It just can’t go on like this.
Four defeats on the spin, three points off the drop… this, that and the other. The bottom line is this: Aston Villa just aren’t good enough at the minute and haven’t been for a long old while now.
Sunday’s Halloween horror show was the first time Dean Smith’s Villa have shipped four since that 4-0 thumping in the rain at Leicester when the pandemic, in effect, saved the Villa manager’s job.
The mood amongst the masses is very much the same as it was back in March 2020 knowing Villa are amidst an alarming winless rut they desperately need to get out of.
BirminghamLive’s Villa writer Ashley Preece was at Villa Park on Sunday and here are his talking points ahead of what’s looking like a huge one at Southampton on Friday ahead of the international break.
SMITH STATEMENTS FALLING ON DEAF EARS
“Players win football games not systems,” was a really telling quote in Smith’s pre-match interview with the boss in surprisingly good spirits.
Post-match, Smith declared how his side never deserved to lose 4-1, stressed how he saw an improvement, said it was a tight contest, criticised referee Chris Kavanagh and, when asked what his message was to supporters, simply said: “We will turn this around and get better.”
Smith added: “The perception probably outside the football club is very different to what it is at Bodymoor Heath. The players have a great belief in what they’re doing and what we’re doing.”
From the 15-minute collapse at Wolves to the body language in that first-half at Arsenal and once again at full-time last night, all is not rosy despite Smith’s claret and blue-tinted comments.
There’s genuine frustration amongst the group of players, we can all see that. Confidence is a huge issue as well.
It’s all snowballing into one big mess, from system changes to fitness issues and a worrying run of form.
I didn’t get the rallying cry I hoped for from Smith last night when asked about what his message would be to supporters. It was just excuses and another ‘we’ll get it right’. It’s been like that for weeks now and there’s not been one flicker of hope that Villa fans can cling onto.
Smith’s statements are beginning to fall on deaf ears because they’re simply not being backed up. The gaffer deserves time to get it right but we must, must see stark improvements down at St Mary’s this week because five losses on the bounce – with the squad Villa have – would be inexcusable.
“It’s not been anywhere near a disaster,” was what Smith told the press pack last week prior to his side’s 4-1 hammering. For me, it’s beginning to feel like we’re at crisis point.
COVID AND FITNESS ISSUES HARMING VILLA
Back to the manager momentarily and Smith said: “There are reasons why we’ve probably only got the 10 points from the 10 games. Some of them have been injury issues, Covid issues and some of our performances haven’t been good enough.”
There must be a sense of sympathy knowing October 31 was Leon Bailey’s first start of the season. The Jamaican is clearly not fit enough for 90 minutes at the moment and underwhelmed on his full debut.
Smith and Villa were also rocked prior to kick-off knowing Douglas Luiz and Danny Ings were both missing with respective injury and Covid issues, while the former was sat in the Corner Flag restaurant for the match alongside under-23 star Tim Iroegbunam, which hints at Ings having a Covid problem.
On top of that, Morgan Sanson and Jaden Philogene-Bidace are both ill, while Bertrand Traore continues to miss the match day squad following his thigh strain.
The chips have been down for Smith who’s been dealt some raw hands so far this season in terms of players being available. Jacob Ramsey now looks set to be out for a while too, while the abrupt departures of key men John Terry and Richard O’Kelly appear to be huge misses as the weeks go by.
MIDFIELD A MASSIVE PROBLEM AREA
Villa are currently conceding a goal every 30 minutes on average. Yet, it’s the same personnel in place at the back with Emi Martinez, Matty Cash, Tyrone Mings, Ezri Konsa and Matt Targett all starting most weeks.
The goalkeeper and defenders aren’t Villa’s biggest problem, though, it’s the midfield and what’s in front of them.
The alarm bells were set off last week when Arsenal centre-back Ben White was allowed to run at Villa’s goal from deep in his own half. Emile Smith Rowe did the exact same without a single challenge going in.
LINEKER REACTION: Gary Lineker piles in over Aston Villa red card as Ezri Konsa faces ban
Villa’s midfield on Sunday was Marvelous Nakamba (first PL start since bashing at Watford), John McGinn (gifted Arsenal two last week) and 36-year-old Ashley Young and that trio just isn’t good enough to compete with your Declan Rices or Tomas Souceks, as it proved. Thomas Partey and Sambi Lokonga were far too strong at Arsenal, likewise Leander Dendoncker and Ruben Neves who came on strong in the collapse against Wolves. Before that, Oliver Skipp and Pierre-Emile Hojbjerg were all too smart and savvy. Even Thomas Cleverley and 34-year-old Juraj Kucka were made to look like world-beaters way back on the opening day.
Smith’s Villa just cannot control football matches and it’s down to a near non-existent midfield which lacks genuine, elite-level quality on a consistent basis.
EUROPE, YOU’RE HAVING A LAUGH
European qualification was the aim amongst the hierarchy after Smith signed Ings, Bailey and Emi Buendia with the £100million Jack Grealish cash. Villa are simply a million and one miles away from that feat happening come May.
It’s Southampton, Brighton and Crystal Palace next up in November with all three closer to Europe than Villa at present (and not just on a map, either!).
It’s big-hitters Man City, Liverpool and then Leicester after that in December.
That trio of November fixtures appear huge now but we’ve been saying that for weeks in terms of fixtures.
Ezri Konsa will miss Friday’s clash at St Mary’s, which probably hints at Tyrone Mings and Axel Tuanzebe coming in.
I usually like to end on a positive but it’s hard to drag one away from that 4-1 beating on Sunday. 72 minutes in the tank will be good for Bailey is all I can eke out, while Ollie Watkins was back in the goals.
Villa’s squad is so thin at present, which was highlighted knowing four of Smith’s nine subs against West Ham were technically under-23 players.
But here’s to a good week. We need to see some fight, attitude and dare I say some nastiness from the players and staff. Villa are just rolling over far too often and it’s got to stop. Villa need to get back to winning ways – and quick.