Aston Villa moved within six points in the top four with an impressive win over Leeds United in a difficult spot on Elland Road

Anwar El Ghazi scored the only goal, brilliantly controlled Ollie Watkins’ cross and shot past Islan Meslier after just five minutes

Dean Smith’s side, still shorn by injured captain Jack Grealish, looked good against Leeds, which consistently failed to penetrate despite winning their last two home games against Crystal Palace and Southampton

Despite the loss, Marcelo Bielsas United are still in tenth place with 35 points from 26 games, just four points behind a rejuvenated mansion who face Sheffield United, Wolves and Newcastle to bolster their bid for European qualifying

Smith has denied allegations Aston Villa is a one-man team, but there’s no doubt they are a more dangerous outfit when Grealish is available

Before that game, their win share dropped over the past three seasons from 42% with Grealish to 17% without, and his absence played a role in the tedious loss to Leicester City last weekend

And Smith’s insistence that his team have other options was proven when the attacking players cleverly banded together to ensure that victory

El Ghazi had an impressive streak of goals before Christmas and was fine rediscovering his goal He slipped behind the Leeds defense to bury Watkins’ badly hit pass

That win was also thanks to their miserable defense – only Manchester City and Chelsea conceded fewer goals in the Premier League – and this was their 13th Conceded goal of the season

Smith also has to thank for changes in midfield He brought in Marvelous Nakamba and Jacob Ramsey to create an impenetrable barrier in front of the back four

Now, with two games in hand on the pages above, Villa is planning a return to Europe for the first time since 2010

Bielsa’s team became aware of the good teamwork and the continuing threat to goals in the Premier League

However, on a pitch that was looking increasingly worn, their dominance of possession didn’t create many chances against Villa’s tenacious defense

Leeds made more than twice as many passes as its visitors but was rarely threatened, especially in a second half with no shots on goal

In form Raphinha was well tied up by Ahmed El Mohamady and top scorer Patrick Bamford, who scored a stunning hat trick in the second leg, was barely involved, apart from a first-minute shot that didn’t bother Villa keeper Emiliano Martinez

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Tyler Roberts had a good view of goal in the middle of the first half but met Martinez directly

United’s performance was summed up by Raphinha, who headed the ball into the ground and over the bar when well placed in the final moments

Aston Villa manager Dean Smith told BBC Sport: “Not many people would have introduced us against Leeds and they make you work hard We hit an early goal and showed a lot of character

“We have a chance [to finish in the top six], but there are some top teams. We just take it game after game”

Leeds manager Marcelo Bielsa told BBC Sport: “We dominated 80% of the game and the goal they scored was opportunism in the first half we created enough chances to score but in the second half we could not complete the attacks “

Attempt missed Raphinha (Leeds United) header from the right side of the six yard box is close but misses the top right corner. Assisted by Jack Harrison

Attempt blocked Patrick Bamford’s (Leeds United) header from the center of the box is blocked. Prepared by Luke Ayling with a cross

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Source: https://www.bbc.co.uk/sport/football/56135046