English Premier League

Aston Villa register another win on the road

Aston Villa moved within six points of the top four with an impressive victory over Leeds United on a difficult pitch at Elland Road.

Anwar El Ghazi scored the only goal, brilliantly controlling Ollie Watkins’ cross and firing past Islan Meslier after just five minutes.

Dean Smith’s side, still shorn of injured captain Jack Grealish, looked comfortable against Leeds who, despite winning their last two home games against Crystal Palace and Southampton, lacked penetration throughout.

Despite the defeat, Marcelo Bielsa’s United are still secure in 10th position with 35 points from their 26 games, just four points behind a rejuvenated Villa, who have games against Sheffield United, Wolves and Newcastle coming up as they look to strengthen their bid for European qualification.

Smith has refuted accusations Aston Villa are a one-man team but there is no doubting they are a more dangerous outfit when Grealish is available.

Before this match, their win percentage in the last three seasons dropped from 42% with Grealish to 17% without and his absence played a role in their laboured defeat by Leicester City last weekend.

And Smith’s insistence that his team have other options was proved when their attacking players combined skilfully to secure this win.

El Ghazi had an impressive goal streak pre-Christmas and he rediscovered his scoring touch in fine fashion, ghosting in behind the Leeds defence to bury Watkins’ strongly hit pass.

He showed further attacking intent shortly after, twice stinging Meslier’s palms with shots from distance.

This victory though owed as much to their miserly defence – only Manchester City and Chelsea have conceded fewer goals in the Premier League – and this was their 13th clean sheet of the campaign.

Credit must go to Smith as well for making changes in midfield, he brought in Marvelous Nakamba and Jacob Ramsey to form an impenetrable barrier in front of the back four.

Now, with two games in hand on the sides above, Villa will be plotting a return to Europe for the first time since 2010. Bielsa’s team have caught the eye in the Premier League for their slick interplay and persistent goal threat.

Both qualities were in evidence against Southampton last Tuesday in a commanding 3-0 victory.

However, on a pitch that looked increasingly threadbare, their dominance of possession did not bring many chances against Villa’s stubborn backline.

Indeed, Leeds completed more than twice as many passes as their visitors but rarely threatened, particularly in a second half that featured no shots on target.

In-form Raphinha was well shackled by Ahmed El Mohamedy and top scorer Patrick Bamford, who hit a stunning hat-trick in the reverse fixture, was hardly involved, bar a first minute shot that failed to trouble Villa keeper Emiliano Martinez.

Tyler Roberts had a good sight of goal midway through the first half but hit his effort straight at Martinez.

United’s performance was summed up by Raphinha heading the ball into the ground and over the bar when well placed in the final moments.


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