4:30PM, 10th of August 2019, the team news was out. Two names stood out in particular.
Ahmed Elmohamady and Neil Taylor. For some, this seemed a completely unexpected move by Dean Smith. During Villa’s preseason tour, our full backs consisted of Guilbert (RB) and Matt Targett (LB). The La Liga and Prem experienced fullbacks had conceded only 3 goals from 5 matches in preseason, whilst Taylor and Elmohamady were yet to start. So, naturally, when both names appeared on the team sheet, mass spread panic ensued.
During an interview, regarding new signings, Dean Smith commented that each player (from last season) had “their place to lose”. Hinting that -unless necessary- players from our promotion winning season would start before any new signings.
What many failed to recognise was this kept continuity along the back four. Mings, Elmohamady and Taylor were all integral in our historic 10 win streak and , ultimately, our promotion to the premier league.
Prior to kick off, many had already vilified Taylor and Elmohamady. In the opening minutes, Elmohamady was dispossessed via Lucas Moura, leading to an almost costly attack, and many began the taunts of “I told you so”. With a speedy recovery, all was forgotten. And a solid defensive shift was provided for 80 minutes of the game.
So, did they retain their places? Or, did they lose their starting role – as so many predicted?
Despite the final loss of 3-1… Yes.
Obviously, no one apart from Dean Smith knows if they shall appear in the squad against Bournemouth. However, Elmohamady managed a 93% pass rate against the champions league finalists. Both, Elmohamady and Taylor, attempted 29 passes out, with only 2 failing to reach an Aston Villa player. Proving their play was not panicked, it was decisive and accurate.Taylor was dispossessed mainly in the second half, when Spurs’ pressure began to build. Sissoko and Moura being the men to cause Taylor issue, both dispossessing him 3 times. However, Taylor made up for this by providing vital blocks – for what could have been deadly crosses. Elmohamady ,on the other hand, provided a creative outlet for Trezeguet. Their timed runs and clever passing caused Spurs some issues as Trezeguet was through on goal twice but had both shots saved.
During the first 45, Spurs didn’t get a whiff of goal thanks to an exceptional defensive performance. Soaking up 80 minutes worth of pressure from champions league finalists is no small feat. To dismiss both ,on the basis that ultimately we lost, is ludicrous.
Tired legs, lack of concentration and a lack of urgency handed Spurs 3 points in the last 15 minutes, not Taylor nor Elmohamady.
There are so many positives to take from this match- despite the heart breaking end. Our flashes of quality, managing the game and overall defensive play has proven that we are not out of our depth. And most importantly, we are real Premier League contenders.