“Lots of teams have counter-attacked us or capitalised on errors from ourselves and we’ve fallen behind,” said Dean Smith, on Aston Villa’s recent defensive frailties.
Despite what Smith also said in his pre-Ipswich press conference about Villa being strong at home, the reality is Villa have been poor when you consider they have only won five of their 14 games at Villa Park and currently rank 13th in terms of home form – also their position in the Championship league table.
Under Smith, the team have also shipped on average of two goals a game at Villa Park. Currently, the bottom line to getting a win is that Villa will likely need to score three.
Home wins are the bread and butter of any promotion campaign, but Villa have mainly been serving up crusts this season.
Attacking and entertaining football is ultimately only successful when it leads to wins. As the Villa Head Coach alluded to in the top quote, Villa have been opened up too easily on the counter, be it against QPR, Forest, Leeds or Hull City.
Has Smith been too reckless and naive with his policy of focusing on attack?
High Line Aspirations
When one wants to play like Manchester City or Barcelona, one needs the quality players of those teams to pull it off successfully, or it can implode defensively. Execute a slack high press and suddenly you’re very vulnerable at the back to the counter.
Earlier in the season, Smith spoke about showing his Villa players clips of teams like Napoli, Juventus and Chelsea defending, in the search of improving the defence.
So far, things have only got worse.
In the latest MOMS podcast episode, we take a look at Villa’s defensive frailties and consider why with a manager, who was a centre-back as a player, who has an assistant coach like John Terry, who was one of the best defenders in England, has struggled to drill a team in the basics of defence.
Listen to Episode 62 below:
Aspiring to be like Liverpool and Manchester City
“Liverpool are the main flag-bearers at the moment [in] how hard the front three work to win the ball back,” reflected Smith, this week.
“When you can do that it alleviates the need to defend deeper in the pitch.
“Man City are good at it, too. They smother the ball when they lose it.
“Good counter-pressing teams do that,
“We have to do that better.”
Unfortunately Villa don’t have £50m+ fullbacks and have failed to maintain any intensity pressing with their top three. So is it fool hardy to try and replicate such tactics with his current personnel?
Shouldn’t it be more horses for courses?
There’s been talk of the solution to Smith’s problem will be getting his own players in, but stuck in the Championship will Villa be able to either attract and spend on players to successfully play the system and ideology?
While it’s great to see Smith wanting to apply such an ethos to the way he plays, he must also be practical and tighten up his team, which has been left far too wide open at times.
Yes, you can at times blame individual personnel, but there has also been tactical recklessness.
Is wanting to go gung-ho for a third goal when 2-0 up, rather than tightening up and trying to get the third on the counter, a wise policy?
At the moment, with any Championship squad of players, it’ll probably get you upper mid-table at best. To improve on that, a more astute attitude to preventing goals would certainly be most welcome from Smith and co.
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Episode 62 Show Notes
MOMS #62: 13th Unlucky for Aston Villa, as Promotion Hopes Drift
Aston Villa slip to the bottom half of the Championship table in 13th place as alarm bells about their promotion chances ring loud. Currently, Villa are starring a fourth straight season in the Championship in the eyes. David Michael, Chris Budd and Villa on Tour’s Max Stokes look at the events against Hull City and discuss the big issue of Villa’s failing defence. What exactly is John Terry’s role in all of this?
Also spygate, mass punishment of football supporters and recent Non-league goalkeeping antics are examined. While an Ipswich Town ultimatum is delivered, as well as end of season finish predictions for Villa.
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Regarding Dean Smith’s progress, there’s a fine line between developing a new playing philosophy and implementing a game plan based on the players ability and experience. Unfortunately, the style under Bruce was often too reserved; we were typically overly defensive (play-off final is a case in point) or were set-up to grind out a result when we could have really gone for the jugular and spanked teams. Smith is almost diametrically opposed to Bruce; we can be needlessly gung-ho (e.g. the 5-5 Forest game), failing to kill off a game and manage a lead effectively.
In addition, we have had no coherent transfer policy for buying players for certain roles or for playing a certain style. As a result, Smith has now inherited too many players that are ill suited to his style of play. Nonetheless, with the resources at hand (i.e. the best squad in the division), the play-offs are a minimum expectation.
To be fair I don’t think Helenio Herrera’s 1960’s Inter side could prevent conceding goals with the players Smith has available to him. Given this deep incompetence, attack may well be the best form of defence. Sadly the difference of late is that our one player able to hold the ball and pass it with effect is out with shin splints. That is the only difference between early season and now. Our current set of defenders have always been poor.
He made it work at Brentford on a significantly lower budget. I think he will get there.
I do think he could show more flexibility – maybe go to a 4-2-3-1 in Jack’s absence – sit McGinn deeper and play Green at 10. We only have three CM’ers who can play either side of a fulcrum in Jack, McGinn and Lansbury (Hourihane cannot – he doesn’t have the energy, drive or dynamism) and two of those are injured.
Some good points made (Phil), but the bottom line is he has been dealt a crap hand with key injuries & an inability to bring in (as yet) his own players. Look at how we were set up & playing when Jack & Alex were in the team, it is like night & day.
My biggest fear is that we do not get required transfers over the line & short sighted so & so’s start saying he is not the right man.
We will not get promoted this year, next year is our time, I only hope he is still holding the reigns.
I’d say it’s both.
Better players in certain positions – and let’s be honest, real solid improvement should not even be close to difficult on some of them – will help, because of course it will. At the same time, Smith has been guilty of the only thing I saw Brentford fans complain about him, which is being too rigid in his belief system. Long-term, that doesn’t concern me all that much, as he will (well, should) have the players to justify his stance. I can understand it being frustrating if we’re chasing the game and not getting it up the park quickly enough, but I’ll take that over emptying the midfield and lumping it up to five or six players standing in a horizontal line.
Short-term, it’s a much bigger problem.
It’s not just about the bad defence, either. Jack Grealish is so astronomically fundamental to our success that it literally impacts the defence almost as much as the attack. We keep the ball better, we keep the ball up the opposition end of the pitch much better and with someone who occupies their attention much more, we have someone who can carry the ball and take the pressure off, and so on. Whilst it’s pretty impossible to replace him like-for-like, we should have done a better job of working out how to accommodate his absence. Whether that would have been changing the system, been bolder/riskier (delete as appropriate, there’s no right or wrong answer!) in the transfer market, or maybe even simply using different players from within what we have, any of them would have surely given us a better fighting chance than simply trying to play the same way with Jack and Axel shaped holes in the side.
No plan B in evidence. Longer term have to train the Academy in plan A (and plan B).
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