Aston Villa moved within six points of the top four with an impressive victory over Leeds United on a difficult pitch at Elland Road. Anwar El Ghazi scored the only goal, brilliantly controlling Ollie Watkins’ cross and firing past Islan Meslier after just five minutes. Dean Smith’s side, still shorn of injured captain Jack Grealish, looked comfortable against Leeds who, despite winning their last two home games against Crystal Palace and Southampton, lacked penetration throughout.
Despite the defeat, Marcelo Bielsa’s United are still secure in 10th position with 35 points from their 26 games, just four points behind a rejuvenated Villa, who have games against Sheffield United, Wolves and Newcastle coming up as they look to strengthen their bid for European qualification. Smith has refuted accusations Aston Villa are a one-man team but there is no doubt they are a more dangerous outfit when Grealish is available.
Before this match, their win percentage in the last three seasons dropped from 42% with Grealish to 17% without and his absence played a role in their laboured defeat by Leicester City last weekend.
And Smith’s insistence that his team have other options was proved when their attacking players combined skilfully to secure this win. El Ghazi had an impressive goal streak pre-Christmas and he rediscovered his scoring touch in fine fashion, ghosting in behind the Leeds defence to bury Watkins’ strongly hit pass. He showed further attacking intent shortly after, twice stinging Meslier’s palms with shots from distance.
This victory though owed as much to their miserly defence, only Manchester City and Chelsea have conceded fewer goals in the Premier League – and this was their 13th clean sheet of the campaign.
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