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Coutinho pulls strings in Villa’s 3-3 draw with Leeds

February 9, 2022 GMT
Aston Villa's Philippe Coutinho, right, reacts during the English Premier League soccer match between Aston Villa and Leeds United at Villa Park in Birmingham, England, Wednesday, Feb. 9, 2022. (AP Photo/Rui Vieira)
Aston Villa's Philippe Coutinho, right, reacts during the English Premier League soccer match between Aston Villa and Leeds United at Villa Park in Birmingham, England, Wednesday, Feb. 9, 2022. (AP Photo/Rui Vieira)
Aston Villa's Philippe Coutinho, right, reacts during the English Premier League soccer match between Aston Villa and Leeds United at Villa Park in Birmingham, England, Wednesday, Feb. 9, 2022. (AP Photo/Rui Vieira)
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Aston Villa's Philippe Coutinho, right, reacts during the English Premier League soccer match between Aston Villa and Leeds United at Villa Park in Birmingham, England, Wednesday, Feb. 9, 2022. (AP Photo/Rui Vieira)
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Aston Villa's Philippe Coutinho, right, reacts during the English Premier League soccer match between Aston Villa and Leeds United at Villa Park in Birmingham, England, Wednesday, Feb. 9, 2022. (AP Photo/Rui Vieira)

BIRMINGHAM, England (AP) — Philippe Coutinho scored one goal and set up two others for Aston Villa in its 3-3 draw with Leeds in an end-to-end encounter in the Premier League on Wednesday.

Leeds fought back from 3-1 down to salvage a point at Villa Park, with center back Diego Llorente the unlikely scorer of the second-half equalizer.

Coutinho pulled the strings in a whirlwind first half where he canceled out Dan James’ ninth-minute opener with his own low finish into the corner in the 30th.

The Brazil international then provided the passes for goals by fellow midfielder Jacob Ramsey in the 38th and 43rd minutes.

“Looking at Philippe’s performance tonight, not just his goal and assists, if you don’t love watching that you shouldn’t be watching football,” Villa manager Steven Gerrard said. “That was absolutely beautiful, some of the stuff he has done.”

James made it 3-2 in first-half stoppage time and Llorente ensured a pulsating game ended all square by scoring from close range after Villa defender Tyrone Mings failed to clear.

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Ezri Konsa was also dismissed late on for a second yellow card for Villa, but Leeds was unable to capitalize.

The draw edged Marcelo Bielsa’s side — now with just three wins in its last 12 games — six points clear of the relegation zone and denied Villa a place in the top half of the league.

Mings was at fault for James’s first goal, too, twice failing to deal with a ball on the right, with a weak first challenge on Mateusz Klich allowing Llorente to steal the ball from him on the edge of the area.

He found James and the winger stepped inside Konsa to drill in low across Emi Martinez.

The goalkeeper then stopped James’ shot while Lucas Digne needed to be alert to clear ahead of Raphinha with Villa on the rocks.

Mings should have leveled but headed Douglas Luiz’s corner wide and the entertainment continued when Jack Harrison’s quick break teed up James only for his rising 20-yard drive to clatter the bar.

There was purpose and pace from the visitors until Coutinho leveled things after half an hour and tore Leeds apart in a devastating spell.

Matty Cash was the architect, latching onto Emi Buendia’s pass and crossing for the unmarked Brazilian to score. Leeds inexplicably stood off the Barcelona loanee and he was allowed to steer the ball low into the corner for a second goal in three games.

Eight minutes later, Coutinho turned provider with a sumptuous assist. He turned Luke Ayling and split the Leeds defence with the perfect pass for the onrushing Ramsey to advance and drill past Ilian Meslier.

It was reminiscent of the link-up that Gerrard and Coutinho enjoyed at Liverpool and the relationship continued to blossom when Ramsey made it 3-1.

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Coutinho was in the mood and led the charge when referee Jarred Gillett played advantage after Digne was fouled. Ollie Watkins’ clever run took two defenders with him and Ramsey was left alone to collect Coutinho’s pass and find the top corner.

Gerrard said he believes Ramsey, an England under-21 international, can step up to the seniors.

“I know the level of the England players, I’ve been around it, and have enough experience to know it’s only a matter of time but let’s all be sensible and keep calm about it,” he said.

“I want him to make his own headlines with his football. He is a top talent, I’m loving every moment of working with him. He is getting stronger with each game because we’re giving him the platform to express himself. He is in a wonderful place.”

A flat-out first half then concluded when James made it 3-2, heading in from point-blank range after Rodrigo’s cross ballooned off Konsa.

Perhaps unsurprisingly, the level dropped immediately after the break but it proved only a brief lull as Leeds equalized. Pascal Struijk saw a header cleared off the line from Mings but Leeds regrouped and from their next corner the Villa captain went from hero to villain.

This time he failed to get enough on a clearance following Struijk’s header and Llorente smashed in from eight meters.

Leeds was unable to make any further inroads even when Konsa was sent off for a second yellow card with three minutes left for needlessly stopping Meslier releasing the ball.

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