This week’s round of Premier League fixtures kicks off with two of the most impressive sides so far in 2020/21, Aston Villa and Leeds, partaking in what could well be a Friday night thriller at Villa Park.
Indeed, while Villa have unexpectedly marched to second in the table with four consecutive victories, Leeds already look like real handful at this level through Marcelo Bielsa’s brand of fearless, energetic football.
Dean Smith will argue his side know how to play as well, especially after unexpectedly battering reigning champions Liverpool 7-2.
But which side boasts the better quality of player? To that end, GIVEMESPORT have constructed a unique XI combining the best of both teams to see which side comes out on top.
Not everybody could make the cut though, so there are some notable omissions along the way…
Goalkeeper - Emiliano Martinez
While 20-year-old Illan Meslier is still getting up to speed with the heightened demands of the Premier League, Emiliano Martinez is already looking like one of the smartest signings of the summer.
The Argentine has added real calmness to a defence that conceded the second-most goals of any Premier League side in 2019/20.
Right-Back - Luke Ayling
A difficult choice because Matty Cash has quietly impressed in his early outings for Villa, averaging 3.3 tackles and 3.3 interceptions per match.
But Luke Ayling’s been such a dynamic presence for Leeds this season, and such a fundamental component of how Bielsa wants his side to play, that we simply couldn’t overlook the 29-year-old.
After almost finding the net against Manchester City, we’re sure there will be a few goals and assists to his name before the season’s out.
Right Centre-Back - Ezri Konsa
The need for a natural right-footer here puts Leeds captain Liam Cooper out of the running, while summer signing Robin Koch may go onto prove a solid acquisition but has started his Premier League career by giving away needless penalties.
In any case, the aforementioned clean sheet numbers speak for themselves - Ezri Konsa has been part of the most resilient defence in the Premier League this season.
He also grabbed arguably Aston Villa’s most important goal of the campaign so far, netting a second-half winner against Sheffield United to kickstart their run of four consecutive top-flight victories.
Left Centre-Back - Tyrone Mings
Leeds fans will be fuming that Cooper’s been overlooked but Mings has proved himself to be something of a real force since returning to the Premier League with Villa last season.
Quick, strong, imperious in the air and calm on the ball, the England international has a bit of everything, which is exactly why he’s getting the nod time and again from Gareth Southgate.
Something of a late bloomer, at 27 Mings is really coming into his own.
Left-Back - Stuart Dallas
Matt Targett hasn’t done too much wrong but similar to Luke Ayling, there’s just something about Stuart Dallas’ energetic up-and-down style that we find irresistible.
An unassumingly complete footballer, Dallas has played in just about every position throughout his career but appears to have carved out a real niche for himself as Bielsa’s right-footed left-back, where he can either bomb down the wing to provide width or drift into midfield and come onto his preferred foot.
Throw in a natural ability to score goals and Dallas gives a lot to Leeds.
Defensive Midfield - Kalvin Phillips
To classify Kalvin Phillips as simply a holding midfielder would be doing him a disserve. The Yorkshire Pirlo is a fundamental cog in the Leeds machine, using his tenacity to win the ball back while also orchestrating play from deep midfield pockets with ranged passes.
He’s got a unique whip on him as well, regularly drilling low, flat deliveries from corners and free kicks that opposition defences are finding tough to handle.
So as solid as Douglas Luiz has been for Aston Villa this season, we’re going with the England man to anchor the engine room.
Right Central Midfield - John McGinn
We can only imagine the heights John McGinn’s form would have reached last season were it not for such a serious injury and it’s great to see the Scotland international is very much picking up where he left off this term - already notching up one goal and a whopping four assists.
McGinn’s a real throwback to the box-to-box midfielders of yesteryear and his knack of always being at the heart of the action made him one of the first names on the team sheet for our combined XI.
Averages of 1 tackle, 1.3 interceptions, 2.5 key passes and 1.8 dribbles per match speak for themselves.
Left Central Midfield - Mateusz Klich
By no means dissimilar in style to McGinn, we’re hoping Mateusz Klich can help complete what’s very much a Pep Guardiola-inspired engine room, with two marauding No.8s playing just ahead of a playmaking anchor.
Aston Villa fans are probably wondering why Ross Barkley’s not made the cut after scoring twice in two games for his new club, but it would be foolish to assume that level of form is sustainable and who knows whether he’ll look quite so impressive in a Villa shirt a few months down the line.
Klich, on the other hand, has been a near-permanence in Leeds’ starting XI since Bielsa took over, only missing one league game in that time. He’s also started this season well too, with one goal and two assists.
Jack Harrison - Right Wing
There’s something to be said for Trezeguet’s form this season with the Aston Villa winger averaging 2.5 tackles, 1.5 key passes and 1.3 shots per match, but Jack Harrison’s taken to the Premier League with impressive ease and at just 23 looks like a talent with a bright future ahead of him.
He’s traditionally lined up on the left this season but can play on either wing and switching to the opposite flank will allow him to cut inside, in turn creating space for the aforementioned Ayling to burst into on the overlap.
Two goal involvements in four games is a strong return for the wide man and hopefully he can sustain something close to that hit-rate for the remainder of the campaign.
Left Wing - Jack Grealish
Southgate might not fancy him but Jack Grealish was always going to be the creative hub of our combined XI.
Few Premier League players carry the ball as well as Villa’s talisman, who ranks fourth throughout the division for successful dribbles per match, and the start of this season has seen him match that trickiness with the necessary output - four appearances have brought three goals and three assists.
Now entering his prime at 25, we’re hoping Grealish can drive this combined XI onto hypothetical glory.
Striker - Ollie Watkins
Perhaps the most difficult decision of this whole process, made harder by the fact both strikers were playing in the Championship last season and Patrick Bamford’s prior Premier League exploits don’t give much to write home about.
That being said, whereas Bamford only managed 16 goals in the second tier last season despite Leeds’ dominance, Ollie Watkins bagged a whopping 26 for Brentford and opened his Premier League account by bagging a hat-trick against Liverpool.
The 24-year-old definitely has some talent in his locker and although Bamford has done well to net three times in five games already this season, we’re tipping the Villa front-man to grow into his role more and more as the campaign goes on - especially with Grealish supplying him.
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