Any team should be seeking to concede the fewest amount of goals possible. It seems like a pretty obvious point to make when discussing football, but it’s easier said than done. Unfortunately for Villa this season, it’s been a particularly challenging issue and it’s a trend that must be bucked if we are to start acruing more points and climbing away from the perilous situation we currently occupy.
Over the course of this season there have been a lot of positive aspects to draw on, but for all the positives there have been a few too many negatives ones. Unfortunately, we’ve rarely been able to knit together the positive aspects into a unified and consistent level of performance, instead those weaknesses have all too frequently affected our matches. The result has been far too many chances being created against us and that has led to our current unwanted position as the joint league leaders for goals conceded.
Alongside that unwanted statistic we also sit joint second in league defeats column too with Bournemouth. With these stats in mind, it’s perhaps unsurprising that we find ourselves fighting relegation. Seeing as we sit joint ninth in goals scored alongside Arsenal, and have the best goals for column in the bottom half, it’s clear where our primary issues lie.
We top the league in shots blocked, which is an admirable stat in one way for our defenders, but one which also points to the wider problem; that opposing teams are creating too many chances and getting far too many shots away against us. The more chances you concede at this level, the more likely you are going to concede goals and we have. 47 of them to date, and of perhaps greater concern is that they’ve been against virtually every team in the league as well, not just the best sides.
So why is it seemingly so easy to create chance against us, well considering that we’re in the bottom half for interceptions and tackles made it becomes a clearer issue. We’re not preventing or breaking down attacks effectively enough and that’s not just a defensive issue in isolation but incorporates the whole team.
Our midfield need to step up to a greater degree in helping to prevent opposition attacks from getting in at our defence and shutting down the goal scoring opportunities that we’ve been conceding too readily.Our conceding of an average of 17.6 shots per game this season is a league high (it’s even enough to put us in the top 5 of the main 5 European leagues) and simply put, conceding that many shots per game is a surefire recipe for creating problems.
We’re also averaging 44% possession in games and that’s a further issue for us, because it’s clear that we generally struggle out of possession but we’re also not controlling possession enough to counteract that weakness. We’re often a little too static in our off the ball movements and possession and allow ourselves to come under pressure leading to mistakes and turnovers. One of Johan Cruyff’s mentors, Vic Buckingham once defined football in simple terms, “If you’ve got the ball, keep it. The other side can’t score,” and barring some passback catastrophe he’s right. We could do worse than trying to implement a little of this mantra more assertively into our play.
The truth is our defensive weaknesses are a multidinous team issue; we currently don’t keep the ball well enough, we turnover the ball under pressure a little too easily, we’ve been guilty of being a little slow or casual in our build up play and allow ourselves to get caught out by hard working, smart teams with structured pressing games (which is quite a number of teams in the modern game).
Under the 4-3-3 system our midfield was often a little too easily bypassed by slick passing and moving, and the end result was a defence which spent good chunks of games under pressure and having to rely too often on last ditch blocking and goalkeeping prowess to save us.
Even when we have kept clean sheets this season, it hasn’t looked especially convinving. When we beat Norwich 1-0 on Boxing Day, we still allowed Norwich to create far too many presentable chances and only their profligacy gave us victory. When we came up against a top side like Manchester City, we were annihilated when giving away similar chances but we were still too easy to play against in both fixtures, just the opposition finishing quality was different.
The Man City game aside, our move to 3/5 at the back has generally made us a more solid outfit, but we’re still conceding too many goalscoring opportunities in games. I think we could definitely do with showing greater aggression and assertiveness in games at the very least to start dictating games to a greater degree. Getting on the front foot in games has eluded us in the league – with the exception of Norwich away – and setting better traps and pressing more aggressively from the front would certainly be a tactic we could better implement into our game, especially at home.
Objectively our issues are clear, it doesn’t mean it’s all hopeless though. Far from it, we’ve been able to consistently score goals and get results this season and we are currently outside of the drop zone, but we need to be realistic and honest about how we can improve. Time is running out to learn the hard lessons of this division, but with a concerted focus on our strengths and harder work on our weaknesses we can still improve plenty.
This isn’t a pessimist’s view, merely a realistic assessment of our current situation and the issues that are currently holding us back. This team has a lot to be positive about within it and there’s clearly plenty of spirit and fight left in them, as shown in our back to back stoppage time victories over Watford and Leicester. We can’t afford to feel sorry for ourselves when results go against us if we want to improve and maintain our status as a Premier League team. We are making progress, but we need to get out of the “one step forward, two steps back” form that has plagued our season to date if we are to climb away from the relegation zone.
By Jamie Yapp UTV