Villa stunned by Olympiakos in first leg of semi-final

Aston Villa were beaten 4-2 by Olympiakos in the first leg of their Europa Conference League semi-final as Ayoub El Kaabi’s hat-trick stunned Villa Park.

Unai Emery’s side had started the game as favourites to win their first European trophy since 1982 but El Kaabi proved too good as the Greek side raced into a two-goal lead and though Ollie Watkins and Moussa Diaby dragged Villa level, the striker was not done.

He scored his third from the penalty spot after Douglas Luiz was adjudged to have handballed inside the box before Santiago Hezze’s shot made it four when it deflected off the back of Ezri Konsa and Robin Olsen was unable to keep the ball out.

There was even the frustration of Douglas Luiz missing a late chance to reduce the deficit from the penalty spot before next week’s return leg.

Tottenham’s Premier League defeat to Chelsea means Champions League football is likely to come to Villa Park next season. But these supporters were dreaming of a trophy later this month. There is a lot of work to do in Greece if that dream is to become a reality.

Player ratings

Aston Villa:Aston Villa: Olsen (5), Cash (5), Konsa (5), Lenglet (5), Digne (5), Douglas Luiz (5), McGinn (6), Bailey (6), Diaby (6), Rogers (6), Watkins (6).

Subs used:Duran (6), Zaniolo (n/a), Ireogbunam (n/a).

Olympiakos: Tzolakis (5), Rodinei (7), Retsos (7), Carmo (6), Ortega (6), Hezze (7), Chiquinho (7), Iborra (7), Podence (8), Fortounis (7), El Kaabi (9).

Subs used: Richards (6), Horta (6).

Player of the match: Ayoub El Kaabi.

What went wrong for Villa?

Olsen was deputising for the suspended Emiliano Martinez in Aston Villa’s goal and the temptation would be to blame the back-up goalkeeper for the early uncertainty but he saved from the offside Vicente Iborra early on and was left exposed for the first two goals.

Matty Cash’s trailing leg played El Kaabi onside for what turned out to the opener, overturned following a VAR check. The striker was then through again, Villa’s defence unlocked as a result of a clever pass by on-loan Wolves man Daniel Podence.

Team news

  • Robin Olsen deputised for the suspended Emiliano Martinez, while Clement Lenglet started for Aston Villa ahead of Pau Torres.
  • Daniel Podence, on loan from nearby Wolverhampton Wanderers, was included in the Olympiakos starting line-up.

This time it was Lucas Digne failing to track the run with Clement Lenglet, included ahead of Pau Torres, unable to cover. It left the expectant home support at Villa Park in a state of shock with Emery continually preaching calm to his panicking players.

A response was required and while Villa continued to be too open for comfort, the chances did come. Leon Bailey thought he had won a penalty only for the referee to wave away his claims but there was no denying Watkins, finishing well following a slick move.

Villa’s supporters booed the officials off at half-time, having also been denied an early goal because a soft foul by Lenglet on Iborra had been spotted, but the onus was on the team to turn it around. The timing of Watkins’ goal at least brought momentum and belief.

When Diaby’s attempt snuck past goalkeeper Kostas Tzolakis from a narrow angle, Villa were dreaming of that first-leg lead but their night unravelled once more. Douglas Luiz threw an arm up inside the box and El Kaabi completed his hat-trick from the spot.

Douglas Luiz's handball gifted Olympiakos the chance to regain the lead in the second half
Douglas Luiz’s handball gifted Olympiakos the chance to regain the lead

Worse was to follow and on this occasion Olsen was culpable. Hezze’s shot was deflected off the back of Konsa and although the goalkeeper was wrong-footed, he got a hand to the ball and agonisingly failed to keep it out. Villa had lost the game twice.

The ignominy, in front of the watching Prince William, was not yet over. David Carmo’s foul on Jhon Duran presented Douglas Luiz with the chance to score from the spot but his kick struck the outside of the post. Not their night. Perhaps not their trophy now.

Douglas Luiz endured a torrid night on his 200th Aston Villa appearance
Douglas Luiz endured a torrid night on his 200th Aston Villa appearance

Emery: ‘They are favourites’

Speaking to TNT Sports afterwards, Emery said: “Congratulations to them. We didn’t play like we are playing. We need to keep being consistent. They deserved to win. They are a good team. They have experience. It is difficult in Europe.”

Asked if Villa needed more luck, he said: “It is not about luck. We did not play well. We have to play better. They deserved to win.” On his message to his players, he added: “Prepare for the match next Thursday. Try to play better, compete better.”

The key message was his last one. “They are favourites.”

‘We were not scared of Villa’

Jose Luis Mendilibar praised his team following their surprise performance. “Of course, we were proud of our team, especially because we started really well and even when Aston Villa equalised we showed the necessary courage. Our game was very good.”

Asked to identify the key to Olympiakos pulling off the result, he added: “The key was not just one [thing] it was that we were ourselves, we played our game without thinking about our rival. We respected our rival but we were not scared of Aston Villa.”

Hendrie: ‘Learning curve for Villa’

“Villa have not been in Europe for quite some time,” said former Villa player Lee Hendrie, speaking on Sky Sports News.

“The learning curve for them tonight is that you need to be solid and compact. You need to understand playing in Europe.

“This is new for Villa. I do not think it will be such a dent in how they finish the season. There is so much to look forward to next season.

“You get that top four and Champions League. Then you have had a taste of playing in Europe.

“This isn’t doom and gloom. This is a top season Villa have had.”

Aston Villa’s remaining fixtures

May 5: Brighton (A) – Premier League, kick-off 2pm

May 9: Olympiakos (A) – Europa Conference League semi-final second leg, kick-off 8pm

May 13: Liverpool (H) – Premier League, kick-off 8pm

May 19: Crystal Palace (A) – Premier League, kick-off 4pm

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