If you needed further proof of the transformation of not just Villa’s fortunes, but also our newfound ruthlessness, then you need look no further than this Boxing Day dismantling of Palace at Villa Park.
This was a game full of energy, agression and single-mindedness from Villa, with victory once more putting Dean Smith into striking distance of the peak of the division. A remarkable feat considering where we were just a few months ago.
VILLA 3-0 PALACE
As eyebrow raising to outsiders as Villa’s current form, is that of the rehabilitation of Anwar El Ghazi to seasoned supporters. The Belgian, previously bereft of form and confidence to the extent he was arguably becoming surplus to requirements, is now totally transformed.
El Ghazi’s running of the channels, athleticism and the technical ability we only previously saw in glimpses was evident once more against Palace. He was rewarded for his efforts with a supreme second half strike; cannoning an unstoppable effort in off the post.
Equally as satisfying is the rapid upward trajectory of Bertrand Traore’s contribution. The former Lyon forward put in another terrifying display against Roy Hodgson’s side, scoring and striking the post; both Traore and El Ghazi now give Smith a positive selection headache.
This wasn’t all straightforward though.
Despite having gone ahead courtesy of Traore’s clinical follow-up, Mings got himself into all sorts of bother across a first half which would ultimately see him given his marching orders.
In truth, Mings looked very out of sorts on Boxing Day. The England international was caught for pace in the opening moments as Zaha sped beyond him only for Martinez to produce a smart save. Another lapse of concentration ended in a miss-kicked clearance hitting his standing leg to go out for a corner.
Mings’ fortunes worsened after handbags with Zaha saw him retaliate for the Palace players initial barge to his chest by appearing to tread down into Zaha’s calf in the resulting challenge.
The yellow card received left Mings vulnerable, and another misjudgement saw Zaha manhandled to the ground after a clever turn. Mings left the referee with little choice but to send him for an early bath after a combination of rash and clumsy challenges.
With Villa now having to see out more than half of the game with 10 men, this provided an insight into our resolve and quality. In fact, you would have been hard pressed to notice, which was a reflection of Palace’s limitations as much as our determination to relentlessly attack.
Ollie Watkins produced a standout display, twice striking the post. Watkins’ willingness to run and his ability to do something dangerous with the ball left the visitors chasing shadows all afternoon.
McGinn was a beast across the middle too, eating up the miles in bursts across the pitch, with Luiz always open to receive and release the ball forward. The Brazilian also practiced the dark arts, a skill that fortunately often goes un-noticed to the officials.
Special mention also for Kortney Hause, whose headed goal early in the second half provided the team the belief that despite being a man down, that Palace could be hurt. Hause was also effective alongside Konsa, brought on at the expense of Traore following Mings’ dismissal.
Few could overlook Jack Grealish’s display either, with repeated dangerous runs from deep carrying the ball at pace. Such is the increasing norm of these high quality moments is that you can easily forget just how difficult they are. Grealish was (at times) sublime and a menacing threat to the opposition.
Most noteworthy from JG was a spectacular reverse pass to release Watkins, with the striker seeing his effort ricochet off the post and back into the arms of a thankful Guaita. Grealish’s performance was capped by another break, with the ball released to Watkins fed back for El Ghazi to fire home for Villa’s spectacular third.
Palace, undeniably, were poor. However, you can only beat what’s in front of you and this was a display of high-quality from Villa that adequately showcased our progression as a team.
Despite the sending off of Mings, there was little or no suggestion that the visitors would take anything from Villa Park. As such, this was a deserved victory in what is fast developing into a very promising season indeed.
WATCH – GOALS
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Villa 3-0 Palace
Villa 3-0 Palace
Villa ran out comfortable winners in the Boxing Day game against Crystal Palace. Goals from Bertrand Traore, Kortney Hause and Anwar El Ghazi sealed the points, after Tyrone Mings was sent off for two bookable offences in the first half.