Aston Villas Player of the Season: Emiliano Martinez, a world champion who sets the standard
Aston Villa are a side on the rise so given their collective resurgence it’s probably worth starting with those who may have also been in contention for the Player of the Season title.
Both Douglas Luiz and Tyrone Mings have had consistency throughout the season. The Brazilian has scored five goals and set up another six, while Mings worked his way up to Villa’s ‘Mr. Reliable” has developed.
There are also cheers for the evergreen Ashley Young, who at 37 is still playing so strong. Had the season started in January, captain John McGinn would have joined Ollie Watkins, who has broken goalscoring records at Villa this season and has a tally of 15 goals to his tally.
That there are multiple options shows Villa have had an exceptional season – certainly under Gerrard’s successor Unai Emery. But there is one player who has slipped a bit under the radar but just shouldn’t be ignored.
Emiliano Martinez, the first ever player to win the World Cup with Villa, is so consistently good that his achievements are often overlooked.
His excellence is taken for granted. He is expected to play well and therefore when the 30-year-old conjures up something wonderful it will be dismissed as ‘Martinez is just Martinez’.
Martinez is in full swing to save Tottenham (Picture: Adrian Dennis / AFP via Getty Images)
To refresh the spirit and do the goalie justice, here are some of the stunning saves he’s made this season.
It feels like it’s been a while, but in November Martinez had a say in stopping Cristiano Ronaldo from scoring in his last Premier League appearance, parrying the Portuguese’s header with a superb save. Villa won in Unai Emery’s first game as manager.
A similar pattern followed. Here, against Everton, Martinez does an excellent job of deflecting Amadou Onana’s header over the crossbar to keep Villa’s clean sheet intact. In February, the visitors win the game at Goodison Park.
In another hard-fought match against Leeds United, Villa won by a single goal. Here Martinez parries Jack Harrison from close range by making big at the crucial moment.
Martinez got the better of the free-kick taker on several occasions, but this was his choice of saves from dead-ball situations as he deflected Philip Billing’s shot over the goal. Again Villa won comfortably at home against Bournemouth.
Villa had to withstand an onslaught of Chelsea attacks at Stamford Bridge but Martinez saved Kai Havertz and Mykhailo Mudryk and made that great stop, diving to the right to deflect an attempt from Joao Felix around the post. Villa won again.
Perhaps his most impressive performance came in the 1-1 draw at Brentford. He made a good save to parry Ivan Toney from close range (below) but was sent off due to illness in the second half.
It was the time Villa looked shaky without their key player between the posts. This served as a reminder of the influence he exerts on the group and as a source of reassurance he provided throughout the campaign.
The list goes on. There was that memorable save against Alexander Isak when Villa beat Newcastle 3-0 last month…
… and that save to keep Diego Costa away against Wolves, which at least gave Villa a chance to equalize in the second half, even if they narrowly failed in the end.
Perhaps the most notable of all was that stop (bel0w) against Harry Kane in the recent 2-1 win over Tottenham Hotspur. Rarely does the England striker miss such a one-on-one. Most of the goalkeepers are wriggling on the pitch while the England striker rolls away jubilantly. At the time of recording this clip, Kane appears to have a good chance of converting Tottenham’s second touch of the afternoon in the Villa penalty area.
But finding a way past Martinez — even for Kane — is another matter.
Of course, there were also some low points along the way. It took Martinez time to adjust to the way he passed out from behind, even though he looks more confident and secure now. Added to this was the poor performance in the home defeat against his former club Arsenal. But the way he reacted to each setback, further embellished by his saves and described above, suggests this feat was unique.
His time-wasting and gameplay got under the skin of opponents, but for Villa fans, that just adds to his unique charm.
Having a world class stopper on board was a platform for success. Yes, he’s cheeky and pushy, but he’s also crucial to Villa’s playstyle and a reliable last line of defence.
Going into the last round of play, he had the most catches (49) of any Premier League goalkeeper this season – a skill that softens attacks from the flanks and ensures Emery’s demands for control and moderation are met by Villa.
There is no other goalkeeper like him. That’s why he’s Villa’s player of the season.
(Photo for top image: Alex Pantling / Getty Images. Design by Sam Richardson)