Football Features

Aston Villa 2-3 Spurs: Son reaches Premier League milestone… with a little help from Engels

By Ben Green

Published: 16:20, 16 February 2020

Tottenham Hotspur scored at the death to secure three points in five-goal thriller at Villa Park, edging Aston Villa 3-2 in the Premier League.

Dean Smith’s side drew first blood in the opening interval after Toby Alderweireld directed the ball into his own net, but the Belgian wasn’t in the mood for self-loathing and he would soon redeem himself just 20 minutes later, rifling a bullet strike into the roof of the net that any world-class striker would have been proud of.

And Spurs soon raced into a 2-1 lead courtesy of Son Heung-Min, who netted after Pepe Reina saved his initial penalty. But the hosts refused to yield and levelled the match through Bjorn Engels.

It looked liked a point well-earned for Villa, but it ended up as a case of heartbreak in injury time as Son tucked home with almost the final kick of the match. It was a pulsating affair at Villa Park, but what did we learn?

1. Bergwijn continues to impress

You never quite know whether a player can make the transition from one league to another, but Steven Bergwijn has so far acclimatised quite seamlessly to Premier League football, illustrated by his sumptuous volley against Man City and now this tantalising performance against Villa.

The 22-year-old looked threatening whenever the ball found his feet and never seemed to stop running. This caused the Villa backline all sorts of problems, as Bergwijn consistently looked to run over the top which stretched Smith’s back-three, and invariably created space for Spurs to exploit.

His defining moment came during the dying embers of the first half after Harry Winks spotted his run and played him through. The former PSV winger timed his run to absolute perfection before steaming through on goal and forcing a foul from Engels.

The referee inevitably pointed to the spot after Bergwijn was brought down, and Son tucked away after missing his initial effort from the spot. After the City game and now this individual showing, Spurs look like they’ve pulled off quite the masterstroke in signing him for just £25m.

Aston Villa vs Spurs | Premier League

2. Villa handicapped by Mings absence

When the line-ups were announced just an hour before kick-off there was one glaring absentee from the Villa XI: Tyrone Mings. The Bath-born centre-back has been imperious this season in the heart of Villa’s defence and his omission – due to tonsillitis – was met with a sense of trepidation for those in claret and blue.

To understand just how influential Smith’s defensive talisman has been for the Villans, we only have to look at his metrics across this Premier League campaign: most clearances (119), most headed clearances (50), most blocks (36) and second-most successful passes (750). To say his absence was palpable during Sunday’s game would be a massive understatement. 

Indeed, Ezri Konsa and Kortney Hause have looked assured next to Mings, but his replacement, Engels, simply didn’t exude the same aura of confidence and level-headiness as his defensive counterpart.

The Belgian looked unsettled when Spurs countered and all at sea when Bergwijn showed him a clean pair of heels. The Dutchman shielded the ball expertly as he raced into the box and lulled Engels into making a challenge. He failed to win the ball and upon consultation with VAR Martin Atkinson pointed to the spot. He atoned for his error by netting his first Villa goal after the restart but later produced another howler to gift Spurs all three points. A real Jekyll and Hyde afternoon to say the least.

This was another huge awakening for Villa, who won just one game in four during Mings’ previous absence due to injury earlier this season. The sooner they get him back, the better.

3. Son seals win in record-breaking fashion

By netting his eighth league goal in the first half, Son became the first Asian player to reach 50 Premier League goals, a milestone fitting for a game in which the ferocious false nine stole the headlines and secured maximum reward in the most dramatic of fashions.

With Spurs off the boil in the opening 45 minutes, Son took it upon himself to put his side in front after Atkinson pointed to the spot. He hardly covered himself in glory with his quite unnecessary run-up, but the ball eventually breached Reina’s net and Spurs were in the ascendancy.

However, Villa rallied at the break and brought the scoreline back level, leaving Jose Mourinho’s men with it all to do again. The visitors continued to pepper the Villa net but to no avail and as the match entered the closing stages and eventually injury time, a point apiece looked like a foregone conclusion.

Then disaster struck for the hosts, and jubilation for the traveling Londonders. As a hopeful ball was launched forward, Engels failed to control the ball and Son, as alert as ever, capitalised on the clanger, racing through on goal in breakneck speed before slotting comfortably past Reina – who had an excellent game – marking his momentous milestone in trademark fashion. 

4. A Dier performance

Mourinho has tried desperately to make the Winks-Dier partnership work since stepping into the equation – and with good reason. On paper the duo look like they possess the right blend of traits needed to operate as an effective double pivot. In reality they just don’t seem to work as well in tandem as Lo Celso-Winks or Ndombele-Winks.

That Eric Dier registered just 71% passing accuracy during his time on the pitch will be an alarming sight for Spurs fans. He consistently gave the ball away and didn’t quite have the metronomic rhythm of his midfield partner. Instead Spurs looked cumbersome and error-prone.

With the likes of Giovani Lo Celso, Tanguy Ndombele and Gedson Fernandes on the bench it almost felt like a matter of time before Dier was hooked. On his day the England international is a fine anchorman, able to shield the defence, procure the ball and make simple but effective passes.

Unfortunately those days have been few and far between in recent times. If Dier is to have any aspirations of making Euro 2020 with England he will seriously have to up his game from now until the end of the season.

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5. Grealish masterclass leaves egg on Levy’s face

It has been reported that Spurs could have signed Grealish just 18 months ago for a fee as little as £6m when Villa were experiencing financial difficulties, but Daniel Levy tried to secure the brilliant Brummie for a cheaper fee, and that turned out to be a mistake.

New owners soon arrived at Villa Park and the club no longer needed to sell. And so, fast forward a year-and-a-half and Spurs’ squabbling over mere millions has proven to be a banana skin moment in their transfer dealings, with Grealish one of the hottest commodities in the Premier League and currently firing on all cylinders.

Aston Villa vs Spurs | Premier League

Villa Park provided the perfect platform on Sunday afternoon for Grealish to show Spurs exactly what they missed out on. His twinkle-toed feet left Serge Aurier in the doldrums time after time, while his precision passing consistently split the Spurs backline.

He was Villa’s fulcrum once again, as he has been for most of the season. The 24-year-old was simply mesmeric, showing off his elegant gait while rallying the troops as Villa went in search of a winner. With Dele Alli out-of-sorts today, it further illustrated just how much Spurs could do with a playmaker of Grealish’s quality.