aston Villa rediscover some spark

Not for the first time a double from Trezeguet has injected fresh life into a Villa season.

Aston Villa's Trezeguet scores
Aston Villa's Trezeguet scores

Last year it was the Egypt international’s brace against Crystal Palace which sparked the club’s great escape from relegation.

Whether Sunday’s goals against Fulham can now ignite a late charge for European football remains to be seen. At the very least it has restored some spark to a campaign which had begun to stall alarmingly.

When Trezeguet was introduced to the fray just past the hour mark Villa were trailing to Aleksandar Mitrovic’s goal and the chances of a team which had previously claimed only one point from a losing position this season making a comeback appeared remote.

The odds of Trezeguet, still searching for his first goal of the season, being the hero would have been even longer but after breaking his drought to bring the scores level with 12 minutes to play his second arrived just three minutes later.

When Ollie Watkins then scored to make the points safe Villa – who had failed to register an attempt on target for the first three-quarters of the match – had netted as many goals in nine minutes as in their previous six matches combined. It was the first time they had scored three goals in a game since Boxing Day.

The mood at the final whistle, therefore, bordered on disbelief.

Defeat saw Fulham blow the chance to climb out of the relegation zone for the first time this season. Villa, meanwhile, remain close enough to the European contenders to keep things interesting. Back up to ninth in the table, they visit sixth-placed Liverpool on Saturday sitting five points behind Jurgen Klopp’s men with a game in hand. It is now a genuine six-pointer.

Of course, Dean Smith knows his team will need to be far better for far longer than against Fulham if they are to win at Anfield and complete a first league double over the Reds since the 1992-93 season. But at least the Villa boss has some positives to focus on. For much of Sunday it appeared the main narrative for the week ahead would be the continued absence of Jack Grealish and Villa’s inability to win without him.

This was only their second victory out of seven matches the skipper has now missed due to a shin injury.

Yesterday was supposed to be when Grealish made his return yet his name was once again absent from the team sheet, with Smith erring on the side of caution after the 25-year-old complained of discomfort in his shin during training on Saturday. Without him, Villa once more appeared one paced, their performance following an all too familiar recent pattern as despite no shortage of energy, they struggled to create anything of note in the final third with visiting keeper Alphonse Areola largely a spectator.

Barring drama in first-half stoppage time, when referee Andrew Madley first awarded Villa a penalty when Watkins tumbled under Mario Lemina’s challenge before overturning his decision after consulting with the pitchside monitor, Fulham’s defence were finding it all too easy.

Villa needed someone to step up but whereas in recent weeks inspiration had been sorely lacking, this time Trezeguet delivered, finally finding the finesse to go with a work-rate which has never been in question.

Prior to yesterday the Egyptian had registered more attempts on goal than any other player in the Premier League this season without scoring and when he headed horribly wide from Bertrand Traore's cross there was little clue of what was to follow.

His first goal came courtesy of a cool left-footed finish from a low cross supplied by Tyrone Mings, the defender gaining personal redemption having earlier made the error which allowed Mitrovic to open the scoring.

Trezeguet’s second was a right-footed volley, this time fellow substitute Keinan Davis supplying the assist having shown excellent strength to steal the ball from Tosin Adarabioyo and then poise to pick out his team-mate at the far post. A first Premier League goal continues to elude Davis but this was still the young striker’s most effective appearance of the season. With Jacob Ramsey also coming off the bench to add energy to Villa’s midfield, Smith could take credit for having transformed the game with his substitutions.

The flip side to that, of course, is that much of what came before the changes fell below par. Villa’s midfield remains a problem area with two of the three players who started the match in the centre of the park, Douglas Luiz and Morgan Sanson, both withdrawn early. While the former is lacking the consistency of his early season showings, the latter seems to be still adjusting to the pace of the Premier League following his £14million January move from Marseille. Deployed in a deeper role against the Cottagers, he was guilty of taking too much time on the ball, while his passes lacked accuracy.

He was not so nearly wasteful in possession as Anwar El Ghazi, who is struggling to recapture the form he showed prior to the Covid-19 outbreak which briefly halted Villa’s season in January. The Dutch winger had actually replaced Trezeguet in the only change to the team which started against Tottenham prior to the international break but he will surely find himself back on the bench at Anfield.

His counterpart on the opposite wing, Traore, was similarly sloppy before rediscovering his mojo in the late rally. It was Traore’s cross, after a neat show of skill to beat his man, from which Watkins netted Villa’s third – snapping his own seven-match Premier League goal drought in the process.

The challenge for Villa is to use yesterday’s comeback as a springboard to a strong finish to the campaign.

There would be no greater boost, of course, than getting Grealish back but there are no guarantees he will be ready to return next weekend. Despite some frustratingly vague messaging from Smith since he was first sidelined in February, yesterday’s match was always pencilled in as the most likely return date. The fact he has now missed it and is still not entirely pain-free is unquestionably cause for concern.

Much as the manner of yesterday’s win delivered Villa a much-needed boost, their hopes of gatecrashing the top six surely depend on Grealish making a return sooner rather than later.

At least thanks to Trezeguet, they remain just about in the picture.

The 26-year-old had been a regular in the line-up which started the season so strongly before a hamstring injury in early December knocked his campaign off course.

Yesterday was a timely reminder of his qualities and as last season proved, you never quite know what might be in store next. Both he and Villa are dangerous to write off.

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