Aston Villa are a great Championship side when they’re not ahead.
Just look at the last five matches as evidence of that. The Claret and Blues have, on four occasions, gained the lead. The fifth was a 0-0 draw.
But Villa have just four points — all in draws — from those five matches. That’s nine dropped points from winning positions. Or: The difference between sitting 17th, where Villa do, and topping the table.
And though you can mostly chalk the Nottingham Forest result up to luck, as well as perhaps the Sheffield Wednesday and Huddersfield Town ones, too, there’s been a bigger recent problem that’s developing: Villa just don’t do enough to keep the lion’s share of the play in the second half and, eventually, fall to pieces.
Of course, maybe part of this is, well, how the team is constructed.
In signing Jonathan Kodjia and Albert Adomah to sign the window, Villa have, like five of the division’s 10 best forwards — Jordan Ayew, Rudy Gestede and Ross McCormack were already here. Throw in Jack Grealish, who competes with the group for spots in the XI, and you have two first-team players anywhere else that have to be relegated to the bench each week, and that’s in an attack-minded side.
On the flip, let’s look at the midfield names. Perhaps Mile Jedinak is a top-10 central midfielder in the division, but nobody else comes close. Ashley Westwood? Nah. Aaron Tshibola? Perhaps someday, but not today. Gary Gardner? No way in hell.
And that’s not to say these guys suck or anything, but that the midfield simply doesn’t match up to the calibre of the forwards.
So until that’s fixed — which it can be in January, for instance — keep expecting this familiar storyline to play out. When both sides are going for it, or Villa at the least, the Claret and Blues are going to look like the class of the division. Because the attacking talent at Villa Park is the class of the division.
But once Villa get ahead, and their opponents have to take the front foot to attack and score goals, expect Villa to keep getting overrun. Because Villa’s midfield is far from being the class of the division.
Even when Villa change formation, to go with three central midfielders, they’re still getting overrun. See tonight against Brentford.
Villa spent more than everyone else in the division, yet has a team that looks fatally flawed right now. Quite frankly, it’s inexcusable recruitment.
While Kodjia is one hell of a talent — we saw that today — does adding him instead of Grealish really move the needle as much as his high-as-£15 million price tag suggest? When Adomah comes into the team for Gestede, how big of a step up are you really making?
Not as much as the one you could make by replacing Westwood or Gardner in the squad with a top-10 midfielder, that’s for sure.
If you were to assemble a lineup of any club’s best 11 players, ideally, it could at least somewhat resemble an actual tactical plan. But if you were to do that with Villa, you’d probably have three defenders, one defensive mid, an attacking mid and five forwards. That’s not conducive to actually winning football matches.
As long as Villa’s making changes like bringing Gardner, an average Championship midfielder at best, for Gestede, one of the division’s best forwards, don’t expect things to change. When Gestede and Grealish are on the bench to start a match while Westwood and Aly Cissokho still start, don’t expect things to change.
The balance just isn’t there. Which simply shouldn’t happen when you seriously outspend the rest of the league.