With Aston Villa enjoying a superb start to the new Premier League season, there has been no real reason for Dean Smith to start chopping and changing his side.
After all, why fix something that ain’t broke? But with injuries beginning to take their toll amidst a heavy festive schedule, some of the club’s more fringe players have earned a few more opportunities than they normally would have done, and no-one has grasped it better perhaps than Anwar El Ghazi.
The Netherlands international didn’t take to the field for Villa’s first six Premier League games of the campaign, and didn’t even make the match-day squad for half of them.
But with Ross Barkley and Trezeguet being ruled out in recent weeks, a door has opened for El Ghazi to stake his claim for more regular first-team football at Villa Park, and his display on Saturday afternoon delivered a major statement to Dean Smith.
Despite being down to ten-men, Villa raced to a resounding 3-0 victory over Crystal Palace, and El Ghazi was at the heart of everything that was so good about Smith’s side.
The winger was never afraid to try things and take on his full-back, and he was always causing danger for the opposition with his directness and relentless hunt for a goal.
And sometimes that did more harm than good, with El Ghazi racking up a whopping five shots in total just by himself, and when he probably could have tried to pick out a teammate in a better position.
But, his hard work and endeavour were eventually rewarded when he scored a fine goal mid-way into the second-half to make it 3-0 and clinch the game in Villa’s favour – that led to The Birmingham Mail’s Villa correspondent, Ashley Preece, to declare El Ghazi was “on flames“.
In total, as per Sofascore, he lost possession 22 times over the course of the match – by far the most of any Villa player on the day. But that just doesn’t tell the whole story of how the Dutchman continued to take risks to try and find the back of the net.
When Barkley and Trezeguet eventually make their returns back to first-team contention, Smith will have a major decision to make. El Ghazi’s display against Palace has just given him a huge, but welcome, headache.