The last time I wrote, Aston Villa frustrated me after two howlers cost us a share of the spoils against Bournemouth. Four matches later, my frustrations have only grown.
A win at Everton, yes, but a robbery and poor performance at Palace, an inability to score at home vs a ten-man West Ham, and a Spurs-esque sit-back collapse at the Emirates. Fact is, for a side battling for survival, we cannot afford to be dropping these points – and something needs to change soon, before it’s too late.
There are multiple components as to why we’ve been the architects of our own downfall this season. First, individual mistakes. Grealish at Spurs, Luiz and Heaton at Bournemouth, Engels twice and Mings at Arsenal. We’ve learnt the hard way that in the Premier League, you cannot get caught napping on the ball. You cannot give away easy passes. And yet, we’ve continued to do so all season. It isn’t as if we lack the quality to avoid them. For me, it’s the fear. We appear a team scared, intimidated by big teams and big stadiums with big-name players.
And it is that fear that causes problems in our team play. We did it at Spurs and did it at Arsenal – sat back for the last 30 like whipping boys, praying to concede less than five. Pathetic. And against West Ham, the win was there for the taking – They were down to 10 men and we couldn’t break them down. At home. Floodlights shining. Fans roaring the team on. Having spent £130m+, it seems that the money could not give these players the arrogance, the ruthless streak or the swagger that has given many teams success in the Premier League.
Take Wolves for example. Walked back into the Premier League and in their first year back took nothing for granted. They went into every match with every member of the lineup expecting a win; The manager expecting a win; The fans expecting a win. They finished 7th and are in the Europa League group stages. They had the arrogant air of swagger, combined with quality players and a great manager and system. It was those three factors that allowed them their success.
We have two of those. We have Smith and his attack-minded 433, which despite some doubts about its flexibility has worked. We did not need a second defensive midfielder at Tottenham or Arsenal, let alone shoving Grealish on the left. We have quality players, perhaps not to the same extent as Wolves, but I would argue that many of our team are Premier League quality. We are short up top, but that can be addressed in January – what we have for now can do in the short-term. We also have squad gelling to deal with, but that is going far better than it did for Fulham, so I do not foresee it as a factor in a potential relegation campaign.
The honest, biggest difference between Villa this season and Wolves last season is our lack of confidence. When we take leads, we panic. We do not know what to do. It turns into a game of boys against men. We do not have the swagger, the ruthlessness to close out a victory. We have dropped so many points from our opening few games that relegation rivals must be licking their lips. They’re thinking if we do that all season, then there’s only one result. And they’re right.
It needs to change, sooner rather than later. Whether the team need an old-fashioned “kick up the arse”, or a bit of time, remains to be seen. But two things are clear to me – time is finite in the Premier League, and we are at home to a relegation rival on Saturday. It’s clear what we have to do.