Africans Abroad: Trezeguet, Dominic Solanke answer critics, breathe life into EPL relegation battle


Trezeguet and Dominic Solanke responded to their critics and respectively breathed life into Aston Villa and Bournemouth's hopes of beating the drop with inspired contributions over the weekend, while Moroccan duo Youssef En-Nesyri and Youness Mokhtar were also among the goals in Spain and the United States respectively.

Villa's considerable summer outlay has looked increasingly like misplaced investment as the season has worn on, with Dean Smith's transfer arrivals struggling to help the Midlanders pull clear of the English Premier League dropzone.

While Sheffield United largely retained the side that secured promotion last season -- and are reaping the rewards -- the Villains opted to 'twist' in the transfer market, spending more than £140 million on a raft of additions, yet have found themselves mired in the relegation dogfight.

Trezeguet, recruited for £9 million from Turkish side Kasimpasa, appeared to have begun to find his feet in English football with back-to-back goals against Liverpool and Wolverhampton Wanderers in November, yet it proved to be a false dawn.

When he took to the field against Crystal Palace on Sunday, the Egypt wideman had scored just once since early December and had struggled to rediscover his rhythm following the restart.

That all changed at Selhurst Park, as the North African netted twice against the lacklustre Eagles -- first a calm finishing at the back post after a Conor Hourihane free kick, and adding a second after picking up a nodded pass from the Republic of Ireland midfielder -- to give Villa their first league victory since Jan. 21.

It may yet prove to be too late, with Villa still four points from safety with only three matches to close the gap to West Ham United and Watford, but it at least reminded them what winning felt like, and gave them hope of overhauling the sides above them.

"[Trezeguet]'s performed really well the last two games," Smith said. "He deserves his place in the team...

"Trez is one that came in late last summer, and it's taken a while in terms of adaptation along with the likes of Douglas Luiz.

"I thought he looked a threat in the last couple of games.

"He had that chance against Manchester United when he hit the post, and he's gone and got his two goals today. His attitude is spot on and he works his socks off."

The goals were Trezeguet's fourth and fifth of the season -- only Jack Grealish (seven) has more for Villa -- and he demonstrated the qualities that could make him a match-winner against Everton, Arsenal and West Ham in the games to come.

Solanke established himself as one of the hottest young properties in the world game when he won the Golden Ball at the Under-20 World Cup three years ago, when he helped England to their first title.

Since then, he left Chelsea for Liverpool, received his first England cap -- in a friendly against Brazil -- and was signed by Bournemouth for £19 million.

Yet Solanke, who remains eligible for Nigeria after representing England only in a friendly match, has wholly failed to realise his promise; indeed, he had gone 38 matches without scoring for Bournemnouth before suddenly finding his feet in the Cherries' 4-1 rout of UEFA Champions League hopefuls Leicester City on Sunday.

Bournemouth scored four in 21 second-half minutes -- with Solanke scoring twice -- to end their nine-game winless streak after falling behind to Jamie Vardy's 23rd-minute opener, following a sharp assist from Kelechi Iheanacho, .

Solanke hadn't scored in the top flight for 788 days when he fired through Kasper Schmeichel's legs after being played through by Diego Rico in the 67th minute, and he added a second -- Bournemouth's fourth -- 20 minutes later, latching onto a wayward pass from Christian Fuchs, shimmying past a sprawling Ryan Bennett before finishing from close range.

These were the qualities that Solanke demonstrated all those years ago, when he appeared to have the world at his feet; the invention, the turn of pace, that ability to wriggle out of tight sports, and the hunger to jump on goalscoring opportunities.

"I'm just happy that [the goals] came now, in a time like this when we need to get goals," Solanke said on Sky Sports after the match.

"In the last few games we haven't quite managed to get them, but today the boys were on fire and we were ready to go.

"After you get a goal you have a lot of adrenaline and confidence, and that first goal probably gave me the boost to go and get the second.

"I got two good chances; sometimes you don't get them, but today I managed to get two and put them away, so I'm happy with that."

Bournemouth, like Villa, remain deep in the quagmire -- three points from the Hammers and the Hornets -- and Manchester City away on Wednesday will be a tough fixture.

Solanke must now build on this momentum and prove that Sunday's second-half wasn't a one-off event.

In Spain, Youssef En-Nesyri was among the goals as Sevilla booked their Champions League berth for next season with victory over Real Mallorca on Sunday, latching onto a long-range pass from his international teammate Yassine Bounou to secure a 2-0 triumphin the Primera Division.

The towering forward shrugged off the attentions of an opponent as he measured the goalkeeper's long punt forward, and allowed the ball to bounce before calmly lifting a left-footed half volley over the onrushing Manolo Reina.

The Morocco international hit the ground running after signing from Leganes for €20 million during the January transfer window, but he has struggled to rediscover his form since La Liga returned after the coronavirus suspension -- going nine goals without netting.

"I'm very happy with this goal after lockdown and we have to keep playing and giving our all, so we're all ready," he told Sevilla's official website. "I'm happy with the goal and the team's hard work.

"We have to keep working hard, when you have the opportunity to score, you have to score," he added. "When you get the first you have to keep scoring".

Major League Soccer, meanwhile, resumed in the U.S., with the first matches of the remodelled campaign kicking off on Thursday.

The Hell is Real derby between FC Cincinnati and Columbus Crew -- one of the standout fixtures of the MLS Is Back Tournament -- turned out to be a thoroughly one-sided affair, as Youness Mokhtar eclipsed Adrien Regattin in a head-to-head between two Moroccan forwards.

Mokhtar thrived while the latter struggled to impose himself on the contest, contributing an assist for Gyasi Zardes' first goal -- Columbus's second -- and scoring with a delightful curling right-footed effort on the hour mark that concluded the scoring in the Crew's 4-0 triumph.

Seemingly benefiting from a proper pre-season, the nomadic 28-year-old appeared to relish a central brief, tucking in from his typical role wide on the left flank, and helping Zardes and Lucas Zelarayan overload the Cincinnati centre backs.

Here, he saw much more of the ball, while there was less onus on him to beat the full back and send in a cross; instead, he worked between the lines, moved into channels, and fed Zardes with intelligent through-balls.

On the evidence of Sunday's showing, the pair -- along with Argentina's Zelarayan -- can help the Crew qualify for the Final Series.