At the halfway stage in this Premier League season, only Manchester City and Brazil goalkeeper Ederson has kept more clean sheets than Aston Villa’s Emi Martinez. The Argentine stopper, who has yet to earn a cap for his country but earned call-ups to the national squad, has been in English football for over a decade now after moving from South America to the Arsenal academy in 2010.

It took him most of his 20s, and six loan spells away from the Emirates before Martinez got any chance of becoming a regular there. Dean Smith and Villa’s scouts noticed what he brought to the table.

Fresh from a FA Cup winner’s medal and playing in the final at Wembley against Chelsea, six weeks later he moved to Villa Park on the eve of the new Premier League season in a deal that could be worth £20,000,000 in add-ons and bonuses. Such a transfer has seen Martinez marshal one of the best defences in the division this term. At the halfway stage in the campaign, only Man City, Spurs and former club Arsenal have conceded fewer goals than Villa.

Those doing the defensive work in front of Martinez have been sourced largely from lower divisions. For six of his nine clean sheets to date, the same back four has played. Fellow summer signing Matty Cash came from Nottingham Forest where he earned rave reviews in the Championship. The right-back was voted their Player of the Season last term by fans.

Smith went back to previous club Brentford for Ezri Konsa once he had got Villa promoted via the Championship play-offs. Tyrone Mings, meanwhile, wasn’t exactly proven at Premier League level either. For most of his three-and-a-half years with Bournemouth, he was sidelined with an injury and rebuilding his fitness. Mings’s loan spell at Villa Park coincided with their 2019 playoff push, and the rest is history.

Matt Targett is a product of Southampton’s famous academy. The same source claims credit for Theo Walcott, Gareth Bale, Adam Lallana and Luke Shaw to name a few.

How is it that this unlikely bunch homegrown players with an Argentine goalie behind them have formed a more than decent defensive unit? Villa only conceded one goal in the whole of December, a notoriously busy month of the season when they managed four consecutive clean sheets. Although recent results and defensive displays haven’t been quite so solid, Villa are still within striking distance of the European places. According to the latest football betting odds for a top-six finish, they are valued at 7/2 to achieve this.

Hopes of European football for the first time at Villa Park since the Martin O’Neill era aren’t just fuelled by dogged defending, but how they attack. In Jack Grealish and Ollie Watkins, the team has more homegrown talent that continues to flourish under Smith.

With a supporting cast including John McGinn and January transfer window arrival Morgan Sanson, Villa have a good blend of British and foreign players that has long been the hallmark of the club. Martinez may yet reach greater heights with them.


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