Ollie Watkins’ precise performance secures victory for Villa, while Spurs suffer their third consecutive defeat.

At times, it can be tempting to let the scoreboard dictate our actions. The game between Aston Villa and Tottenham Hotspur was intense, with both teams fueled by recent strategic managerial hires. One could argue that the pivotal moment occurred when Aston Villa managed to tie the score at halftime, giving Unai Emery the opportunity to make two strategic substitutions and gain control of the game in the second half, causing Tottenham to face more challenges.

Emery demonstrated proactive management by not falling for Pau Torres’ equalizing goal for Villa in the seventh minute of stoppage time. Choosing to take no action would have been careless. Tottenham had been in control of the game, with Giovani Lo Celso scoring to put them in the lead, and they had multiple chances to increase their advantage before halftime.

On any other day, we would likely have won with ease, according to Ange Postecoglou. The game of football is decided by small differences.

Both Postecoglou and Emery reflected on the opportunities that were missed. The Villa manager took the opportunity to regroup and made substitutions, bringing on Youri Tielemans and Leon Bailey for Moussa Diaby and Matty Cash. The impact of these changes was most apparent when the winning goal was scored in the 61st minute. Tielemans was the one who played the pass that led to Ollie Watkins’ goal, with the striker looking to bounce back from a disappointing performance with England. The goal not only secured fourth place for Villa, but also brought them within two points of the top of the table, surpassing Tottenham.

Despite Watkins scoring his 12th goal of the season and Villa achieving a club record of 22 Premier League victories in a single year, Emery remained level-headed. He did not mention the possibility of a title contention, displaying a sense of realism. Emery acknowledged that there are seven other clubs with a higher likelihood of securing a top four finish than Villa.

Maybe this is why Postecoglou remained optimistic despite his team’s third straight loss. The Australian may have been more worried if Spurs, who are expected to perform better when key players recover from injuries, had not played to their full potential on a day when they honored their former midfielder and manager, Terry Venables, who passed away at 80 years old.

The intensity was high right from the beginning. Destiny Udogie and Dejan Kulusevski put pressure on Spurs, with Kulusevski hitting the post, while Villa posed a threat with their crosses. Torres, unmarked from John McGinn’s free-kick, was disappointed to miss a clear header.

The Spurs paid homage to their history of strong offense. Prior to the start of the game, they honored Venables, who achieved victory in the FA Cup both as a player and manager for Spurs in 1967 and 1991, respectively. The nostalgic journey continued when the team lineups were announced: Postecoglou emulated Ossie Ardiles by choosing a back four of full-backs, one defensive midfielder, and providing Bryan Gil and Lo Celso with their first starts in the league this season.

Giovani Lo Celso scores

It was a great time. The Spurs were aggressive, with Gil testing Emiliano Martínez, and continuously attempted to break through Villa’s daring defensive formation. Ezri Konsa had difficulties playing at right-back, resulting in a goal for Villa. A corner kick from Pedro Porro on the right side bounced through a crowded area and found its way to Lo Celso, who was unmarked at the top of the box and able to score with a shot that deflected off Diego Carlos.

Kulusevski came close to scoring a second goal, but it was disallowed due to an offside call. Spurs dominated the midfield with Douglas Luiz and Boubacar Kamara, and Emery’s decision to play Cash in a more attacking role was ineffective. The right-back’s only noteworthy action was receiving a yellow card for a foul that caused Rodrigo Bentancur to leave the game after only 32 minutes, which was his first start since February.

However, Villa made a comeback. Tottenham was in a weakened state because Eric Dier couldn’t play and Ben Davies and Emerson Royal were substitute defenders for Cristian Romero and Micky van de Ven. There were no strong figures in the back line and Villa believed they had equalized shortly after Lo Celso’s goal. However, a lengthy VAR review revealed that Watkins was offside when he scored off of Lucas Digne’s cross past Guglielmo Vicario.

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Pau Torres heads in Aston Villa’s equaliser deep into first-half stoppage time.

No matter. Villa’s crosses were causing damage and they soon had a straightforward equaliser. Douglas Luiz delivered a free-kick from the right, Davies lost Torres and the defender headed home.

Emery’s mood shifted when he substituted Bailey for his speed and Tielemans for his precision passing. Villa’s defense improved on the right side, but Spurs remained a threat. Brennan Johnson came close to scoring on Kulusevski’s cross.

However, the Spurs team seemed uneasy when not in possession of the ball, particularly with Pierre-Emile Højbjerg not providing as strong of a defensive barrier as Bentancur. This created openings for Villa to push forward. Bailey nearly caught Vicario off guard, and soon after, Villa took the lead. Bailey passed to Watkins, who then played a quick give-and-go with Tielemans before scoring a goal past Vicario.

Despite the absence of James Maddison, Spurs did not give up and continued to push for victory. Even though players such as Porro, Davies, Johnson, and Højbjerg had opportunities, Martínez’s outstanding performance prevented them from scoring. Ultimately, Villa’s efforts were enough for them to secure the win.

Although Emery appreciated the choices available on his bench, Spurs faced consequences for their limited depth.

Postecoglou could only list eight substitutes, consisting of two goalkeepers. He realized it was not his lucky day when Son’s goal was once again invalidated.

Source: theguardian.com