Ezri Konsa interview: Aston Villa centre-back on Steven Gerrard's impact and the art of one-on-one defending

In an exclusive interview with Sky Sports, Ezri Konsa offers his early impressions of life under Steven Gerrard and explains the work that has gone into the Aston Villa centre-back becoming one of the best one-on-one defenders in the Premier League

Aston Villa's Ezri Konsa
Image: Aston Villa's Ezri Konsa is dribbled past less often than any other regular Premier League defender

Ezri Konsa is still shaking his head about the penalty that he is convinced should have been awarded to Aston Villa against Manchester City on Wednesday. It was widely reported that Nathan Ake had fouled him but that only adds to his frustration.

"Once I saw that people were saying that, I knew they had got the wrong defender," Konsa tells Sky Sports. "It was Ruben Dias who caught me. They must have shown the wrong angle on television. It was Ruben Dias who kicked the back of my left calf."

The spirited showing against the Premier League champions has ensured that the mood of optimism at Aston Villa since Steven Gerrard's arrival remains. A third win for the new coach on Sunday would see his team overtake top-half opponents Leicester.

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FREE TO WATCH: Highlights from Manchester City's win against Aston Villa

There has been a turnaround since five consecutive defeats ended Dean Smith's stay. "In football, you are always going to go through ups and downs," says Konsa. "It is how you react and I think we have reacted really well to the situation we were in."

Konsa had a good relationship with Smith. "He signed me twice, at Brentford and Aston Villa. He gave me my Premier League debut and showed a lot of faith in me. I will be always be grateful for what he has done for my career. I hope he does really well at Norwich."

But there is excitement too about what Gerrard might be able to do at Villa Park. It is a new challenge, one that everyone is embracing. The hope is that he will bring that winning mentality. "I just really like how he has got really high standards," says Konsa.

"He has that presence. You always want to impress him every day that you come into training. He has already said to us from the first day that he came in that he wants everyone to train how they play. That is something that we have really enjoyed doing."

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Gerrard is conducting in-depth appraisals with each individual squad member. "I have not done my one-to-one yet. I am just waiting for him to get around to me." Perhaps that is because the new man knows there is nothing to worry about? Konsa smiles. "Exactly."

There is every reason for Villa to be happy with their central defender. A £12m bargain buy from Brentford in the summer of 2019, he has been consistency personified. A pure defender, he leaves the showy stuff for others. He clears, he blocks, he covers.

Ezri Konsa's defensive action areas for Aston Villa in the 2021/22 Premier League season

Now 24, he kicked on again after lockdown last year, learning from John Terry - a fellow graduate of the famed London youth club Senrab. Smith continues to be an influence too: the words of his old boss are with him whenever he walks out onto the pitch.

"Before every game he would tell me, 'Concentration for 90 minutes.' That would just stick in my head. No matter how tired I am, even if it is the 90th minute, always stay focused because in the Premier League if you sleep for a second you get punished for it."

Mentally, his game is in a good place. Physically, he is among the very best. Is there a stronger one-on-one defender? The statistics show that Konsa has been dribbled past less frequently than any other regular Premier League defender since the start of last season.

Aston Villa's Ezri Konsa is dribbled past by an opponent less frequently than any other Premier League defender

"It is just about having that mentality that you are not going to get beat no matter who you are up against. Have it in your head that when it comes to one-on-one situations you are going to win the battle. It is about working hard in training. Sorting out your feet.

"Having one-to-one video sessions also helps you to improve. I watch clips of recent games. I watch clips of myself but I also watch clips of defenders that I look up to. You can learn from that, take it into training sessions and then into a matchday."

Facing players such as Jack Grealish every day in training was useful too.

"It does help. In training, you want to show everyone that they cannot get by you. If you have that mindset, that mentality, in training that even your own team-mates cannot get past you then that carries on into the matches against the opposition."

It will be Jamie Vardy taking on Konsa on Sunday.

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"We know how Vardy plays. He likes to play on the shoulder of defenders. He likes to make runs in behind. He is very quick as well. You have to be one step ahead of him."

But there is another player who Konsa might have his eye on: Ademola Lookman, who was his room-mate when they were youngsters at Charlton. Will he be able to dribble past him? "He won't be doing that, it is alright," says Konsa, smiling again.

"I have not spoken to him this week, actually. But I am looking forward to it. I played against him last season as well when he was with Fulham. I am just glad he is playing in the Premier League and doing well for Leicester." The reunion is a reminder of the journey.

"Sometimes when you are chilling, you do tend to think about how far you have come. You look at old pictures. I was doing that myself the other day when I was looking at a picture of me and Ademola playing for Charlton U23s many years ago.

"It is crazy knowing how far we have both come. It just goes to show that if you are prepared to work hard, keep listening and learning, you will get there in the end."

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FREE TO WATCH: Highlights from Aston Villa's win against Crystal Palace

Konsa is not quite where he wants to be yet. While defensive partner Tyrone Mings is a regular in the England squad, he is still waiting for his own opportunity at senior international level. It is baffling to many Aston Villa supporters but how does Konsa feel about it?

"For me, it is just about concentrating on my football and letting the rest take care of itself. I want to maintain playing at a high level. I have ambitions of playing international football but my main focus is on doing well for Aston Villa. If the call comes it comes."

A prolonged upturn with Villa under Gerrard would help.

"We are looking forward to what the future brings with him. It is just about keeping it up and staying consistent. Obviously, December is a really busy month. We need everyone, players from the bench. It is really important to keep everyone fit during this period.

"If we stay consistent, we know we are a good team with very good players, so wherever we finish is up to us. If we continue to show that we will be in the top half. As for Leicester, we want to focus on ourselves but I am sure we will come away with the three points."

Watch Aston Villa vs Leicester live on Sky Sports Premier League from 3.30pm on Sunday; kick-off 4.30pm

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