One win in seven league games is just not good enough.
After yet another set of games that started with so much promise and ended up with the same old load of Balaban, it’s impossible not to wonder what’s going on in the players heads, and in the changing room.
What’s Going On?
Villa have spent the summer and the transfer window preparing the squad for the Championship. Out went the dead wood and the prima donnas. In came leaders, Championship experience, and two of the league’s top scorers from last season. Has this resolved Villa’s weekly repetition of the same old lapses in concentration and unwillingness to kill off games? No.
Obviously a whole new squad, in a whole new league, is bound to take time to gel but with every passing week the same old disappointments are deflating, to put it lightly. The international break should have been a mini-preseason that finally had the squad firing on all cylinders but instead we’re left wondering what Roberto Di Matteo’s plan is for this squad.
Much like a new squad, a new manager will take time to get his style across, but despite some improvement it is the things that are staying the same that are the most worrying.
The repeated collapses late in games from Villa suggest a lack of focus and motivation, and there has been little or no meaningful action from the manager during games to finish off opponents when they’re on the ropes.
Di Matteo needs to be more proactive and rather that being content when the team is up by one goal, tea cups should be flying around the dressing room insisting that the team puts their opposition to the sword when the chances are there instead of assuming our big club status will carry us through.
There’s even a trend developing in terms of conceding goals (and dropping points) in the following minutes:
85th (vs Sheff Wed)
86th (vs Huddersfield)
87th (vs Forest)
88th (vs Brentford)
That’s eight points thrown away in the last five minutes of games. Ridiculous.
Our midfield is admittedly and lightweight and thin on options but that doesn’t necessarily excuse lopsided tactics and the repeated unwillingness to play to the strengths of our players. In recent weeks Villa’s tactics have at times looked more like something that you would set up on FIFA than in a balanced professional team.
Throwing on all our attacking players is not the answer and reeks of a hope for the best mentality. The introduction of Rudy Gestede in place of Gardner at the weekend essentially had Villa playing 4-1-5, hardly a well structured line up to control a game long-term.
To give RDM the benefit of the doubt, he may change his approach when the likes of Tshibola and Adomah are fit, but he needs to start getting the best from our attacking talents in particular, even if that means sacrificing a few of them.
Jordan Ayew is the perfect example. Ayew is not a winger but is repeatedly deployed on the flanks. This leads to the Ghanaian constantly cutting inside for space, or finding himself in corners. For a player who is direct and hungry to score this makes him predictable and further frustrates a man who doesn’t exactly look content on his best days. Ayew thinks centrally, so having him stranded out on the wing negates the support and supply needed from out wide.
I would much rather leave someone like Ayew on the bench and have him as an option to come on in a more effective number 9 or 10 role later in the game. Having options in a squad is always preferable to throwing all of your attacking players on the pitch for the sake of it.
Wide Of The Mark
Another element of football that everyone on the books at Aston Villa seems to be completely oblivious to is the idea of width in a team. With Ayew coming into the middle repeatedly and Grealish showing a tendency to do so as well, Villa’s team is far too narrow.
This may help slightly with our lightweight centre but ultimately it prevents proper supply into the box, and over congests space around the edge of the box. It also makes it easy for teams to congest attacking spaces and park the bus against us.
Against Forest, there seemed to be a temporary realisation of this fact, which led to several chances and goals coming from crosses. Going forward Grealish and Adomah must be encouraged to get to the byline and deliver crosses.
Playing Amavi may also help as the young Frenchman loves to bomb up the wing with an energy and flair that Aly Cissokho will never possess, despite trying his best.
Today Rudy Gestede was left isolated up front, with a lack of deliveries that played to his strengths providing him with little opportunity to exert his physical presence.
A Source Of Hope
After just a couple of games Kodjia already looks like the best signing of the new regime. Despite the team still finding its feet, Kodjia has instantly begun to have an impact and looks likely to be involved in most of Villa’s more fruitful attacks.
Kodija brings physicality to Villa’s frontline, with more mobility than Gestede. He has Ayew’s directness without the overly selfish streak. He has proven goal scoring talent in the division and complimenting Ross McCormack’s strengths with his will doubtlessly be key in any Villa success this year.
Kodjia’s goal today was a screamer and he’s already becoming one of the few Villa players I’ve really liked in quite some time, with a few of the other new arrivals failing to fully catch my imagination yet.
It’s early in the season but gaps are beginning to form. Racking up back-to-back wins ASAP is vital. At this stage, a few wins could rocket us up the league but that won’t be the case for much longer, especially if our rivals continue to pick up points.
As a chorus of boos rang around Villa park at the final whistle of the Brentford game it was clear that the clock is already ticking. If I was Roberto Di Matteo and Steve Clarke I would be pulling out all the stops to turn this season around.
One win in seven league games is just not good enough.
Whether that means the hairdryer treatment, a tactical rethink, or hiring an exorcist to banish Villa’s demons remains to be seen. But with the impatience of the crowd and a new chairman with lofty ambitions, failure to learn from Villa’s motivational and structural flaws promptly could lead to yet another change in the dugout.
Hopefully things click soon. With a few wins the outlook will be much better, but meanwhile all eyes are beginning to fix firmly on RDM.
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