It's an abysmally slow news cycle right now, with almost nothing interesting about Aston Villa out there. But one thing has been on my mind since I wrote yesterday's By the Numbers post, and that's the team's vastly improved defense. I'm not going to get into a ton of analysis here, but I just felt it might be worth pointing out just how much better the back line is doing this year than last year.
In the most basic terms possible, the club isn't allowing goals. Currently, they've let up - on average - a goal every 82.5 minutes. Compare that to last year, when they gave up a goal every 46.6 minutes. Over the course of a season at the current rate, Villa should allow approximately 41 goals, or 28 fewer than they did last year. That is, frankly, incredible. Granted, the numbers are buoyed a bit by the 4 clean sheets the club has already had, but there is no sign that those were outlier events. Instead, they look like something we could become used to this year.
And even if we're unwilling to accept the Villa we've seen in the first eleven matches as the new normal -- and are thus expecting some form of regression -- it is almost certain that the club will still do better than last year. The single biggest hit to Villa's goals allowed came in the Chelsea nightmare that saw 8 get into the net. The team cut that number to 2 this year. In fact, they're already 16 goals better than they were through the corresponding fixtures last year. Sixteen. In eleven matches. Even regression isn't going to erase that number.
To be honest, I'm not even really sure what the difference is. For the most part, the back line is the same as we saw at the end of the year: Ron Vlaar, Joe Bennett, Ciaran Clark, and some combo of Antonio Luna and Leandro Bacuna are getting the bulk of the minutes. That's 3/4 the same group, and I think we'd all agree that the change (Luna/Bacuna) is the weakest part. And of course Brad Guzan is still in the net for Villa.
So what has changed? My best guess is that it's simply another year of experience for the players, both in general and working together. It's an amazing difference, and has been what has kept Villa above the relegation fray despite their total inability to score for more than seven hours. It's strange to think that the defense was widely thought of as Villa's biggest (or second biggest if you fretted about the midfield) problem coming into the season. It's even stranger to think that the one place we were all confident was in the attack. I still can't get over the fact that we were so wrong, and in such a funny way.