Aston Villa began the Premier League season with a 5-1 defeat at Newcastle, with Tyrone Mings being stretchered off with a season-ending ACL injury. And yet, despite their ominous opening day defeat, Villa have enjoyed a stellar start to the campaign, with Unai Emery’s side sitting third in the Premier League table and topping their UEFA Europa Conference League group. One player who has proven vital in their impressive form is Ezri Konsa.
Born in Newham, London on October 23, 1997 to a DR Congolese father and an Angolan mother, Konsa made his start at the local team Senrab before moving to Charlton Athletic at the age of 11. He would progress through the academy before making his professional debut in 2016, enjoying two promising seasons with The Addicks before heading to Brentford. After one season with The Bees, Konsa left London for the first time in his life, joining newly promoted Premier League side Aston Villa and reuniting with former Brentford boss Dean Smith.
After plying his trade under Dean Smith and Steven Gerrard, Konsa has delivered the best performances of his career under Spanish manager Unai Emery, playing a pivotal role in last season’s seventh-place finish which saw them qualify for European competition for the first time in 13 years. Similarly to Ibrahima Konaté at Liverpool, Konsa is often tasked with playing as an auxiliary fullback when defending against counter-attacks, with the 26-year-old operating in a wider role in defense than he was previously accustomed to.
Konsa’s athleticism is a key component of his game as he’s able to utilize his speed to cover space and defend transitions.
Villa’s right back Matty Cash often pushes up to the right winger position in order to compensate for the narrow positioning that John McGinn provides on the left channel. As such, Konsa is often tasked with dealing with 1v1 scenarios in wide positions and keeping things tight at the back whilst Cash and the others retreat to the defensive third.
In return, Konsa has shown his versatility in how comfortably he’s dealing with defending laterally. His ball-carrying down the right has also been pleasing on the eye, as reflected by his 1.23 Progressive carries per 90, a vast improvement on 0.19 from last season. Moreover, he’s taken his Progressive passes per 90 from 1.52 in 2022/23 all the way up to 4.21, a testament to how Emery has unleashed his ability on the ball.
Apart from his ball-carrying, Konsa has also shown significant improvement in just about every key metric. The below heat map also shows how much more proactive he is in covering the defensive wide right positions as well as his physical ability to cover those spaces.
His build-up game has taken remarkable strides over the past year, and his proneness to error has been curved by a more safety-first approach, as exemplified in his passing statistics this term. Konsa’s 25 aerial duels and 68 tackles add to the picture of an astute defender, whether aerially or ground duels, and his composed defensive attributes have certainly played a key role for a Villa side that has won 13 out of 21 matches this season in the league.
Konsa’s performances have certainly gone under the radar with the like of McGinn, Douglas Luiz and Ollie Watkins receiving most of the headlines, but there’s a reason why he has started every single Premier League match this season for Villa, who closed out the year with a 3-2 win against Burnley before edging Middlesbrough 1-0 via an 87th-minute winner from Matty Cash.
After succumbing to a goalless draw to Everton at Goodison Park, Villa will be looking to get back to winning ways on January 26 as they travel to Chelsea in the fourth round of the FA Cup, before hosting Newcastle shortly after. They’ll be counting on Konsa as they look to continue their top-four ambitions and qualify for Europe’s premier competition for the first time in 42 years.
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