Making the quick trip across the pond, the Villans of Aston Villa downed Minnesota United 3-0 in an international friendly at Allianz Field. The visitors looked to start off their preseason tour with a win in front hundreds of faithful Villa fans who had made the trip to Saint Paul. Adrian Heath, made 11 changes to his side, naming a completely rotated starting XI to give the likes of Rasmus Schuller, Lawrence Olum, Brent Kallman and others some well-deserved minutes. In a frustrating 90 minutes for the Loons, the home side was unable to find the back of the net and wasn’t as aggressive as Heath may have wanted.
“Who stood out? Not many. If any,” said Head Coach Adrian Heath. “I know it was a second-string team and some of them haven’t played much football but they’re better than a lot of them showed this evening. I thought Lo [Olum] was maybe the pick of what it was because he did the job that we asked of him, and was brave enough to receive the ball under pressure and play forward. [We had] moments of lapses of concentration and the ball ends up in the back of the net or we’ve switched half, turned it over cheaply. Not been brave enough to play at times. And, it cost us.”
After being promoted back to the English Premier League in May, Aston Villa was determined to make a statement in Saint Paul. As expected, Jack Grealish was one of the Villans’ most dangerous players throughout the first half. The club’s captain had a free role, floating throughout midfield, starting counterattacks and dropping deep to receive the ball. Grealish scored the lone goal in the first half when the Loons committed numbers forward in the 36th minute, leaving the home side exposed at the back. The 23-year-old midfielder spotted the numerical advantage and drove at the Minnesota backline. Cutting inside on his dangerous right foot, Grealish wrapped his foot around the ball and sent a curling shot from distance past the fingers of Bobby Shuttleworth.
While Aston Villa had much of the attacking play in the first half – holding an 11-3 advantage in shots at the break – the Loons had their share of chances. Collin Martin had a fabulous chance on goal in the 14th minute when Miguel Ibarra’s lofted cross fell to the feet of the midfielder who was trailing the play. Martin took a snap shot from a tight angle but his shot whizzed just wide of the Aston Villa goal. In the 27th minute, Abu Danladi – coming off a groin injury – found space behind the Villa defense but his first touch took him away from goal. With not much to aim at, Danladi took a shot that went right into the hands of Aston Villa Goalkeeper Jed Steer. Frustrated and not creating nearly enough attacking opportunities, Minnesota went into the break a goal down.
The second half was almost parallel to the action of the first half, as Aston Villa created the lion’s share of the attacking play and the Loons were left frustrated going forward. Second half substitutes, Ethan Finlay, Jan Gregus, Kevin Molino and Ally Ng’Anzi were some of the few bright spots on the night for the Loons. Within minutes of coming in, Gregus took a hold of the ball in midfield and played Ethan Finlay in behind the Aston Villa defense. The substitutions clearly gave the Loons a bit of an impetus going forward but in the end, they were unable to carve out a chance on goal in the second half.
“It’s strange, because when the extra bits of quality came on in [Kevin] Molino and Jan [Gregus] and suddenly, we have a few little bits of combination in the middle of the park and play up,” said Heath. “But, we certainly didn’t trouble their back four enough this evening.
With 10 minutes left to play in the game, Aston Villa capitalized on two defensive mistakes from Minnesota to make the score 3-0. In the 82nd minute, Eric Miller caved under the high pressure of Aston Villa’s Frederic Guilbert. The Villan defender won the ball from Miller and whipped in a cross on to the foot of Henri Lansbury who made no mistake in firing it home. Four minutes later, the visitors scored again when Andre Green swung a wonderful cross onto the head of Bikir Bjarnason, who steered his header past Bobby Shuttleworth to cap off a frustrating night for Minnesota United. Regardless of the result, Heath was thankful for the opportunity to host a Premier League side at Allianz Field.
“I think it’s been a great few days for us with them here,” said Heath. “They’ve been fantastic people to be around. Really like the coach and his staff. Great, well-mannered bunch of guys. So, it’s been a pleasure having them in our building. And even though I was only there a short period of time, I hope they do really, really well because the Premier League needs a good Aston Villa.”
The Loons return to MLS action this Saturday, July 20 at 9:00 p.m. CT as they travel to Utah for another significant Western Conference fixture against Real Salt Lake. The sides are separated by just four points heading into Saturday. Pregame coverage will begin at 8:30 p.m. CT on FOX Sports North+, streaming on FOX Sports GO and on MNUFC Radio on SKOR North.
Minnesota United FC Starting XI: GK Bobby Shuttleworth; D Carter Manley, Brent Kallman, Wyatt Omsberg, Eric Miller; M Lawrence Olum (Gregus 72’), Collin Martin (Molino 72’), Rasmus Schuller; F Miguel Ibarra (Ng’Anzi 72’), Mason Toye (Finlay 68’), Abu Danladi
Aston Villa Starting XI: GK Jed Steer; D Matt Targett, James Bree, Kortney Hause, Ezri Konsa; M Conor Hourihan, Callum O’Hare, Jack Grealish; F Jota, Anwar El Ghazi, Wesley Moraes
AVFC Second Half XI: GK Lovre Kalinic; D Neil Taylor, Frederic Guilbert, James Chester, Tyrone Mings; M John McGinn, Henri Lansbury, Bikir Bjarnason, Keinan Davis, Andre Green; F Scott Hogan
36’ – Grealish – AVFC
82’ – Lansbury – AVFC
86’ – Bjarnason – AVFC
75’ – Ng’Anzi (YC) – MIN