Steve Bruce’s Aston Villa scraped a win at home against Steve McClaren’s Derby County yesterday through a scrappy James Chester goal midway through the first half.
Yesterday’s win brought an end to a crushing ten game winless streak that almost brought the Villans into their second relegation battle in as many years, with many fans calling for the head of Steve Bruce and others choosing to single out the performances of players. Either way, Villa were in a freefall. However, that all seemed to change yesterday at 5pm in England as the final whistle flared up and Villans worldwide celebrated their first victory of 2017.
The stats tell a different story. While our eyes might have seen a performance full of spirit from our beloved Villans, the numbers show that Aston Villa were categorically played off of the Villa Park pitch by a Steve McClaren side that should have put Villa to the sword.
While I, like many others, am relieved that Villa finally picked up a win, there’s a seriously worrying undertone to our last game and despite going home with three points, there’s a lot to be frustrated about. Let’s take a look.
The number that worries me most about Aston Villa is their dreadful passing statistics. Aston Villa completed 57% of their passes yesterday while Derby County found that 81% of their passes hit home. Villa only made 249 passes compared to Derby’s 596.
This could be seen most on the wings of the pitch, which Derby overloaded with quick 1-2’s and of course, towards the end of the match where Derby players took turns in setting each other up for long strikes as Villa’s backline swayed like the defensive line on a foosball table.
Derby also enjoyed much of the ball, with a lion’s share of 71%. This meant that Aston Villa would regress to the role of the mouse with 29% of the football. Derby also deployed a fairly high line away at Villa which ensured that AVFC stayed pinned in their own half for much of the game. Derby also dominated on the wing but Neil Taylor had Alan Hutton managed to perform well.
Somewhat surprisingly, Villa were Derby’s equal with shots, with 12 to Derby’s 13 while Derby only managed one shot on target to Villa’s two. It’s there where Villa found the crucial difference - their chance was the one that went in. In fact, Villa were unlucky to not double their lead as Andre Green’s impressive header hit the post.
The weird thing about this game is the way in which Villa faded. Derby County were allowed to play total football away at Aston Villa. They beat Villa in the air and on the ground and were allowed to whatever they liked with the football. Eyewitnesses do say that Steve Bruce was practically begging his Villa team to push forward, but they seemed to refuse to do so. This might be purely psychological as Villa did grab an early lead and the players likely found it hard to adopt any attacking duties at all. The downside to locking yourself in your own half is that you allow opposite sides to do exactly like Derby did to Villa. You allow them to shape the game and honestly Derby will be gutted that they didn’t humiliate Villa today. It goes without saying that Villa’s defensive game was solid, but if you allow that amount of pressure to come to your door, it’s only a matter of time before a lucky goal goes in and destroys your confidence.
Another thing that damned Aston Villa against Derby is the excruciatingly poor decisions made by seemingly each and every player. This could be what explains Villa’s horrific passing accuracy and lack of goals. I think you’ll struggle to find another football team in the entire world that makes field decisions like Aston Villa do. I am finding it difficult to conjure up a remedy to Villa’s poor decision making, but I feel that allowing them to play a simpler and more natural way of football could stop Villa from trying to think outside of a box that doesn’t exist all of the time. Aston Villa have demonstrated incredibly poor footballing intelligence this year and seem to be unable to create moves of any sort, with goals coming from moments of individual talent and pure physicality than anything else. Villa shouldn’t be relying on Jack Grealish dribbles and Kodjia bursts for goals, they should be creating them naturally. Aston Villa have struggled to create goals through play for a long time and the last time I can remember Villa enjoying a full ninety minutes of solid football was the FA Cup semi-final against Liverpool a few years ago. There have been some brilliant moments of link-up play this year - namely Adomah and Kodjia against Fulham and the Ayew-McCormack-Gestede link up against Rotherham, but Villa’s goals aren’t coming through teamwork that often. It’s worrying and as the season seems to go on, it seems that Villa’s decision making in front of goal is dying out. Jonathan Kodjia and Albert Adomah are the main culprits here and flat out refused to play another footballer in on goal on an occasion each. This is absurdly detrimental to Aston Villa and despite his goals, Jonathan Kodjia is constantly attempting to create chances that simply are not there instead of playing the simple chance that works. This needs to change right now, as chances are currently at a premium for Aston Villa and if players like Kodjia and Adomah aren’t helping the team, they should not be playing - it is as brutally simple as that. That might seem unfair, particularly in the instance of Kodjia, but he has to play the simple pass to create a goal. If Villa played the simple pass in when on the break, we might seem the team pushing for the play-off spot. Kodjia’s goals have saved Villa this season, but the team shouldn’t need saving and likely wouldn’t be in this position if players chose to link up more. This poor decision making is above all the factor that is suffocating Aston Villa right now.
Now, one of the most common results in this season of the EFL Championship is a 1-0 result, which comes in 11% of the time. This could be the new thing going forward for Villa, but if they continue on this path, it will only take bad luck or a better team to turn them over to the most common result - the 2-1.
Aston Villa are quite fortunate that they come up against a team such as Bristol City next, on Tuesday, who could be quite capable of emulating Derby County’s display on Saturday. This means that Villa, and Bruce, can examine the issues of the Derby game (deep defensive line, lack of passing accuracy, refusal to create chances) and build on what was a lucky result to extend Villa’s single win into another unbeaten streak. Now, Derby could have put Villa away and Villa could have scored on three separate occasions, but if you’re going to let a team dictate the play at your ground, it’s only a matter of time before things fall apart.
If Villa can’t right the wrongs of the Derby win, they might find themselves regressing to the mean and enduring a tough end to the season. The three points gained against Derby may have sealed Villa’s safety, but the worst thing that could come of this is that Villa and Bruce rest on their laurels because a win glossed over some enormous fissures in their style of play.