Aston Villa player ratings vs Olympiacos as two score 4/10 but two get 7s

Aston Villa were dumped out of the Europa Conference League on Thursday night after failing to overturn last week’s 4-2 defeat and getting beaten for a second time by Olympiacos at the semi-final stage.

The Greek giants stunned the Villans once again - this time in front of a lively red and white crowd at Georgios Karaiskakis Stadium - to reach a first-ever European final. Ayoub El Kaabi, the hat-trick scorer at Villa Park in the first leg, haunted the men in claret and blue by scoring two more to claim a 2-0 win and crucially a 6-2 thrashing on aggregate.

Unadventurous, futile and lacking urgency, the Villans were hardly a danger to the Greek protagonists. The low block proved too sturdy and the occasional breakthroughs were snuffed out effectively by goalkeeper Konstantinos Tzolakis. Overturning the deficit was always an onerous task but it was dispiriting to not even see Villa remotely panic Olympiacos, who themselves were clinical on the counter-attack.

It was a shaky start and expensively so as El Kaabi made Emery’s side pay. John McGinn cut out Daniel Podence’s first cross attempt but the next delivery, from left-back Quini, found its way through to El Kaabi for the striker to net his fourth in two games. Pau Torres should’ve done better to cut out the low ball, while Ezri Konsa failed to read Podence’s lay-off to Quini. Chiquinho had an early sighter go inches wide of the near post a few minutes earlier but Villa failed to use that as a wake-up call.

Emery’s men began to dictate play from the moment the goal went in but first-half chances were rare. Leon Bailey had a penalty shout as Rodinei clattered him but it was just outside the area. German referee Felix Zwayer initially waved play on, leading to Moussa Diaby forcing a low save from Tzolakis, but it was brought back for a free-kick on the edge of the area. Central and at an awkward range to try and dip over the wall, Douglas Luiz couldn’t find the target.

Bailey went close to equalising with the second-to-last kick of the first 45, striking powerfully from distance and deflecting off a defender. Tzolakis dived acrobatically and made the stop, but it was unconventional as the ball cannoned off his head and over the bar. Down 5-2 on aggregate at the break, the already steep mountain grew even taller.

Although dominant in possession, Villa couldn’t carve out any chances of note after the interval. Emery turned to the bench for Jhon Duran and Tim Iroegbunam but the duo failed to add the desired firepower. If anything, Olympiacos, dangerous on the transition, looked the more likely team to score and instincts proved true as El Kaabi sensationally scored his fifth of the tie to make it 6-2 on aggregate. 

The Morocco international put the game absolutely beyond doubt as he ran onto a lofted through ball from Tzolakis and fired low past Martinez. The flag went up initially as Pau and Konsa appeared to step up just in time to trap El Kaabi offside but a lengthy VAR check proved the striker was on, with Konsa’s trailing leg making the costly difference. 

Despite a late acrobatic header attempt from Ollie Watkins, it finished 2-0 on the night and 6-2 on aggregate. Villa can be proud of their European journey but it ends abruptly at the last hurdle. Olympiacos, meanwhile, are in dreamland.

Here’s how Birmingham World reporter Charlie Haffenden rated the players out of 10 in Piraeus.

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