PLAYER RATINGS | Aston Villa 2-1 Lille: Bafodé Diakité header provides lifeline for Les Dogues

UEFA Europa Conference League, Quarter-final, 11/04/2024

Paulo Fonseca had been clear ahead of this game, that his Lille OSC side would need to play a “perfect” game if they stood a chance at overcoming Aston Villa. The Premier League side were perhaps the worst side that Les Dogues could draw in their first European quarter-final. 

Villa stand as clear favourites for the Europa Conference League and as they stormed forward in the early stages of the match it was easy to see why. A ten-minute period where the two teams had eyed each other up, getting the measure of their opposite number, ended with a flurry of blows from Ollie Watkins. 

The ex-Brentford striker etched closer and closer before powering home a header to open the scoring in a naïve bit of defending from the visitors, with no player marking the host’s top scorer. Watkins carried a threat with every attack, his positioning and timing looked to put Leny Yoro and Bafodé Diakité constantly under pressure. 

Lille came close to recording a leveller when they weathered the storm and broke quickly from an Aston Villa corner. Lucas Chevalier collected the ball and launched the attack rapidly which saw Edon Zhegrova one-on-one with Emiliano Martínez. However, the World Cup winner was too good and smothered the shot. 

Martínez was once again called into action as Diakité made a roaming run from the centre of defence and broke past the Villa backline but the goalkeeper was too good and the shot was from one of the few players on the team that Lille would have preferred not to be in that position.  

Villa were sloppy in midfield and looked to be missing the presence of Boubacar Kamara (ruled out for the rest of the season with an ACL injury), they kept allowing Lille to transition high up the pitch and break towards the penalty box but on each occasion, Martínez was there to sweep up the mistakes and douse Lille’s hopes. And as the half-time whistle blew, Lille were left ruing a half of missed opportunities. 

Unai Emery’s squad entered the second half with far more intensity as they hunted for another goal to ease their concerns and heap pressure on Lille ahead of a second leg back in France where Les Dogues’s home record this season has been dominant. 

Villa did not have to wait long as another set piece broke apart the Lille defence, a well-worked ball found its way to John McGinn on the edge of the box and the Scottish international’s shot was driven low and past Chevalier rooted to the spot. 

Fonseca made his first change of the night bringing off the largely ineffectual Zhegrova for Yusuf Yazıcı, the substitution saw Gabriel Gudmundsson more involved in the game as Yazıcı looked for constant quick switches. This almost saw Gudmundsson score his second for the club after he scored against Olympique de Marseille on the weekend, but his effort was ruled off for a narrow offside before Martínez parried away his next effort. 

At the point where it seemed like nothing would get past Martínez, Diakité managed to grab a goal. His headed effort was far from pretty but it was exactly what Lille needed. They had come nowhere near playing the “perfect” game they had so desperately needed to defeat the clear favourites for the Europa Conference League, but as the dust settled on this leg they had hope and a lifeline for next week.

Lille player ratings

Lucas Chevalier, 5

Ismaily, 4

Leny Yoro, 4

Bafodé Diakité, 5 – A strange game for a player since returning from injury has been used as a centre-back instead of his usual place out on the right of the back four. There were clear errors from the defenders in protecting the team during set-pieces. Diakité not keeping an eye on or marking Watkins for the first goal was a terrible error to make so early in the game. However, he was also the reason why Lille have a lifeline coming into the next leg. 

Tiago Santos, 4

Nabil Bentaleb, 5

Benjamin André, 5

Gabriel Gudmundsson, 6

Hákan Haraldsson, 6

Edon Zhegrova, 4 – A disappointing night for the winger who had one great opportunity to score for Lille but created very little else for the team. Substituted early as Fonseca went with the work rate of Yusuf Yazıcı.

Jonathan David, 3 – Much was expected of the forward as Lille stepped out for their first European quarter-final. The forward had been in good form in the league having scored 10 in the last 10 games, but against Aston Villa he was ineffectual. Quiet on the ball and frequently out-muscled. 

Aston Villa selected player ratings 

Emiliano Martínez, 8 – The star of the show and once again a villain to French fans. The reason for why Lille could not find the net for much of the game.  

John McGinn, 6 

Ollie Watkins, 7

GFFN | Nick Hartland

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