MOMS looks at the reality of Aston Villa at this moment in time.
As the fixtures get harder, Aston Villa continue to shirk opportunities to pick up points, which threatens to see their season disappointingly fade out.
Hard Truths – Aston Villa Opinion
Prolonging the Proactive
As the second half wore on in the West Brom game, trailing 2-1, Villa didn’t look likely to get anything from the game. Yet, it took Dean Smith until the 78th minute to make any changes. Now, there’s no need to make changes for changes sake, but Villa were looking like a team that desperately needed to try something different.
Against Fulham, Smith had at least made his first changes on the 62′ and 67′ mark, and had brought all his subs on by the time he’d made one against the Albion. You could argue, he needed to make changes at half-time against Fulham, but at least he gave the likes of Trezeguet and Davis time to get into the game, before they came to Villa’s rescue. They also still had the time to win the game from a losing position.
Why did he wait against West Brom?
Based on this season, Smith and his Greek Chorus of Craig Shakespeare, John Terry, Neil Cutler and Richard O’Kelly, certainly aren’t known for their dynamic game-changing substitutes.
When you see the Villa coaching chorus standing together on the sidelines discussing things, you have to wonder if the Villa democratic process is dampening potential decisiveness.
Context and Perspective
It seems the media and football supporters outside of the Aston Villa bubble still carry the illusion that Villa are having a great season and are even in the hunt for Europe. It’s the narrative that seems to underpin most coverage of Villa matches. The reality now is after some frustratingly poor performances and results in 2021 (Sheffield United, Newcastle, Burnley etc), Villa now find themselves a lower half team.
Before the Liverpool and Manchester City brace of games, when you looked at Villa’s Premier League run-in, the odds certainly leaned towards Villa staying in the lower half of the table come the end of the season. Seven of their last nine fixtures were against top eight Premier League teams, leaving only matches against West Brom and Crystal Palace as the most likely for wins.
Of course, Villa lost to both Liverpool and Manchester City in the first of those fixtures, but were Villa resigned to that, before the games even kicked off? There just seemed to be a lack of conviction at times in both of the matches.
Villa were 1-0 up in both of those games. They were at 1-1 with seconds to go against Liverpool, while having a chance to potentially play a whole half against 10-men against Manchester City. Both Liverpool and City were below par and the games must be chalked down as a opportunity missed to at least pick up a couple of points.
Before the usual suspects scream “perspective” and “context”, and remind us that Villa only escaped relegation by one point last season and were playing the likes of Rotherham the season before that…what about Leeds United?
The season before, Villa pipped Leeds United to promotion. Last season, Leeds were a Championship side, yet in their recent identical back-to-back games, they managed to beat Manchester City with 10 men (never mind having a man advantage), and they fought back against Liverpool and made sure they got a point (before also earning a point against Manchester United).
Do you need more perspective?
First of all, remember Villa broke their transfer record in the summer and were one of the main spenders in this season’s transfer windows, so expectations were going to increase. Then, consider West Ham only finished four points ahead of Villa last season, but now find themselves 10 points above Villa and battling for the Champions League places.
Earlier on in the season with Villa flying high, most Villa fans would have probably rejected the hypothetical offer of being four points behind West Ham after 32 games. Now, if Villa were indeed four points behind the Hammers (on par to last season), Villa would be in a league position that realistically would have been considered a good season, after the outlay and early promise at the start of the season.
That’s context and perspective for you.
There’s no doubt that Villa’s performances in 2021 have taken the gloss off Villa’s season. Villa have now lost as many games as they’ve won (13), after winning the first four games of the season.
So what’s happened in 2021?
The Covid-19 outbreak amongst the squad certainly didn’t help, but Villa’s first match after their return from isolation was a decent performance against Manchester City, with Dean Smith confirming the running stats from the game suggested there were no ill-effects from Covid for his team.
It could be claimed that the break broke up Villa’s momentum after an unbeaten December (3W, 2D) put them 5th in the table with games in hand on the teams above. Last season’s Covid lockdown break actually allowed Villa to refocus and ultimately saved them from relegation, so such situations can be spun any which way.
What of other mitigating circumstances?
The injury to Ross Barkley was a big blow, especially when you consider the ghost of the player that he’s been since he returned. With Jack Grealish out injured for most of Barkley’s return, the Chelsea loanee now seems a lost soul.
Villa had been dropping points and were heading south in terms of their performances weeks before the Villa captain got injured. Perhaps the uncertainty surrounding his injury certainly hasn’t helped his teammates, but the overarching factor of losing your two original main catalysts has left the team short on attacking spark.
The failure to sign a second decent striking option in Wesley’s absence has compromised Villa for the second season running. Next season, Villa will probably rely on Wesley to be that striker, now he’s back. It’s important to get Wesley game time in the remaining games of this season, to bring him up to speed and evaluate how he now fits into the big picture going forward.
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If Villa’s season was flipped, and they had began the season with patchy performances and results, but finished it the way they played most of the first half of this season, then many Villa supporters would be optimistic and bullish about next season. But when the progress curve is dropping, there is obvious concern to how Villa have finished the season.
The projected return of fans will no doubt re-energise the team, but will it need another couple of top players to convince supporters the team can really kick-on?
Smith Out Nonsense
Whether the social media utterances are blatant “Smith is out of his depth” or veiled “I’m not Smith Out…but”, knee-jerk reactions of Villa not getting a positive result, show little respect and short-term thinking.
Never mind ‘Media Muppets’, but ‘Social Media Muppets’ are sometimes even more tiresome.
When you factor in all the circumstances stated above that have affected Villa’s season and consider the wild card nature of the season due to the pandemic (which if you want me to boil it down for you, football is literally going through the motions to honour TV rights deals), then it’s strange to find some supporters so triggered already.
Smith is still learning on the job in terms of the Premier League and has had a pandemic thrown in, to make it even more testing. Also, his Villa team, has on average, been the youngest starting XI of the league. Inconsistency at this stage is arguably to be expected.
Another Premier League season in the bank for the likes of Mings, Konsa, Luiz, Targett, McGinn and a first for Cash and Watkins, should only make the team stronger, when they return for 2021/22.
This is a Villa set-up very much at the start of its journey and potential.
The seeds have germinated, so now it’s time to give them room to grow.