After the Aston Villa shots per game pressure cooker, that built up against Burnley, finally broke against the Baggies, things are looking clearer on whether it will be a good, bad or ugly festive period for Aston Villa fans?
Until the mercurial Bertrand Traoré rolled one of the most gratifying finishes of the season into the West Bromwich Albion net, there was still a sense of apprehension among Villa fans in the recent trip to the Hawthorns.
Anyone who has supported Villa for any length of time will know their capabilities to find new and unusual ways of dropping points. The good thing, however, is the mentality of this current Villa team. After a season of not learning from mistakes, they now are absorbing previous match scenarios like a sponge.
After panicking against Brighton, the attacks against West Ham, Burnley and WBA were patient, probing and most of all sensible. I’ll get onto the finishing in a moment but the difference in attack pattern from Brighton to now is something else.
Against Brighton, it was kamikaze attacking of the ilk of Leeds. Everyone charged forward and left Villa open to the counter, time and time again. The games that have followed have seen a much more measured approach without sacrificing the incredible number of chances Villa are creating per game.
The Villa team are now top the league for shots per game at 16.2. Let’s just appreciate this number and think back to spells under Lambert, Garde, Black and McLeish. When you couple this with an average goals against of 1.04 in their previous 23 games, down from 2.17 in the previous 23 games, you have a recipe for sustained success even without looking at any other stats.
Things are all moving incrementally in the right direction for Villa, but they need to start making the most of all this good work.
With the stat of 16 shots a game, a ruthless team would be scoring at least four of these. Liverpool scored seven from their eight against Palace. Villa have scored 24 in their 12 games with the anomaly of their own seven. In short, Villa’s finishing isn’t too hot.
Watching Villa reminds me of a wildlife documentary where the predator catches their prey and instead of going for the kill, they toy with them for an eternity before letting them escape.
The Burnley game was peak Villa finishing, as chance after chance was overplayed, hit at the wrong time, blazed over or just fizzled into nothing. 28 shots in a match without scoring is criminal and no amount of sugar coating or hiding behind XG can mask it.
Another bad thing is the continued absence of Ross Barkley. He undoubtedly lifts Villa to another level, but if he continues to be absent into the new year, how good of a signing has he turned out to be?
He seems to be another example of Villa saying one thing in the media about the severity of injuries and reality proving different.
Hopefully, this doesn’t turn out to be another Grealish in the Championship situation, but then again that didn’t turn out too bad.
15% of Villa Face Coverings below
There was a time not so long ago where pundits were chosen for media duties on knowledge and impartiality. I used to wait every weekend to see what Alan Hansen made of teams defending and when he said terrible in that Scottish accent, you could take it as gospel.
What we have in the media now is an ugly race for engagement and subscriptions. Disliking something popular doesn’t make you cool, but it does generate heat online. Like classic wrestling bad guys, these pundits take the opposing view no matter how ridiculous it is.
The desperation is obvious everywhere. From drive-home talk shows to call-in shows after games, the ‘experts’ seeming at random have ridiculous takes and people bite. It’s the vocal equivalent of clickbait and it works.
This season’s obsession seems to be Leeds United. They were naive in the extreme and humbled against Manchester United. If you watched the entertaining match, you will know they were lucky to get out of it only conceding six. If you were late to the game though and listened to the commentary you would have thought they were unlucky to lose.
This isn’t a dig at Leeds in any way, you remember, of course, how good they were at Villa Park. The surreal commentary and subsequent media coverage no doubt had neutral football fans across the country open-mouthed as Martin Tyler, continued to praise their approach as wave after wave of United attack produced incredible saves from the Leeds keeper. I almost spat my tea out when he said they were everyone’s second team…
Yet there has to be some reason for all this. Is it as cynical as keeping Leeds fans who have sports package subscriptions happy or is it a deeper ploy to suck in fans of other clubs who see through the nonsense and understandably get annoyed?
Liverpool dismantled Crystal Palace, scoring seven goals yet there was scarcely a mention, that this just made them break even after Villa stuck seven in the minus column. If you checked social media after the match, it wasn’t 7-0 that was trending but 7-2.
Then there was an effort by Chris Sutton to put Jack Grealish in the ‘diver of the week’ segment of his show for the penalty against WBA, despite clear contact and a shove in the side. This during a week when Neto dived against Chelsea and Callum Wilson delayed falling over until he was in the box.
The ugly thing is, I’ve read Sutton’s recent book and this isn’t him, much like I’m sure many of the things these modern pundits are putting out in the media aren’t their actual beliefs because they just can’t be. If they changed their mind and their principles as much as they do now they’d never have made it in the dressing rooms of decades ago.
If only Alan Hansen was still on TV to dissect the Leeds defending against Manchester United. I’m sure the word ugly would have come up more than once.
Merry Christmas and UTV.