Aston Villa picked up their thirteenth clean sheet of the season and their eight on the road following a 0-1 victory over Marcelo Bielsa’s Leeds side.
Dean Smith handed Jacob Ramsey and Marvelous Nakamba starts as they replaced Ross Barkley and Douglas Luiz on the bench. A lot was made of Smith’s stubbiness to change his starting eleven before the game on social media but credit where it’s due. The former Walsall and Brentford boss got his team selection and tactics spot on.
Villa quick out the blocks
It could have been so different for Villa had Raphina been able to make contact with Patrick Bamford’s mis-hit shot in the first minute.
Anwar El Ghazi whipped in a corner that went over everyone and fell to Ollie Watkins out wide. His shot come cross fell to the feet of El Ghazi, with an unnatural control of the ball before composing himself to slot the ball past Leeds goalkeeper Illan Meslier.
The winger very nearly doubled his tally just a few moments later but Meslier was equal to the effort from outside of the box.
Leeds had plenty of the ball and did their fair share of attacking without really threatening Emi Martinez. Tyler Roberts effort fell straight into the arms of the Villa keeper after Raphina’s effort fell nicely into his path.
It was a much different Leeds side that we witnessed at Villa Park this season. Bielsa himself said they had played their best under his management that day. Their biggest threat was Raphina but Villa restricted the tricky winger.
Not a lot changed in the second half apart from Leeds wasting a lot of the possession and Villa sitting deeper.
Both Matt Targett and Tyler Roberts may have felt lucky not to have been sent off. An altercation between the two resulted in yellow cards but both had their fair share of fouls.
Leeds came close late on but their header just missed the woodwork while Patrick Bamford was up to his old tricks when he threw himself to the ground during a late corner.
If we are being honest, if we tried to go toe-to-toe with Leeds, with their fitness levels and how they play, we probably would have come away from Elland Road with nothing.
Instead, as I already stated, Smith added energy to the midfield and the midfield three of Ramsey, Nakamba and John McGinn won the battle in the middle of the park. They allowed Leeds to play in front of them but as soon as they got to the final third there was a brick wall they had to try and get through.
Both sides will have played better games this season but this was another display to show Villa have improved massively on last season.