Aston Villa and the continental touch

Dave Woodhall watches Villa get the better of Leeds United.

Sam Allardyce used to say that if his name was Allardici he’d be regarded as one of the top coaches in the world. That’s probably pushing it a bit, but the longer this season goes on, so I keep wondering whether Villa might be getting a bit more credit if our manager had spent his formative years kicking a ball round il Parco della Casa Rossa.

One of my longest-established complaints about the Villa has been that we always have a ‘never apologise, never explain’ attitude to the media, which means our profile is less than we deserve and as a result we often get overlooked in favour of clubs that might on a good day be of similar stature. Leeds and Marcelo Bielsa being a case in point.

The media can fawn over a club who have spent more time out of the top flight than in it and a manager who has never won anything in Europe except promotion, while Villa and Dean Smith have just got on with the job. Results and performances have dipped in recent weeks, so it was important to improve at Elland Road to get the show back on the road.

Dropping Ross Barkley could probably be described as a pleasant surprise and omitting Douglas Luiz as well was a bit of an eyebrow-raiser. In their place came the more physical presence of Marvelous Nakamba plus the fresh legs of Jacob Ramsey and the changes had an immediate effect as Villa went a goal up inside five minutes. Ollie Watkins hit a perfect ball to Anwar el Ghazi, whose ability to find space and time his run were so good that he was able to have two attempts at bringing the ball under control before hitting home.

And that, more or less, was that for the rest of the game. Even without Jack Grealish Villa looked sharp going forward, with El Ghazi and Bertrand Traore dangerous while Watkins was his usual busy self. The game, though, was about nullifying Leeds’ all-action approach and this was done to perfection. They hardly got the chance to get forward and when they did, Villa’s defence with Tyrone Mings particularly impressive, managed to cope with any slight worries. In fact, the biggest worry seemed to be the effect that the poor Elland Road surface had on Patrick Bamford’s ability to stay upright.

Morgan Sanson replaced Ramsey in the closing stages and yet again looked as though he’ll have a big future when he gets a regular start, while Trezeguet helped run down the clock although in truth it didn’t need much help. Leeds had run out of ideas well before the end of the game; their much-heralded manager was every bit as much out-thought as his team had been out-played. It was the sort of match where nobody stood out, and almost everyone got seven out of ten. Successful teams do this regularly.

Villa stay eighth in the table, and again we’re catching up with the teams above rather than glancing back at the ones below. It might not have been the most stylish performance, but a win’s a win. Looking at the upcoming fixtures there’s no reason why it can’t be followed up with a few more to give us a chance of taking a closer look at what European managers are like.