Aston Villa, 18th in the standings, look to climb out of relegation zone
There was an international break in between to blow off some steam, but Aston Villa, sitting in the relegation zone, remain set on better days following a controversial ending to their last league game against Crystal Palace. For a team whose only win of the season has come at home, it couldn’t get much better than hosting West Ham at Villa Park on a Monday night (Watch live, 3 p.m. ET on NBCSN).
Dean Smith and Co. aren’t necessarily playing bad, if anything their attack-oriented brand of play is as captivating as they get. The lack of finishing, in-game concentration and poor officiating (like against Palace), however, have not done Villa well. That said, their 2-0 victory against Everton weeks back is a testament to what they can really do on a positive night. With revenge on their mind, that can be the case against the Irons.
On the other side, after a detrimental 5-0 loss to Manchester City to start the season, West Ham have found their groove under a revamped attack. Bundesliga import, Sebastien Haller, has scored three goals in the last two games, which resulted in victories for West Ham. Currently ninth in the table with seven points, with a win at Villa Park, Manuel Pellegrini‘s side can creep right behind the defending champions. It’s a complete 180-degree turn for West Ham, and they know they need to take advantage of the situation.
Aston Villa: Heaton – Guilbert, Engels, Mings, Taylor – McGinn, Douglas Luiz, Grealish – Jota, Wesley, El-Ghazi
West Ham: Fabianski – Fredericks, Diop, Ogbonna, Masuaku – Rice, Noble, Felipe Anderson, Lanzini, Yarmolenko – Haller
What they’re saying
Manuel Pelegrini, on playing Aston Villa: “We need to beat teams like Aston Villa, because last season there were a lot of teams around us that we lost to. Now we will see what happens this season. Villa is a difficult team. Their stadium is very important for them, but we go there as we do in all the other games – to try to win. Villa have had some different results, bought a lot of good players and play an attacking style. I think that they are doing well, they must adapt to the Premier League still, but they have a very good team and a manager in Dean Smith who wants to play in an attacking way.”
Dean Smith, on his player’s urgency to play and perform well: “They’re itching for that next game. There’s a burning desire from them to right the wrongs. I can sense that.The international break has given us an opportunity. For instance, we’ve been able to work a lot on our breakthrough opportunities as all of our forward players have been here.”
Both teams don’t need extra motivation heading into Monday. It’s simply a matter of who wants the three points more. Obviously, given their position on the table, Villa could benefit more from a win than West Ham. Couple that with Villa playing in front of their vociferous and passionate crowd, and that might be the secret ingredient for the home side to squeeze out a win against what will be a challenging bout against Pellegrini’s side. Aston Villa, 2-1.
Trailing 1-0 and down to 10 men, Villa thought they had equalized in the 96th minute through Henri Lansbury‘s strike.
But referee Kevin Friend has blown his whistle milliseconds before, as he gave a free kick to Crystal Palace for simulation against Jack Grealish.
On second viewing it appeared that Grealish was fouled both inside and outside the penalty box and the referee should have either played advantage or awarded a penalty kick. VAR wasn’t used in this situation, and Villa boss Dean Smith told the BBC after the game that he was confused as to why they goal wasn’t allowed to stand.
“We kept going until the end and in my opinion got a good goal. I’m not sure any of us know why the referee has given the decision,” Smith said. “We’ve all looked at it back and nobody can see why he hasn’t given the goal and given the free kick but we have to take it on the chin.”
Villa’s players were absolutely livid with Friend and Grealish was booked for simulation (first it was reported he’d been booked for dissent) as he remonstrated with the referee.
It was a bad decision by Friend, but his decision could not be reviewed by VAR as it doesn’t come under the four situations it can be used for: penalty kicks, a red card, a goal or mistaken identity.
You could argue that it could have gone to VAR over a penalty kick being awarded to Villa, as that was a pretty clear and obvious mistake.
There are still teething issues with VAR and Villa were on the wrong side of it on Saturday.
Kevin De Bruyne had the champs on the board after just 71 seconds, taking a David Silva cut back into the goal. Sergio Aguero added a goal just before half.
Aymeric Laporte left the match on a stretcher with an injury prior to the break.
Chelsea 2-0 Sheffield United
Tammy Abraham got a second bite at the apple thanks to the off-putting hustle of Christian Pulisic, and the Blues are up at half. He’d add a second before the ref whistled for the break.
🇺🇸 #USMNT’s Christian Pulisic heavily involved in Chelsea’s goal. A quiet start for him in this game, but he’s growing into it. Good finish from Tammy Abraham. #CFC lead #SUFC 1-0 pic.twitter.com/jXjfxXjUFI
The host Magpies were absolutely terrible in the first 15 minutes, highlighted by a Will Hughes goal within 90 seconds of kickoff. But Fabian Schar lashed home in traffic to put the hosts level and keep Javi Gracia‘s seat hot.
Half of the Premier League’s teams — yes, 10 of them — have 1-1-1 records after three match days, though not all are created equal.
For example, baffling VAR decisions. Manchester United can feel righteously aggrieved to not have at least six points. Spurs got huge VAR help to draw Man City but could’ve snared a point from Newcastle (yeah, that happened) should a penalty decision have went their way.
Sheffield United and Bournemouth drew each other and beat poor sides at home.
And what in the world do you make of Wolves, who have three draws but have been clobbered by early season qualifying rounds of the Europa League.
Green: New season-high ranking Red: New season-low
20. Watford — The Pozzo family doesn’t mind changing bosses and, fair or not (it isn’t), Javi Gracia may find himself unemployed without a win at Newcastle next week. Fortunately, they are playing Newcastle. Last week: 19
Season high: 19
Season low: 20
Last match: Lost 1-3 v. West Ham
Up next: 10 a.m. ET Saturday at Newcastle United
19. Newcastle United — Beat Tottenham and only move up one spot? Unfortunately, while the Magpies were gritty against Spurs and the win should not be discounted entirely, they hemorrhaged possession aside from the 15-pass sequence that led to Joelinton‘s first goal for the Toon. A fine moment for embattled Steve Bruce, but still so much work to do. Last week: 20
Season high: 19
Season low: 20
Last match: Won 1-0 at Spurs
Up next: 10 a.m. ET Saturday v. Watford
18. Crystal Palace — Credit that wonderful play at the end of the match for a remarkable and historic win over Manchester United, but Palace is still getting little out of WilfriedZaha and probably should’ve lost by 3 or 4 goals before David De Gea fumbled away a point for the hosts. And we can’t jump them above a Sheffield United side which dominated them in Week 2. Last week: 18 Season high: 18
Season low: 18
Last match: Won 2-1 at Manchester United
Up next: 10 a.m. ET Saturday v. Aston Villa
17. Bournemouth — Probably better than their 17th place status, but the Cherries have a draw against Sheffield United and a win over Aston Villa in which they were controlled after a wobbly opening. Too good to stay this low, but justifiably 17th. Last week: 14
Season high: 14 Season low: 17
Last match: Lost 3-1 v. Man City
Up next: 10 a.m. ET Saturday at Leicester City
16. Sheffield United — The scrappy Blades are following the Sean Dyche at Burnley model, and weren’t able to get a point at home despite a brave effort against Leicester. Last week: 13
Season high: 13
Season low: 17
Last match: Lost 1-2 v. Leicester City
Up next: 10 a.m. ET Saturday at Chelsea
15. Norwich City — Daniel Farke‘s men are going to bring us entertainment, and we’ll get another clue of their place in the league when they visit dangerous but another dangerous attack in West Ham. Last week: 12
Season high: 12
Season low: 17
Last match: Lost 2-3 v. Chelsea
Up next: 10 a.m. ET Saturday at West Ham United
14. Brighton and Hove Albion — We gave the Seagulls a mulligan for the West Ham draw, but cannot look past this week’s loss to Southampton. Saints are a good side, but a 2-0 loss at home and a reckless red card do not make friends amongst the power rankers. Last week: 6
Season high: 5 Season low: 14 Last match: Lost 0-2 v. Southampton Up next: 10 a.m. ET Saturday at Man City
13. Southampton — A Danny Ings flick away from giving us 11 teams with a 1-1-1-1 record, Saints earned this week’s win and will relish it coming via a nice showing from Moussa Djenepo. Last week: 16 Season high: 13 Season low: 19 Last match: Won 2-0 at Brighton Up next: 7:30 a.m. ET Saturday v. Manchester United
12. West Ham United — Sebastien Haller looked every bit the versatile star center forward, able to set-up, hold-up, and finish. We already knew Felipe Anderson was the truth. Now can Manuel Pellegrini find consistency in this bunch? Last week: 17 Season high: 12 Season low: 18 Last match: Won 3-1 at Watford Up next: 10 a.m. ET Saturday v. Norwich City
11. Everton — The performance at Villa is the kind that has been taking Everton out of the Top Six discussion during the Marco Silva era (and well before it, really). Huge test Sunday before an international break which could find Silva feeling plenty hot under the collar. Last week: 8
Season high: 8 Season low: 11 Last match: Lost 0-2 at Aston Villa Up next: 9 a.m. ET Sunday v. Wolves
10. Aston Villa — The Villans are looking more like a side which never left the Premier League than a newly-promoted one. Dean Smith deserves PL Manager of the Month honors if he’s able to get a result at Palace and skate into the break at a mid table pace. Last week: 15
Season high: 8 Season low: 15 Last match: Won 2-0 v. Everton Up next: 10 a.m. ET Saturday at Crystal Palace
9. Chelsea — Just not buying it yet, are we? Mason Mount looks a legit force, Tammy Abraham is showing flashes, and Christian Pulisic is doing well enough, but who is the star that will consistently make the difference, let alone against the big boys? Last week: 12 Season high: 9 Season low: 12 Last match: Won 3-2 at Norwich City Up next: 10 a.m. ET Saturday v. Sheffield United
8. Wolves — Three draws from three matches, and just barely got a point off of Burnley, but the performances have come while waylaid with Europa League duties including an unfriendly match against Torino on Thursday (Who they absolutely handled). Nuno’s got it simmering. Last week: 7
Season high: 7 Season low: 9 Last match: Drew 1-1 v. Burnley Up next: 9 a.m. ET Sunday at Everton
7. Spurs — Dominant again against Newcastle despite an injury to key man Tanguy Ndombele, and simply unfortunate to not get a point, but there are so many questions for Mauricio Pochettino. If you’re going to risk Christian Eriksen, why not start him? If you don’t have an answer at right back, why not play a back three instead of keeping Jan flipping Vertonghen on the bench? Last week: 2
Season high: 2 Season low: 7 Last match: Lost 0-1 v. Newcastle United Up next: 11:30 a.m. ET Sunday at Arsenal
6. Man Utd — We watched the Palace loss, and still can’t quite believe our eyes. The Red Devils are so much better than 1-1-1, but that and a friendly pour at the pub will give you a headache and a 1-1-1 record. Now start Juan Mata over Jesse Lingard and thank me later. Last week: 5
Season high: 2 Season low: 6 Last match: Lost 1-2 v. Crystal Palace Up next: 7:30 a.m. ET Saturday at Southampton
5. Burnley — They aren’t doing this again, are they? The Clarets struggled last season with Europa League schedule congestion, but finished in the Top Seven the last time they only had to focus on the league. A silly Erik Pieters challenge away from third place in our rankings. Last week: 9 Season high: 5 Season low: 9 Last match: Drew 1-1 at Wolves Up next: 12:30 p.m. ET Saturday v. Liverpool
4. Arsenal — Don’t give them too much credit for producing three terrific chances against Liverpool — that’s what’s keeping Liverpool out of 1st this week. The questions about the defense remain real, but Nicolas Pepe is going to be a delight once he finds his finishing boots. Last week: 4
Season high: 4 Season low: 7 Last match: Lost 1-3 at Liverpool Up next: 11:30 a.m. ET Saturday v. Tottenham
3. Leicester City — There’s a bit of “by default” to this ranking, but the Foxes have drawn Wolves and picked up a point away to Chelsea. The win at Sheffield United wasn’t a ballot-box stuffer by any means, but Brendan Rodgers‘ men did what Manchester United sand Spurs could not this weekend in beating a probable relegation scrapper.
Last week: 10 Season high: 3 Season low: 10 Last match: Won 2-1 at Sheffield United Up next: 10 a.m. ET Saturday v. Bournemouth
2. Liverpool — The Reds are 3-0, champions of Europe, and a pleasure for the eyes. Their defense remains a problem, and Jurgen Klopp‘s crew has given up more big chances from open play than anyone would deem functional for a title squad. Last week: 3
Season high: 2 Season low: 3 Last match: Won 3-1 v. Arsenal Up next: 12:30 p.m. ET Saturday at Burnley
Manchester City — The only way to score on City is through set pieces, and the only way to stop them is locking them out of the stadium. Last week: 1
Season high: 1 Season low: 1 Last match: Won 3-1 at Bournemouth Up next: 10 a.m. ET Saturday v. Brighton
Anwar El Ghazi was the x-factor Friday night, giving every Aston Villa supporter in attendance at Villa Park the excuse to roar at the top of their lungs following his composed finish in the dying seconds of stoppage time.
But about an hour earlier, Villa’s $28-million striker, Wesley, gave the same supporters a reason to believe that they had a chance against Everton, and, most importantly, that Villa made the right decision in securing his signature just months ago.
With a timely run and a well-paced strike, the Brazilian opened his Premier League and Aston Villa account. Something manager Dean Smith knew was bound to happen. From the BBC:
“Wesley is not rewarding me but this performance was very good tonight. I believe in him, I have watched him for a while at Club Bruges, playing in the Champions League so I know the calibre of player we were bringing in. You can’t judge someone after two games.”
Prior to Friday, Wesley was less effective than expected in the claret and blue, recording only two shots on target in his first 164 minutes in the league. Smith was swarmed with questions about the striker’s ineffectiveness as the pressure continued to pile on.
Against Everton, however, with the Villa struggling to keep possession and most playing through frenetic counter attacks, the 22-year-old made the most out of the small number of chances he saw. 21 minutes in, he scored. A couple of minutes later – if it wasn’t for a superb last-second tackle from Everton’s Yerry Mina – the Brazilian would have had a brace.
When he wasn’t aiming for goal, the striker was effectively displacing Everton’s back four with his clever runs and brawny hold-up play. One could tell that the Brazilian was playing the game to his strengths, in peace.
“I am very happy tonight, what a performance from the team,” Wesley said after the match. “We worked hard, played very well and we hope to continue like this week by week then we will see what happens.
“The manager knows me, he sees me everyday working hard and the supporters know me too. I keep calm, I know my qualities and today you saw that I can do.
“I hope to continue like this, the last two games were very difficult but now I have to help my team with goals.”
Time will tell if Wesley will continue on the same path, but after a slow start, its quite crystal clear that everyone at Aston Villa is behind the Brazilian striker.