Welcome back to Villa in Four Numbers! After a week's absence, we're back at the numerical look at how Paul Lambert's men are doing. Let's see what's up...
The number of shots on target Villa allowed in matches against Chelsea and Manchester City. More so in past matches, Villa bunkered down the last couple of weeks and it showed in their opponents' abilities to buck the trend of Villa not giving up good looks. Chelsea had eight, City seven, as the two put more shots on target than Villa's first five opponents combined (who put 13 on target).
After the Arsenal result, I said that there were realistically three, maybe four teams in this division that had the ability to strike like the Gunners did. Unfortunately for Villa, that was the first match of three in a row against said teams. We saw that a lot more against Chelsea and Manchester City when it came to giving up chances — but then again, a credible argument can be made that had Villa not conceded thrice in five minutes against Arsenal that the Gunners would have put more than just the three shots on target.
What does it mean though? In some ways, I think it has to do quite a bit with tactics. All things considered, Villa have been fairly defensive the last couple of outings and it might have something to do with that Arsenal result. Villa were pressing and perhaps the better side before Arsenal struck — it might have led Lambert to the belief that the only way to snatch points was to sit behind the ball and try and keep Chelsea and City's playmakers from having their day. It almost came off Saturday.
Another way to look at it is just the fact that Chelsea and City are really, really good offensively. It's tough to draw too much from these matches because you don't expect much from them — 10 points from 14 matches against the "top seven" is really the most you can expect and that means losing 10 times. You go in with the knowledge that you're going to have to be fortunate in order to win — tactics alone won't do it. And to add to all of that, Villa still have the second-best defensive performance score at Squawka in the Premier League this year, only behind Southampton.
The average number of fouls committed by Aston Villa each match this year. Villa committed the most fouls per game last year — nearly 13 per contest — but are through seven matches, the Premier League's second-cleanest side. This is... an astounding turnaround and probably has foundations in tactics and personnel.
Starting with the latter, Villa has better, more experienced defenders this year than in years past. Alan Hutton and Aly Cissokho are improvements on the revolving door of fullbacks Paul Lambert had to work with last year and as a result, it's not too out of the ordinary to expect fewer fouls.
But on the other hand, Villa's defensive tactics have something to do with it as well. Lambert's men have generally adopted a strategy that allows opponents to do what they want from outside the box, forcing them to do things like what Yaya Toure did Saturday. The defense is sitting back more than it has in past years and partially as a result, is not as dependent on breaking up the opponent's attack with cheap fouls in midfield.
Further, Villa's discipline record — 12 bookings, a third of which weren't even for poor tackles — shows a better, more organized defensive side. Obviously it's early, but if Villa can continue to defend effectively without fouling, it can only mean good things going forward.
Chances created by Aston Villa this season... all seven games. This is probably the most shocking statistic and it shows why Christian Benteke's return Saturday meant — and means — so much to this club. Paul Lambert's men have created just 36 chances on the season and while part of that is down to the tough recent run of fixtures, the Claret and Blues have not really been that adventurous going forward this year, save for the Hull City match.
To put it into perspective, Swansea City are second-lowest with 50. Manchester City and Chelsea (see earlier) have created 94 and 89 respectively. The low goalscoring record — four goals this year and none since Liverpool — is pretty clearly directly related to this.
Benteke coming back should, in theory, help this out to a certain extent but without an overhaul of Villa's system, it is not going to change that much. With all that said though, I cannot say that I have disagreed with Lambert's tactical approach to any of the fixtures this year. Stoke away is a very tough fixture in this league and the approach did the job. Newcastle typically have their way with Villa and of course, tactics against last season's top four usually aren't going to be that positive.
The Hull match — where Villa managed seven shots from inside the penalty area alone — will hopefully be a better reflection of this season's tactics than any of the other matches. Especially at home, if Villa start taking the match to sides like Sunderland, Burnley, etc., like they have at times failed to in the past, this number should look better.
Percentage of aerial duels won by Villa this season. This is really, really bad guys. But then again, it fails to be overly surprising. Christian Benteke recorded the second-most aerial duel wins in the Premier League last year, winning 220 in his 26 appearances (good for around one every ten minutes) and his absence has had a large impact on how Villa play. Early on, a staple of Villa's attack was — for no apparent reason — Cissokho or Hutton playing crosses in for Gabby Agbonlahor or Andi Weimann or whichever other guy that is not a target man happened to be in the box.
Realistically, looking at things, who really is on the pitch for Villa outside of the centre backs that has the capability to win duels at even a remotely consistent rate? Every once in a while, Weimann is able to get up and put a shot somewhere in the vicinity of the goal but it's not something you can base an attack off of.
Luckily for Lambert, Benteke is back and will probably start against Everton. But even with the big man playing in two-thirds of the matches last year, Villa still failed to win fewer than half of aerial duels. The rest of the team just isn't that good at them — and we're seeing that so far this year.