May 30, 2023 7:40 am

Aston Villa are a team on the up so, as a reflection of their collective resurgence, it is probably worth starting with those who might also have been in contention for player of the season.

Both Douglas Luiz and Tyrone Mings stood out for their consistency over the season. The Brazilian has scored five goals and set up another six, while Mings has turned into Villa’s Mr Reliable over a campaign that started with him losing first the captaincy and then his starting place under the management of Steven Gerrard.

There are also shouts for the evergreen Ashley Young, still playing so strong at 37. Had the season started in January, then captain John McGinn would be in the reckoning alongside Ollie Watkins, who has broken scoring records at Villa this season and amassed a tally of 15 goals to his name.

That there are multiple options shows that Villa have had an exceptional season — certainly under Gerrard’s successor, Unai Emery, anyway. But there is one player who has gone slightly under the radar but simply should not be ignored.

Emiliano Martinez, the first-ever player to win the World Cup while playing for Villa, is so consistently good that his performances are often simply overlooked.

His excellence is taken for granted. It is assumed he will play well and therefore, when the 30-year-old conjures something wonderful, it is brushed off as “Martinez just being Martinez”.

Martinez at full stretch to deny Tottenham (Photo: Adrian Dennis / AFP via Getty Images)

So, to refresh the mind and do the goalkeeper justice, here are some of the stunning saves he has made this season.

It feels like a while ago now but, back in November, Martinez had a say in stopping Cristiano Ronaldo from scoring on his final Premier League appearance with this fine save to deny the Portuguese’s header. Villa went on to win in Unai Emery’s first game in charge.

A similar pattern followed. Here, against Everton, Martinez superbly tips Amadou Onana’s header over the crossbar to keep Villa’s clean sheet intact. The visitors go on to win the game at Goodison Park in February.

Another closely contested game against Leeds United saw Villa win by a single goal. Here, Martinez denies Jack Harrison from close range by making himself big in the crucial moment.

On a number of occasions, Martinez has got the better of the free-kick taker, but this was the pick of the saves he has mustered from dead-ball situations as he tips Philip Billing’s effort over. Again Villa go on to win comfortably at home to Bournemouth.

Villa had to withstand an onslaught of Chelsea attacks at Stamford Bridge, but Martinez denied Kai Havertz and Mykhailo Mudryk as well as summoning this fine stop, diving down to his right to tip a Joao Felix effort around the post. Again, Villa won.

Perhaps his most impressive performance was in the 1-1 draw at Brentford. He saved well to deny Ivan Toney from close range (below) but was forced off through illness in the second half.

It was during that period when Villa looked shaky without their key man in between the sticks. That served as a reminder of the influence he exerts over the group and the source of reassurance he has provided all campaign.

The list goes on. There was this memorable save to deny Alexander Isak when Villa beat Newcastle 3-0 last month…

… and this save to keep out Diego Costa against Wolves, which at least gave Villa the chance to level in the second half even if they did ultimately just fall short.

The most eye-catching of the lot was probably this stop (bel0w) against Harry Kane in the recent 2-1 win over Tottenham Hotspur. Rarely does the England striker miss when one-on-one like this. Most goalkeepers are left floundering, sprawled on the turf while the England forward wheels away in celebration. At the moment this clip is taken, Kane seems odds-on to convert Tottenham’s second touch of the afternoon in the Villa box.

But finding a way around Martinez — even for Kane — is another matter.

Of course, there have been some low points along the way. Martinez took time to become accustomed to the style of passing out from the back, even if he does now look more confident and assured. There was the poor display in a home defeat to his former club Arsenal, too. But the way he has reacted to every setback, decorated by the saves he has made and detailed above, suggests that this performance was a one-off.

His time-wasting and gamesmanship have gotten under the skins of opponents but, for Villa supporters, that simply adds to his unique charm.

Having a world-class stopper on board has provided a platform for success. Yes, he’s brash and in your face, but he’s also crucial to the way Villa play and a reliable last line of defence.

Going into the last round of fixtures, he has the most amount of catches (49) of any Premier League goalkeeper this season to his name — it’s a skill that blunts attacks from the flanks and ensures Emery’s demands for Villa to be controlled and measured.

There is no other goalkeeper quite like him. That is why he is Villa’s player of the season.

(Photo for top image: Alex Pantling / Getty Images. Design by Sam Richardson)