After picking up just four points from the last available 27, Aston Villa find themselves in the bottom three and precariously three points adrift of Southampton in 17th. The league table doesn’t exactly spell ‘Merry Christmas’ for Villa supporters.
The recent game against the Saints highlighted all the current issues with the team. They are a naive and a soft touch at the back, no team in the league has conceded more goals from set pieces and only two have conceded more goals.
Villa also present a lack of real constant threat going forward with their lone striker failing to register a shot on target in their last four games.
And anyone who was at Villa Park for the 3-1 loss at Southampton and saw the team booed off, know the honeymoon period is over for Dean Smith, and from now on, results will out weigh sentiment.
“It’s four Premier League defeats and four not great performances from us,” reflected Smith, at his pre-Norwich City press conference.
“That’s concerning, obviously, and the goals that we’ve been giving away. The performance against Southampton wasn’t great.”
Many Villa fans would have looked at the three Christmas fixtures against the then bottom three, expecting a rich harvest of points. Such complacency against an improving trio of teams, seemed to have infected the players going into a game against Southampton, which was perhaps the club’s most significant game since the play-off final.
Victory would have seen Villa above the relegation zone by three points and very much looking up at the three teams above them by only a point. Instead, they are two results away from those teams and psychologically now one of the favourites for relegation.
Yes, the Norwich City game is a ‘must win’, but the damage has already been done now mentally (and physically, with the loss of John McGinn) and the Canaries will fancy their chances.
“Every game is a must-win. We were in the bottom three when we went to Norwich earlier in the season and we beat them 5-1,” said Smith, trying to play down the situation.
The Villa Head Coach knows that Norwich were down to barebones that day with a makeshift defence, which they have now got back. While Villa got beat 4-1 at home to Leicester City, Norwich managed to get a 1-1 draw at the King Power stadium, the following day.
“I’m not saying that it’s going to be 5-1 on Boxing Day because they look a very much improved team,” admitted Smith.
“They’ve played well in their last two games and they’ve got a lot of injured players back.”
Unfortunately, as Norwich are on the road to improvement, Villa, as well as suffering a slump in form, have also lost two of their key players in Tyrone Mings and John McGinn for the clash.
While McGinn is out for around three months, at least Mings return is on the horizon. He’ll return to full training on Boxing Day, with a chance of lining up against Watford.
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“We’re always in a battle,” said Smith, of Villa’s current plight.
“Sometimes you have to take stock. We’re third bottom in the Premier League and in the semi-final of a major cup competition.”
“Sat here this time last year, we were a mid-table Championship team. We’ve come a long way in a short space of time, we had a big turnaround in the summer and we still need additions in January as well.”
Villa fans will at least be comforted to hear Smith talk up recruiting in January, after the club had previously suggested it would be a conservative transfer window. The needs are obvious, so hopefully the club will have players targeted that they can get in relatively swiftly.
Villa have to find some fight and heart for the battle ahead, as the concern is now real.
Smith though, says his team is primed for the fight ahead.
“We’re still working hard and battling on all fronts and that will continue. Our competitive edge has to be there whether we’re in the bottom three or the top three.”
Let’s hope Villa aren’t trying to find such an edge in the bottom three for too long.