Good Bad Ugly
With Aston Villa’s fortunes more good and less ugly nowadays, MOMS podcast contributor Phil Shaw resurrects ‘The Good, Bad & Ugly’, an old favourite MOMS column that started over eight years ago on the site…
By Phil Shaw
Sunshine at Villa Park, entertaining football and returning players, surely there’s nothing bad or ugly this week?
Villa vs West Brom was a very entertaining game. Something people had been saying about every Villa game until the turn of the year and the beginning of more frustrating times.
While it doesn’t tell you anything you shouldn’t be able to tell from actually watching, Villa’s XG creeped above 3 for the first time since the Crystal Palace game on Boxing Day.
The real killer in this lean period has been the lack of chances created and attacking intent, so to see that back, albeit against lower table opposition was welcome.
I mean it didn’t hit those heights against Newcastle x2, Sheffield United away or Fulham, so to complain about the intent of the attacking unit in this game is ignoring your eyes.
When Villa actually are shaken out of their normal plan, good things happen. Keinan Davis and hopefully the returning Wesley are both culture shocks to opposition defences.
When they come on, they don’t only change the formation up top, they reduce the numbers in midfield and put responsibility onto the fullbacks to deliver crosses.
If the opponents are coping easily with the Villa approach through Barkley or Grealish, when fit, the introduction of either Wesley or Davis at least forces the opposition to change.
It’s what other teams do against Villa.
Villan of the Week — Keinan Davis
While it would be tempting to be sentimental and say Wesley’s return to action after so long was the highlight of the week, it would be at the expense of Villa’s nearly man.
Keinan Davis, is a strange case. While it has long been levelled against him that he lacked the desire and instinct needed to score regular goals, the equaliser he got against the Albion was the opposite of that.
He gambled, and pounced after hesitation in their defence to get a true strikers’ goal. If he can somehow build on this in the limited minutes he gets on the pitch then he can nail down a future moving forward.
You may think with the above words that a 2-2 draw against West Bromwich Albion is something to be celebrated. It isn’t.
The running theme of Villa’s first season back in the Premier League, was failing to learn from mistakes and repeating the same individual errors.
This season it is failing to adapt to changing circumstances.
The Fulham game should have been the template for how to deal with falling behind in the second half.
Inject some energy into the team and throw on Davis to change the direction of attack. Copy and paste from the hour mark against the Baggies. So, why didn’t it happen?
You could argue that, it happened against Manchester City, before Matty Cash, self-destructed after chasing Phil Foden all over the pitch, and was ineffective.
It really is a question only Dean Smith can answer.
Taking off the claret and blue filter, it looks like Dean Smith, has a formation and a style of play that is his ideal, and he is trying to get to it and is accepting anomalies along the way.
There’s no other explanation for it, but with this approach, comes many obstacles, especially if the day of footballing nirvana never arrives.
Villa Home Shirts: Adults £17 & Kids £13.50
One of the obstacles a philosophical approach to football brings, is managing expectations of the board above you, the fanbase around you, and your players when things look ugly.
Dean Smith has the board side of things under control at the minute. First season promotion, second season survival, third season consolidation. No matter how you slice the season, that’s what he has achieved. So, he will be in charge until he stops hitting these milestones.
The players, as well, are as unified as I can remember ever seeing at Villa.
I’ve yet to see a single muttering of dissent from any member of the Villa squad. Even Conor Hourihane, who was discarded, speaks highly of Smith in interviews since he went to Swansea City on loan.
This harmony will surely be tested in the next few seasons, if Villa keep improving.
The Grealish transfer economy, which I won’t waste words on, will show Smith’s power over his players as will the continuing debates over where to play John McGinn.
Douglas Luiz is another who may be at odds with Smith, if, however unlikely it seems at the moment, City come calling.
Yet despite this, the stress Villa as a side have been under at the business end of the last two seasons, is a good indicator that Smith is an expert in relations with his players.
That only leaves one area where Smith is not enjoying 100% approval, the fans.
While the vast majority want Smith to remain, there are the beginnings of dissent appearing online.
Of course when stadiums are empty, this can fester as many would be put in their place by whoever was sitting around them at Villa Park.
Unfortunately, as we’ve seen in the last year, it doesn’t take much for people to listen to disinformation online.
If someone is saying Smith out at the minute, you need to treat it like the people who say the pandemic is a hoax, because despite areas about his management you can critique, the facts aren’t there to back it up.
I guarantee that if they were sitting across the table from him, the same people who were looking for Smith to be replaced at this stage, wouldn’t be able to say why, or come up with a solution…they’d just ask for a selfie.
With every manager, player or even owner, there comes a time to move on.
Like the film, you either die the hero, or live long enough to become the villain, ask Arsenal fans about Wenger.
Dean Smith is nowhere near this, and despite decisions that baffle some of us, he’s going nowhere, so you can discount #smithout until things are as ugly as they were before he arrived.
Follow Phil on Twitter here – @PRSGAME