Premier League Team of the Week: Outsiders Aston Villa take another stride towards qualifying for Europe

2PMWYJH Aston Villa's Ollie Watkins (left) has a shot on goal during the Premier League match at Villa Park, Birmingham. Picture date: Saturday April 15, 2023.

Unai Emery's Aston Villa moved just three points off the Europa League qualifying spot with a convincing victory over Newcastle in the Premier League.

Ollie Watkins, again, proved himself to be a match-winner for Villa with two goals against Eddie Howe's side, who slipped to fourth in the table as a result of dropping points while Manchester United won.

Victory for United was secured without Marcus Rashford and their starting centre-back duo of Lisandro Martinez and Raphael Varane, due to injury, as they were inspired by Bruno Fernandes once again.

For their performances, Watkins and Fernandes are included in this week's PFF Premier League Team of the Week.

Goalkeeper: Kepa, Chelsea

PFF shot stopping grade: 80.4 (position rank: 2nd/20)

Chelsea captain Kepa produced fine saves to keep out chances for Kaoru Mitoma and Evan Ferguson, but was still not able to deliver points for Frank Lampard against Brighton.

Danny Welbeck’s equaliser just before half-time and a special goal by Julio Encisco were both adjudged to be “unsaveable” in an otherwise good display by the Spaniard, whose 80.4 grade was the seventh time he has earned a top-five shot-stopping grade in a total of 23 appearances.

Right-back: Kenny Tete, Fulham

PFF challenge grade: 84.9 (position rank: 2nd/45)

Fulham's Mr. Reliable came to the fore again to help bury a five-match losing streak in all competitions with a composed performance at Everton. Of all full-backs, only Tyrick Mitchell's challenge grade of 91.3 was better than the Dutchman's, who also graded top four as a ball carrier with a grade of 79.5.

Centre-back: Craig Dawson, Wolverhampton Wanderers

PFF challenge grade: 77.9 (position rank: 22nd/49)

Wolves stymied the threat of Ivan Toney to record back-to-back clean sheets for the first time since Sept. 3. In the middle of the defence, Dawson was solid when called upon, generating a challenge grade of 77.9 and pass grade of 71.4.

Centre-back: Tosin Adarabioyo, Fulham

PFF challenge grade: 86.9 (position rank: 3rd/49)

Who is best to partner Tim Ream for Fulham has been a season-long debate regardless of their overachievement in their first season since returning to the Premier League, with Tosin Adarabioyo recently reinstated into the starting line-up in place of Issa Diop after some shaky displays.

And Tosin has imposed himself physically in the last two games he has started against West Ham and on Saturday against Everton, earning an 86.9 challenge grade for his commanding performance at Goodison Park.

Left-back: Alex Moreno, Aston Villa

PFF passing grade: 83.6 (position rank: 1st/46)

Alex Moreno’s partnership on the left flank with Jacob Ramsey appears to be going from strength-to-strength amid Villa’s surprise push for a Europa League qualification spot.

In the 3-0 win over Newcastle, Moreno created four goal-scoring chances to grade 83.6 in passing and was also impressive as a ball carrier, 82.5.

Defensive midfielder: Leander Dendoncker, Aston Villa

PFF passing grade: 81.2 (position rank: 5th/64)

Unai Emery has been able to alleviate the loss of Boubacar Kamara to injury predominantly through a switch to a 4-4-2, but in reverting to a 4-2-3-1 Dendoncker took his chance to impress in what was his first start since early November.

Dendoncker’s grade of 81.2 ranked fifth overall among all midfielders, while a pass grade of 75.9 was top 15.

Midfielder: Jacob Ramsey, Aston Villa

PFF passing grade: 89.3 (position rank: 3rd/66)

After Ollie Watkins helped to set up Ramsey for the game’s opening goal, he returned the favour in the second half to seal victory for Villa over Newcastle.

Ramsey’s four chances created was his highest in a match this season and led to a passing grade which fell a touch under the 90.0 mark.

Midfielder: Bruno Fernandes, Manchester United

PFF passing grade: 92.7 (position rank: 1st/66)

Bruno Fernandes’ five defensive line-breaking passes was the joint-most in the Premier League this week, matched by West Ham’s Lucas Paquetá, but the Portuguese proved to be more accurate in completing three of his attempts.

This, together with a total of five chances created, paved the way for Fernandes to generate a passing grade of 92.7 – the highest of any player in the Premier League last weekend.

Liverpool winger Mohamed Salah
2PN9GAR Mohamed Salah #11 of Liverpool celebrates his goal to make it 1-4 during the Premier League match Leeds United vs Liverpool at Elland Road, Leeds, United Kingdom, 17th April 2023
(Photo by Mark Cosgrove/News Images)

Right wing: Mohamed Salah, Liverpool

PFF shooting grade: 79.6 (position rank: 3rd/39)

Mohamed Salah coolly capped off two slick Liverpool moves to collect his 14th and 15th goals of the Premier League season for Liverpool.

The Egyptian generated a shooting grade of 79.6 and could have had a hat-trick at Elland Road, but for an offside call on Virgil van Dijk.

Left wing: Julio Enciso, Brighton & Hove Albion

PFF ball carrying grade: 87.4 (position rank: 1st/44)

Enciso turned 19 in January and produced a display against Chelsea which head coach Roberto De Zerbi and captain Lewis Dunk said indicate he has the potential to go all the way.

Called upon to replace the injured Joel Veltman on the half-hour, Enciso looked cool under pressure and generated an 87.4 ball carrying grade on 17 events – the joint-second highest among all players this week despite being a substitute.

Enciso’s wonder goal in the second half also contributed to a shot grade of 80.0 on four attempts.

Striker: Ollie Watkins, Aston Villa

PFF shooting grade: 89.4 (position rank: 2nd/27)

Watkins’ two goals against Newcastle means he has now scored 11 in his last 12 games to fire Aston Villa into the throes of contending for European football next season.

His 89.4 shooting grade is remarkable considering his higher than average total of six shot attempts. Watkins’ name is included in the three occasions this season where a player to have registered a minimum of six shots has managed to grade at 90.0 or higher (Week 17 vs. Brighton, 93.9), while Ivan Toney claims the two other times (Week 6 vs. Leeds, 96.5, and Week 16 vs. Man City, 91.9).


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