By Robson Sharuko
Forty-seven days after his landmark signing for Aston Villa, Zimbabwe international midfielder, Marvelous Nakamba, finally made his English Premiership bow yesterday in a Monday Night league match.
In-form West Ham United, with three wins in their previous three matches, were the opponents.
The pulsating match ended goalless with the visitors surviving a late storm as the hosts took full advantage of playing with an extra man from the 66th minute when Arthur Masuaku was sent off for a second bookable offence.
Under the lights of a roaring Villa Park, and 20 days after featuring in the Carabao Cup in a 6-1 thrashing of lower division side Crewe Alexandra, Nakamba was thrown into his first Premiership game by Villa manager Dean Smith in place of Brazilian Douglas Luiz.
The Brazilian had been away playing for his country’s youth side and Smith felt this had provided an opportunity for Nakamba in a three-man midfield that also featured captain Jack Grealish and John McGinn.
“Douglas has been away with Brazil. He’s played a couple of games over there, he’s the captain of the U21s,’’ Smith told Sky Sports.
“It tires people out, flying out to South America, playing a couple of games and then coming back.
“Marvelous has been knocking on the door, he’s been playing well. He fits the style that we play very well.”
The Zimbabwean’s first touch came in the very first minute, and his first completed pass in the Premiership came in that move, rolling the ball across the midfield with his cultured left foot.
Twice, in the first half hour, he also gave possession away in a game that was being played at a very furious pace with very little time being given on opponents once they had possession.
‘‘It’s fast and furious,’’ said Sky Sports commentator, Martin Tyler.
After 13 minutes, Nakamba started the move, deep in his half, from which Villa should have taken the lead.
He fed his skipper, Grealish, who played the ball into the path of Jota on the right channel, with the Villa captain continuing with his run which took him beyond the Hammers defence.
Jota found him with the return pass and Grealish sent in a wicked cross into the West Ham box.
Giant forward Wesley Moraes, who used to be Nakamba’s teammate at Belgian side Club Brugge, rose to make a strong connection but his header was way off target from a position of real promise for the hosts.
Six minutes later, Nakamba’s intended pass came off referee Mike Dean and rolled out of play for what, in the past, would have been a throw in for the opposition.
However, according to the new rules, the referee is now empowered to restart play by dropping the ball to the team which last had possession before it ricocheted off him.
Nakamba was handed the ball and pushed it back for his team to reorganise themselves.
In the 35th minute, the Zimbabwean was thrust into the role of peacemaker after a furious row between his teammates, Dutchman Anwar El Ghazi, and big defender Tyrone Mings.
The Englishman, unhappy his teammate had not covered space down the right channel of the West Ham attack, made his feelings known and it provoked a response with the Dutchman appearing to move his head in the direction of the defender in they stood toe-to-toe.
Nakamba was one of the players who stepped in to cool down tempers with the ugly incident leaving Villa’s assistant coach, John Terry, shaking his head.
The Zimbabwean kept it simple, covering a lot of ground, showing excellent positional discipline and that he belonged to this elite company of footballers.
In the second half, Nakamba kept doing the basics and his influence in the game appeared to start growing as he found the spaces which the Hammers had denied him in the opening period.
With Villa sensing victory, after the expulsion of Masuaku, Smith eventually pulled out his Zimbabwean midfielder in the 80th minute and replaced him with Luiz.
“I thought Marvelous . . . I thought he was really good for an hour, naturally (got) tired in his first game,’’ Smith told Sky Sports.
‘‘I certainly can’t question the players’ efforts.’’
Nakamba’s first shift in the English Premiership lasted an hour and 20 minutes and the commentary team noted that while he, at times, was sloppy -with the way he twice gave away possession – his work in retrieving the ball was excellent. The Herald