Welcome to Expected Villa (xV), a post-match column on the stats behind Villa’s results.
One of the reasons I really love looking at football through a mathematical lens is that it allows us to sidestep our conventional, results-based bias to take a look at how the match actually played out. Did it play out exactly how we saw? Which moments are emphasized?
Villa lost 2-0 away to an incredibly good Wolverhampton Wanderers side, but didn’t lose too much ground on the rest of the Championship on Saturday. That’s an alright end to a bad performance.
Just let Wolves go…
…because everyone else in this division has flaws.
Like Villa, Wolves have spent a lot of money to get out of this division, but unlike Villa, they’ve done it with a coherent plan for how they’re going to play. There are two reasons teams succeed: they have a superior system or superior talent. Wolves have both, playing good attacking football while arguably having five or six guys who could ultimately merit inclusion in a Best XI list at the end of the season. This isn’t just a Wolves side capable of winning 100+ points in the Championship this season, it’s a Wolves side good enough to finish in the top half of the Premier League right now.
But just about everybody else around the top had a bad weekend. Let’s recap some of these other results:
- Cardiff lost to Birmingham City
- Bristol City drew Burton Albion
- Fulham and Preston drew
- Leeds United lost to Reading
- Norwich City drew Hull City
- Ipswich Town lost to Sheffield United
- Middlesbrough drew Barnsley
- Sheffield Wednesday lost to Bolton Wanderers
Sheffield United was the only other top-half side to win yesterday. If you’re going to lose, best to do it on a weekend where your gap to second only grows by one point, you stay in your post on the table, and there’s no change to the team ahead of you in sixth.
As I wrote earlier in the week, I think Cardiff are very good. But as I didn’t write earlier in the week, I don’t think there’s a reason Villa can’t catch them. Same goes for everyone else ahead of them.
The Championship is one extremely good team, some good teams with flaws, and everyone else. Villa are not that extremely good team and that’s fine — because second place still gets you up, too. They are, however, one of those good teams with flaws. And right now, that’s fine.
Having no left-sided players is detrimental
Check out Villa’s pass map Saturday at 11tegen11 if you get a chance and, uh, we see the problem with Albert Adomah and Alan Hutton playing together down the left. I am a big fan of Adomah on the left, because it lets him cut in as an inverted winger on his right foot, and I do hope that any struggles that happen while Neil Taylor is out don’t take away his spot in the starting XI going forward. But teams are going to attack Hutton playing out of position down the left, and the chemistry going forward is never going to be good, either. I think this is another thing to remember — that Villa were playing a terrible fullback on the wrong side because of poor roster management.
You should never have four senior right backs and one senior left back. That just can’t happen.
Sometimes, it’s right to change a winning side
4-4-2 away from home, at the top team in the division, is silly. I love Keinan Davis and everything he’s done this year, but Conor Hourihane got trapped deeper in midfield, never touching the ball in or around the penalty area — in fact, the pass map shows that Hourihane sat deeper than Glenn Whelan, which is problematic.
It’s fine to admit that you’re not going to control play away from home, and Villa needed to do that Saturday. Play 4-3-3, keep yourself from being dominated in the midfield, and then make the change to 4-4-2 if you need a goal. Josh Onomah would’ve really helped Saturday, I think.
Let’s see how the rest of this run goes before making big judgements
I’m still not sure Steve Bruce is the man to get Villa up. But in his four-match win streak, he built up a lot of goodwill in my mind and showed that he can be the man who gets the job done when he takes the reins off this team.
One bad result, away to the best team in the league, shouldn’t reflect too poorly on him. If Villa fail to beat Fulham on Saturday and Blues the next week, then yeah, it’s time to start talking about his job security again. But bad matches and bad results happen, especially when you’re playing good teams. Not every loss is the end of the world. Villa have four big matches coming up before the next international break, and each of those matches will be more important in the long run than yesterday’s was.