Senior Sports Reporter
JUST call him the Aston Villa lucky charm – SIX appearances, 375 minutes on the field, no goal conceded by the English Premiership side.
No wonder why Marvelous Nakamba’s name has been trending, both on social and mainstream media, after his blockbuster show in his team’s impressive 1-0 win over Leeds United at Elland Road on Saturday night.
“Another stand-in, Marvelous Nakamba, had arguably his best game in a Villa shirt,’’ noted the authoritative website, www.football365.com.
“His passing, like that of many of his team-mates, was sometimes loose, giving Ollie Watkins little to work with, though work he did.
“But, Nakamba wasn’t chosen for his creativity. His selection was made to nullify the energy of Tyler Roberts and Mateusz Klich. Nakamba’s effervescence made Smith’s brave call the correct one.’’
His manager, Dean Smith, was also impressed by Nakamba’s performance, and his team’s victory, with his side producing an all-round solid show.
“Yeah, it was a good,’’ Smith said about Nakamba’s shift, in his post-match interview with VillaTV. Positionally, I thought he got in good areas. He broke things up when he needed to.
“He could have been a bit tidier on the ball, at times, but it was a tough surface out there to play on.
“A lot of players slipped but, defensively, he was really good with and without the ball. That’s what you need from him when you come in.
He’s certainly not let us down.
“It’s four or five games now and we’ve not conceded a goal with him in our team. At the moment he’s certainly earning his stripes.’’
For Nakamba, just to force the highly-rated Brazil Under-23 captain, Douglas Luiz, onto the bench, was a triumph on its own and his strong performance merited the move by Smith.
This was only the fourth win, in 19 games, for Villa, without their influential captain, Jack Grealish, and only their first win, without the captain, since their return to the top-flight league.
Saturday’s game meant that Villa have also not conceded a goal, in the four matches, in which Nakamba has started, including a memorable win over Arsenal.
“He’s never let us down when he’s come in. We’ve been having a decent season and it’s been hard for him to get minutes,’’ said Smith.
“But, he’s one who’s certainly trained very well and, when players aren’t performing, I knew I could put him in.
“He’s never let us down when he’s come in and today was another example of that.
“It’s really pleasing because it’s a really tough place to come.
“They’re a very good attacking team so to keep a clean sheet as well, very satisfying.
“I thought we started the game really well, got the goal obviously, we wanted to press them high, play in their half and we did that.
“I thought it got stretched a little bit in the last 20 minutes of the first half.
”Second half we went into a lower block and I thought we defended really well and restricted them to few chances. They had the header at the end, that’s bounced wide, but I can’t remember Emi making too many saves.”
Nakamba received a ranking of eight, out of 10, by BirminghamLive, which was the second best mark, behind centreback, Tyrone Mings, who received a ranking of nine.
“One of Smith’s changes, as the Zimbabwean came in for Douglas,’’ reported BirminghamLive. “The plucky African plugged gaps incredibly well throughout as Leeds struggled to get past him on the counter.
“Nakamba was like an octopus, his legs (or tentacles!) just kept appearing from everywhere as he won back possession, much to the annoyance of Bielsa’s men.
“Top, top work.’’
And, Villa, on their official Twitter platform, also saluted Nakamba.
“Marvelous — top class tonight,’’ the club said, while the Zimbabwe international described it as a “massive team performance tonight and a clean sheet away from home.’’
That they blanked out Leeds, at their home, was also a credit to how well the defensive players, in which Nakamba is employed to provide a protective shield to the back four, played on the day.
“Enormous credit because they’re a very good team and very few teams will restrict (Leeds) chances as we did,’’ said Smith. ‘’I thought we got our tactics spot on tonight.
“First half we went and pressed them as high as possible in the first 15-20 minutes and restricted the distance and space for them to play in which is what they’re good at.
“I thought the back-end of the first half, the game became a little bit stretched and they had a couple of chances in that period.
“Second half we gave more of the ball up and defended in a lower block. Again, players took responsibility and restricted them to a few chances.
“Second half we gave more of the ball up and defended in a lower block. Again, players took responsibility and restricted them to a few chances.”
“Yeah, I think he’d have been impressed but I think he would have been impressed with Matt Targett, the left-back, who’s having a fantastic season.
“There were some really good performances out there today. I wanted to start with an intensity. I didn’t feel we’ve done that in the last two games against Brighton and Leicester but we’ve done that (against Leeds) and we’ve got a very hard-fought victory.” Anwar El Gazi, the Dutch winger, got the only goal, in the first half.
“Yeah, he certainly knows how to play against a Marcelo Bielsa team because he played for one for 19 games when they were both at Lille,’’ said Smith.
“We know how they play and I didn’t think he had his best performance last week against Leicester but, I knew he was ready for this game. “I thought he started the game really well; scored a good goal and had a few decent efforts as well. It was a good all-round performance.”