Another lacklustre performance from Aston Villa sees the side continue on their downwards trajectory in the final third of the season. Tottenham’s hold over Villa remains firm as they continue their impressive away record of six consecutive wins at Villa Park.
Still without captain Jack Grealish, Villa welcomed a wounded Spurs side with the hopes of furthering Mourinho’s misery after diving out of Europe midweek and losing to their closest rivals just seven days prior. Instead, the home side gifted the visitors two goals at the hands of sloppy, avoidable mistakes – mimicking the dark realities of last season.
Cash returned after his hamstring injury to settle back into the standard back four, whilst Sanson got another start alongside McGinn and Luiz. Trezeguet kept his place alongside Traoré and Watkins up top. Spurs made several personnel changes in the hopes of refreshing their squad.
Villa entered the game on the back of a longer break, having not played since the previous Friday in a lethargic performance against Newcastle. It was therefore a good sign when the side seemed refreshed and sharp in the opening 20 minutes, while Spurs looked shaky at the back and generally uninspired. Villa were able to string passes together and the defence remained mostly unbothered, but the creativity was minimal as crosses into the box were once again batted away at the first man. It was hard to look past the absence of Grealish as each partial attack petered out into nothing and there was very little in the way of goal threat, despite dominating the ball for large parts.
The ghosts of last season came back to haunt Villa when a sloppy goalkeeping error cost them a goal in the 29th minute. A poor clearance from the typically faultless Martinez meant that Spurs were gifted a run at goal, and with two men unmarked in the box, it was inevitable that this mistake were to be punished. A kick in the stomach after a decent opening quarter for Villa, but still an opportunity to try and amend the poor record of coming back from losing positions.
It was the absence of sparkle or flare in the attacking portion that hindered Villa once again. The distinct lack of quality meant that the home side could not register a shot on goal in the first half, and an opportunity to get at a poor Spurs side was completely missed. Much like recent games against similarly struggling opponents, Villa were without any penetrating force to break down the defence or generate a dangerous attack – instead floating balls into the box or wasting set pieces. The moment of Traoré kicking the ball out for a corner from a Villa throw-in summarised the disillusionment of the performance.
A half-time team talk did not manage to incite much inspiration in the second-half. Watkins remained totally isolated up top, with long balls up to him being easily cleared by the marking defender. Trezeguet’s work rate is always appreciated, but he seemed intent on trying to win as many fouls as possible instead of fighting for legitimate possession. Traoré was also invisible, meaning that Villa’s front three were almost entirely ineffective – a worrying sentiment.
It was not until the 58th minute that Villa registered a shot. El Ghazi then entered the game with a good strike from outside the box, but just glanced the side netting and did not really trouble Lloris. This was the only chance of note from the entire 90 minutes for Villa, raising concerns that the goal threat truly is nullified when the captain is not in the squad.
A rash slide tackle from Matty Cash on Harry Kane on the edge of the box sealed a penalty for Spurs and with it, the three points. Though Cash’s intentions were true, and Kane certainly bought the penalty, it was another individual error that cost Villa the game. Without the two grave errors leading to goal scoring opportunities, this game had 0-0 written all over it. Two tactically and technically poor sides, separated only by one team’s mistakes and the others ability to punish them.
It was mostly one way traffic after the second goal with Spurs settling into the game and commanding the park. With Villa’s blazing second season back in the Premier League starting to fizzle out quite drastically, the International Break is certainly arriving at a kind time for Dean Smith and his players. The period between now and the next fixture, Fulham (H), could be the difference between Villa finishing in the top eight of the league or bobbing along around the mid-table slump.
The return of Grealish is absolutely imperative, and is undeniably what Villa need to boost their momentum once more. The issues in midfield and the wings are becoming increasingly obvious, meaning a big summer ahead for Smith and the recruitment team. The defence remains steady and constant for the most part, whilst the top end of the pitch seems to be generating more concern by the week. A steady and balanced midfield is needed, with more attacking threat from players in the middle of the park and the wings.
Jack Grealish’s return to fitness following the break must reignite Villa’s previous form before the COVID-19 outbreak and trigger a run of form, or else the likelihood of a top-half finish will surely fade away. A reset of mental and physical attitude is the only solution in the dying stages of the season, before another summer of business arrives to patch up the blatant inconsistencies in this squad.
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