Aston Villa 1-0 Sheff Utd
- Goals: Ezri Konsa (£4.5m)
- Assists: Tyrone Mings (£5.0m)
- Penalties saved: Emi Martínez (£4.5m)
- Penalties missed: John Lundstram (£5.5m)
- Red cards: John Egan (£5.0m)
- Bonus points: Konsa x3, Martínez x2, Mings x1
Aston Villa’s defence picked up where they left on in Project Restart as they saw out a 1-0 win over Sheffield United in Gameweek 2.
Dean Smith’s men made major improvements at the back following the enforced suspension of the Premier League, ranking inside the division’s top six for big chances conceded, shots on target faced and expected goals conceded (xGC).
And all of that was on display against the Blades, as they registered a third successive home clean sheet in the league.
A key player in that shutout was new goalkeeper Emi Martínez (£4.5m), who already looks like a strong contender for the best option in his price bracket moving forward.
The former Arsenal man was on-hand to preserve the Villa clean sheet on Monday night as he produced an incredible save from John Lundstram‘s (£5.5m) penalty. Combined with the shut-out and a total of two bonus, Martínez registered a 13-point haul for Gameweek 2.
That said, for all Villa’s assuredness at the back on Monday night, there was, of course, one big mitigating factor: Sheffield United. Not only have the Blades really struggled to find any kind of goal threat in their first two games, but they also had to play 78 minutes of Gameweek 2 with 10 men.
A long ball over the top of Sheffield United’s high line pitted the rapid Ollie Watkins (£6.0m) against John Egan (£5.0m) in the 12th minute. The centre-back had no choice but to hold the striker back, earning a red card for denying a goal-scoring opportunity.
Chris Wilder was then forced to remove David McGoldrick (£5.5m) in the 31st minute, replacing him with Ethan Ampadu (£4.5m) and deploying a largely ineffective 4-4-1 formation.
While most teams would have found it relatively easy to keep a clean sheet in such circumstances, there is still plenty to like about Martínez moving forward. With Villa generally more assured of defensive returns at home anyway, the fact that Leeds, Southampton, Brighton and Newcastle are four of the next five to visit Villa Park bodes well.
And even though Smith’s men are set to face Liverpool (home), Leicester (away), Arsenal (away) and Wolves (away) between now and Gameweek 12, Martínez displayed enough save potential during Project Restart to convince any potential buyers of his credentials outside of the favourable fixtures. During that period, only the relegated Tim Krul made more saves than the Spaniard (28).
Martínez also looks like the better option when compared with Ezri Konsa (£4.5m) or Tyrone Mings (£5.0m), even though we have only seen Villa play once this season. The former scored the only goal of the game but it was his only touch in the penalty box all night, while Mings arguably remains too expensive to consider seriously.
Furthermore, one of the main things that Smith changed to improve his team’s defensive prospects at the end of last season was to rein in the marauding runs made by his full-backs so it remains to be seen what Matt Targett (£4.5m) and Matty Cash (£5.0m) can offer this season.
As was well-documented during Project Restart, the more conservative use of Villa’s full-backs continues to pose some restrictions on the team’s level of goal threat, so Fantasy managers may want to give Smith’s front-three a little more time before investing too heavily.
Naturally, Jack Grealish (£7.0m) remains the hub of the team, creating chances and using his position as a left-hand wide-forward to register a healthy number of shots on goal. Against Sheffield United, he was mostly restricted to lower quality opportunities, the sort we are used to seeing from Mohamed Salah (£12.1m). An 80th-minute effort summed up his evening perfectly. Grealish showed some nice feet to get into the left-hand corner of the box, flashing a powerful shot at goal and grazing the outside of the post.
Then, Grealish got on the end of a counter-attacking cross from Trézéguet (£5.5m) in stoppage time, unleashing a fierce left-footed shot, only to see it blocked by Lundstram and a crowd of Sheffield United defenders.
The addition of Watkins may help in that respect. He added some much-needed pace to Villa’s front-line, which he used to good effect and might have capitalised on it, were it not for Egan’s 12th-minute foul. He went close again in the 77th minute, cutting inside on the left-hand side of the box and curling an effort just over the top-right corner of Aaron Ramsdale‘s (£5.0m) goal.
Meanwhile, the state of Sheffield United’s defence will be of encouragement to Fantasy managers with Leeds and Arsenal assets in the coming weeks.
The Blades have been on the back foot for large spells in each of their first two games of the season and must face an in-form Leeds attack without the lynch-pin of their back-three on Sunday afternoon, as Egan is suspended for one match. Promising youngster Ampadu is perhaps the most likely to replace the Republic of Ireland international.
Meanwhile, the next five Gameweeks pit Sheffield United against sides with important Fantasy defenders too, including Leeds, Arsenal, Liverpool and Manchester City. Anyone invested in the backlines of those sides will have enjoyed what they have seen, or rather, haven’t seen, from Sheffield United so far this season.
After the first two Gameweeks, no club has registered fewer shots than Wilder’s men (13) and they are the only team yet to find the net in 2020/21.
There will be some Fantasy managers keeping an eye on Sheffield United’s attack though, as budget midfielder Oliver Burke (£4.5m) was deployed as a centre-forward on Monday night.
Unfortunately, Egan’s sending-off occurred too soon in the game for us to glean too much of what Burke can offer as an out-of-position option this season, perhaps something to look out for in subsequent matches.
Despite being left to plough a lone furrow in a 4-4-1 formation, the former West Bromwich Albion man did perform admirably in the rare moments when he was in possession. Burke showed off his pace on sparing counter-attacks and was denied an almost certain assist in the first half by a Targett foul.
He played an incredible through-pass from the edge of the box, which connected with the overlapping run of Chris Basham (£5.0m) inside Villa’s six-yard box. It looked to be a certain goal before Targett stuck out a leg and fouled the marauding defender.
With Oliver Norwood (£5.0m) and Billy Sharp (£6.0m) not in the starting line-up and McGoldrick already sacrificed for tactical reasons, Lundstram was the man to step up and take the penalty, having also assumed responsibility for corners. As already mentioned, it was not a bad effort at all, simply well-saved by Martínez. Whether the former budget defender gets another chance from the spot probably relies on personnel rather than the quality of his penalty. The chances of Norwood, Sharp and McGoldrick all being off the pitch the next time Sheffield United win a penalty seems rather unlikely.
Aston Villa XI (4-3-3): Martínez; Targett, Konsa, Mings, Cash; McGinn, D Luiz, Hourihane (Davis 62′); Grealish, Watkins, Trézéguet.
Sheffield United XI (3-5-2): Ramsdale; O’Connell, Egan, Basham (McBurnie 68′); Stevens, Fleck (Osborn 63′), Berge, Lundstram, Baldock; McGoldrick (Ampadu 31′), Burke.
FPL Lessons Learned from Gameweek 2
- Everton 5-2 West Bromwich Albion
- Leeds United 4-3 Fulham
- Manchester United 1-3 Crystal Palace
- Arsenal 2-1 West Ham United
- Southampton 2-5 Tottenham Hotspur
- Newcastle United 0-3 Brighton and Hove Albion
- Chelsea 0-2 Liverpool
- Leicester City 4-2 Burnley
- Aston Villa 1-0 Sheffield United
- Wolves 1-3 Manchester City