Four games into Project Restart and the Premier League is back in full swing, just not as we know it. In amongst the empty stadiums and socially distanced substitutes however, some things never change and Aston Villa are still in a relegation battle. It’s hard to know exactly how to feel regarding the team, especially as tensions are so high at the moment, but rest assured, I’m here to lay out some important strengths and weaknesses to consider after the first four games of the restart.
A ‘Midfield Maestro’ emerges
Amongst some relatively poor all-round performances, the quality of Douglas Luiz in the past 4 games cannot be underestimated. The defensive midfielder’s pin-point passing and ability to get the ball out of trouble has been particularly impressive in the first four games back.
With the current counter attacking style of football that Dean Smith has been deploying, Luiz has been nothing short of pivotal in kick starting counter attacks and tracking back to make sure we aren’t caught flat footed ourselves. His form has been exceptional since the restart and if Villa are to remain in the top flight there is no doubt that he’ll be a key player in bailing us out in threatening moments.
The winger conundrum
It’s no secret to any Villa fan who has watched the Dean Smith era of football that he has an unwavering commitment to the 4-3-3. However, one of the reasons we have struggled using this formation this season has been the quality of our wingers. This issue has become all the more prevalent over the past four games with El Ghazi and Trézéguet failing to provide service for Samatta and Davis and also presenting a clear lack of motivation to win the second ball and beat their man.
This has proved detrimental for Villa as we often get caught lacking pace on the counter attack. As a consequence of this, there is an obvious lack of goals up front and all the more risk of losing the ball and conceding. It’s no wonder that Smith was forced to bench both players in our most recent match against Wolves.
What we’re up against
Contrary to how the past four games have felt, they haven’t been the end of the world (dare I say they were positive?). When put into perspective we’ve earned the second most points out of the bottom five teams and we are only in the bottom three by a point.
Inconsistency at the back
Granted we’ve had some fairly poor performances and needless to say we have a tough run lined up for the last six games but in terms of our chances of survival, ours are as good as anyone else’s. Considering the current quality of our main opposition, it honestly could all come down to the last game of the season at West Ham. With it all on the line, Villa still have a great chance of survival despite our slow progress. At the end of the day, it is in our hands to get the points.
Not only is our current back four extremely inexperienced at Premier League level but it’s become clear that they’re also a liability. The experienced Elmohamady made an immediate impact against Newcastle when he came on, getting the all important equalising goal, proving to us once again, how important experience and maturity is in the Premier League.
Aside from the back four, Nyland has proved to be a liability between the sticks. Not only did he throw himself into the goal with the ball only getting bailed out by a freak technological issue but he also threw the ball straight into the path of Diogo Jota, once again getting away with what seemed like a sure goal. In addition to this, Nyland’s catching has been seriously unreliable and he is a real source of unnecessary pressure on an already overwhelmed and inexperienced back four (if only we had the experienced Tom Heaton to steady the ship once again).
The Premier League Survival Kit
It’s hard to narrow down all the areas where Villa need to improve at the minute, but I’d consider the following as the areas that need a major polish. First and foremost, we need to get Grealish involved in the game ASAP. As it stands our star man is getting isolated or marked out of games completely; a man to support him or someone to draw the opposition away is essential to kickstart us getting the vital goals we need against top six teams.
Secondly, we need experience in the back four immediately. As great as Guilbert has been he wouldn’t be my first choice to replace Konsa, a mature Elmohamady would be pivotal in organising the defence and stopping the boat from rocking too much in the tense moments (and with a cross like he has he could be a threat going forward too).
Finally, it’s time to bring Reina back. Granted he had been poor before lockdown, but his shot stopping has been exceptional and he is much more consistent than Nyland. The last thing we need is a shaky keeper if we end up 0-0 up against West Ham in the last minute and concede a penalty. Call me crazy but I don’t care who it is, I just want Premier League experience between those posts.
Times are hard in the world at the moment and it doesn’t quite seem normal in football, but it’s important to take the rough with the smooth and keep the faith. As hard as it’s been to watch Villa struggle for two points these past four games we’ve still had our fair share of personal victories. Let’s get behind the boys in claret and blue and take motivation from what we’ve learned since the return of football. They certainly need the support, now more than ever.
by Micky Lyons