I'm back visiting family in northeast Ohio. My grandmother still doesn't have the internet. So... here's four numbers coming to you from Barnes & Noble's free WiFi! Enjoy!
The number of times Charles N'Zogbia lost possession Monday. That's horrible. Especially from your pivot in the attacking midfield role.
Adam did a good job talking in-depth about how poor he was in his tactical review yesterday, but it's... really kind of shocking how poor he was. For the guy that was supposed to be the playmaker, he completed just eight passes and lost possession five times.
And I'll pose the question: How differently do we look at Monday's performance if N'Zogbia's even half-capable of performing, you know, his job at that attacking midfield spot? If he holds possession and makes smart decisions, Villa may very well have been able to snag another goal in the first half. And that completely changes how we look at the game — and our criticisms of Paul Lambert for playing "negative football."
But really, part of the reason we think of Villa's football as being so damn negative is just how poor the attack is in the final third. If Aly Cissokho could put in decent crosses or Charles N'Zogbia didn't look so damn lost on the ball, our perception of the attack would be a lot better — and those two things are more about personnel decisions rather than a tactical preference.
The percentage of games Villa have played against the top 12 teams in the table. When you think about it, Villa's difficulty of fixtures so far has been... insanely tough. Lambert's side has only failed to play Manchester United and Swansea City amongst the top 12, only playing Hull City and QPR outside of it (more on that later).
But why the cut-off at the top 12? For me, it's a very natural break. Each of the "big seven" clubs in the league reside in 12th place or higher right now and the five best "outsiders" — Southampton, Newcastle United, West Ham United, Swansea City, and Stoke City — also reside there.
So when people complain about "negative tactics," maybe it's worth looking at who Villa have played. These horrible, horrible tactics have Villa six points in four games against those top "outsiders," something I'll take no matter the tactics. The home point against Newcastle? That looks pretty good right now. So do the points against the Hammers and Saints, especially as they've helped the defense regain some confidence.
And when you look at Villa's games with Hull and QPR? Lambert's side came out trying to attack and go after a lesser opponent. It worked against Hull as Villa got two first-half goals and held on but while it didn't against QPR, the intent was still there. (This is where player performance hurts Villa.)
Average league position of Villa's next four opponents. Before the season started, I thought this would be a make-or-break stretch for Aston Villa. It still is.
Paul Lambert deserves these four games to try and go out and get wins. I mean, let's say he gets two wins and two draws — a perfectly reasonable expectation — in these two games. That gets Villa to 20 points (halfway to safety) two games early. Add in a win over Sunderland and a draw against Swans before the midway point and you'd only need 16 points in 19 games to get to 40 by the end of the year.
That would be easy to accomplish. And granted, you'll have to go out and probably play well at Burnley come Saturday — the Clarets are playing a little better — but these are the types of games you have to start consistently winning. There's nothing to indicate that Lambert will play for the draw in these four. And I'd really hope he won't.
The number of points Villa are on pace for this season... kind of. Instead of simply taking Villa's points per match right now (which is 1) and multiplying it by 38, I went about it a different way — and one that I feel is a little more accurate.
As I did before in a look-in before the season got underway, I split teams into two groups, the "Big Seven" and then everyone else.
While Saints especially have done a good job this year, they're still everyone else. The "Big Seven" — Arsenal, Chelsea, Everton, Liverpool Manchester City, Manchester United, and Spurs — are the clubs that no matter injuries, no matter tactics, will always have a talent edge on the rest of the clubs. They're the teams that have spent £25 million+ on players and it's always going to be a tough ask to beat them.
Let's take a look at how Villa are doing in these tiers so far...
|Results against...||So far...||Played||Remaining||On pace for...|
|"Big Seven"||1-0-5 (3 pts)||6||8||2-1-11 (7 pts)|
|Rest of League||2-3-1 (9 pts)||6||18||8-12-4 (36 pts)|
As we can see — and know — Villa's road so far this year has been tough. But based on results against "big" vs. "small" clubs, Lambert's side are doing well enough so far to secure survival by a few points.
But honestly? I think this is an underestimation of Villa's pace. They've played four of the five best teams from the "rest of the league" already and have managed to pick up points against them — one would think that the pace will improve against the rest of the league once Villa get to the midway point of the season.
And perhaps above all else, it shows the biggest step forward for Aston Villa this year. Against the teams that finished 9th-12th last year — the true mid-table — Villa were horrible. Two losses to Newcastle. Two losses to Stoke. Two losses to Palace. One singular point against Swans.
The teams that look like they'll fill those mid-table slots this year? Villa have points against some of the most-likely candidates in West Ham, Newcastle, and Stoke.
We'll take another look at this down the road, I'm sure, but I don't think it's quite time to panic right now. Villa are on pace to be fine. If not a little bit better.