A week on from a heavyweight clash for the ages at the state-of-the-art Tottenham Hotspur stadium, Villa went toe-to-toe in a much-anticipated bout with Spurs at the very same venue.
The boys in claret and blue came into the match in impressive form, after a second-half blitz against Everton and a magnificent team performance against Manchester United. Tottenham, on the other hand, had put in timid displays in defeats to London rivals Crystal Palace, Chelsea and Arsenal.
The home side had, at least, found some form in midweek with a crushing Europea Conference League win over Slovenian side NŠ Mura, as key men Heung-Min Son and hattrick hero Harry Kane coming off the bench to secure a 5-1 victory.
Here’s how the two teams lined up for Sunday’s clash, with Dean Smith’s side unchanged and Nuno making three alterations from an underwhelming North London derby:
Villa were once again without the influential winger Leon Bailey and energetic midfielder Morgan Sanson, whilst Kortney Hause was preferred to Axel Tuanzebe, who was available for selection once more, after the former Wolves defender’s Old Trafford heroics.
Much of the talk pre-match centred around the return to goalscoring form of England skipper Harry Kane, but after a frantic opening 25 minutes, the deadlock was broken from an unlikely source. Danish midfielder Pierre-Emile Højbjerg, who has found a greater degree of creative license this season when paired with the industrious Oliver Skipp, finished calmly to cap a speedy attacking transition from the hosts upon Villa giving up possession cheaply.
Villa reacted well to falling behind, as John McGinn had Villa’s best first half chances, including a volley reminiscent of his iconic Sheffield Wednesday thunderbolt, that flew just wide of the target. Spurs led at the interval, but there was no sense of panic from the away side, who were well in a hugely competitive game.
After the break, Villa began to throw caution to the wind and play in a more expansive manner, leaving South Korean superstar Son looking dangerous on the break. Much of the action played out on the West Stand side of the ground, as an intriguing battle broke out between Matt Targett and Emerson Royal.
It was Villa’s full back who came out on top 67 minutes in after finding room deep into Lilywhite territory, and fired in an enticing delivery for Ollie Watkins to get off the mark for the new season after timing his run excellently. The forward had recently been recalled to the England squad, and showed exactly why he was included to fire his side level.
The move had seen youngster Jacob Ramsey wiped out by a dangerous tackle by defender Cristian Romero, and the talented midfielder was subsequently replaced by Emiliano Buendía. Romero was the second Tottenham player in the book, which came as somewhat of a surprise, particularly as Harry Kane had put in a series of seemingly card-worthy challenges.
Villa were arguably good value for the draw at this point in the match, but Spurs hit the front almost immediately. Just four minutes after Watkins had restored parity, Son registered his second assist of the match after bamboozling Villa’s right side and crossing into the six yard box. Brazilian winger Lucas Moura looked certain to tap home, and the ever-improving Matt Targett was the unlucky man to slide the ball into his own net with a despairing dive.
After earning their equaliser, the Villa boys could not muster a second and their hosts saw out the game intelligently in a lacklustre final 20 minutes.
In a tight affair, with several influential figures on the field, it was the brilliant Son who was the difference between the two sides. His movement and guile caused an usually stubborn back line, who were fresh off a defensive masterclass against Ronaldo and co. no end of bother.
Gaffer Dean Smith admitted as much post-match calling the Spurs number seven “the outstanding player on the pitch”, and dubbing his performance “outstanding”.
After the weekend’s play, the Villans sit firmly in mid-table with a West Midlands derby to look forward to with Wolves after the international break.
Fans will be encouraged with recent performances, and despite a slightly sluggish final period of the match, the return of Bailey and Sanson in the coming weeks, alongside a more serene international break than the tumultuous last, will no doubt heal the wounds of a disappointing day in the capital.
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