Aston Villa fans sent a loud and clear message to their manager, Dean Smith, on Sunday — it’s time to ring the changes and bring in Marvelous Nakamba into the starting XI.
The Zimbabwean midfielder’s name was trending on social media as the Villa fans want through the pain of their latest defeat, a 1-2 loss to Leicester City.
Brazilian midfielder, Douglas Luiz, who has been preferred by Smith ahead of Nakamba, underperformed and was substituted in the second half, leading to many fans calling for a change in midfield ahead of Saturday’s meeting with Leeds United.
The 22-year-old has struggled for form in recent weeks, resulting in Smith pulling him out in Villa’s 3-1 defeat to West Ham, dropping him in their 1-0 win over Arsenal and substituting him against Leicester.
His midfield colleague Nakamba has made 10 appearances in all competitions this season, spending most of the campaign as an unused substitute.
He has found himself behind Luiz, John McGinn, Morgan Sanson and Jacob Ramsey in the pecking order, but Smith might turn to him in this time of need.
Against Leicester, Luiz turned over the ball only once before coming off and gave away three fouls.
With Nakamba delivering impressive performances in the last two leagues games he started, he should have earned some trust from his manager.
Aston Villa fans turned to Twitter, arguing that the “superb” Zimbabwean should be given an opportunity to start ahead of Luiz next weekend.
Alan Shearer, and former Villa striker Dion Dublin, were also left concerned by aspects of the performance against Leicester.
Former England striker Shearer and Dublin analysed the game for Match of the Day and felt Villa were guilty of giving the likes of Maddison too much space.
It’s something a player like Nakamba is a specialist in taking care of.
“The lack of protection in front of the back four was alarming,” said Shearer.
“(Ricardo Pereira could) take the ball, turn and have a shot here. You can’t give players of the quality of James Maddison this amount of time, space and freedom without putting any pressure on the ball.
“Not once with him running over the halfway line, towards the 18-yard box is there anyone within 10 to 15 yards of him. You just can’t give that much time and space to him.”
Dublin, who had a six-year spell at Villa Park between 1998 and 2004, added: “It happened time and time again. It happened all through the game.
“Barkley and McGinn can see Tielemans but allow him to run between them. You have to change positions.”
Villa lacked a creative edge without their skipper, Jack Grealish, who missed a Premier League match for the first time since November 2019.
Grealish’s replacement Anwar El Ghazi was quiet, given Leicester’s dominance, while Ross Barkley and Bertrand Traore also struggled behind Ollie Watkins.
Ahmed Elmohamady was off the pace having come into the starting XI in place of the injured Cash, the experienced Egyptian struggling to contain the dangerous Harvey Barnes who scored the visitors’ second goal shortly after James Maddison’s opener.
Traore pulled one back just after half-time and Smith introduced Trezeguet, Jacob Ramsey and Morgan Sanson but an equaliser proved elusive for Villa.
Villa’s fifth defeat in the last nine Premier League outings, leaves them seven points outside the top six with two games in hand while Leicester remain in third place, level on points with Manchester United in second.
And Match of the Day presenter and Foxes fan, Gary Lineker, couldn’t hide his delight on social media after the game.
He tweeted: “Beautifully managed victory for Leicester City. Woohoo”.
The national British media also picked out Villa’s defensive weaknesses.
“At a time when Dean Smith desperately needed his other key players to step up in Grealish’s absence, the likes of Ross Barkley, Douglas Luiz and Anwar El Ghazi were anonymous,’’ reported The Telegraph.
The Guardian agreed.
“For Dean Smith, the first half provided a grim sense of what a world without Grealish might look like,’’ they reported.
“Ross Barkley’s heart did not look in it. Douglas Luiz was overwhelmed by Maddison. There was no service for Ollie Watkins, who missed the captain more than him anyone.’’
The fans, though, believe Nakamba is the answer.
“Trying to find my usual positive spin on the #avfc match. It’s tough, we weren’t good enough for the first half but we won the 2nd half by pressing and closing down quicker. Same fixture last season we got hammered. So Improvement there, at least.
“However, we currently have a huge problem in the middle. Barkley way off the pace, Luiz has lost some form meaning McGinn is having to work twice as hard, thus being knackered after 60 minutes.
“Smith needs to freshen this up for Leeds. We can’t afford passengers. Nakamba, Sanson/Ramsey need to come in for a few games. Ramsey is close to starting IMO, always looks decent when he comes on.
“We need more grafters in that team otherwise Leeds will win.’’
Sam Brogan @SamBrogan3
“Spot on with everything here pal, it’s graft needed against Leeds so I agree Nakamba has to be a starter with Trez, for both their work rates, hopefully we can take it to them.’’
Jack Jennings @JackJennings
“I’d argue Nakamba is pushing for a starting place, rarely puts a foot wrong and gives us a bit of grit in midfield.’’
“Would try it, Nakamba impeccable ball winner, I love him, but Smith will not change the team.’’
“I would play Nakamba and Sanson as the two holding midfielders with McGinn having more licence to go further forward.’’
“Thinking Nakamba for Luiz. Sanson for Barkley and Trez for Traore. Traore has left the right back exposed too many times already great going forward but no effort in getting back.’’
“Completely freshen up the midfield three, possibly against Leeds. JJ, Sanson, Nakamba have all put in performances when they’ve been given the chance.
“Haven’t seen enough from McGinn, Luiz, or Barkley lately to necessarily warrant all of them starting ahead of the other three.’’
“I agree, Nakamba came in against Arsenal and was superb, his reward was to be dropped, it’s the wrong message to send out, it’s a bit like favouritism.’’
“Nakamba is the best solution, he provides cover for the defence.’’
“Nakamba should start against Leeds.’’ The Herald