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 played out a bore 0-0 draw with Brentford on Saturday, and it’s another case of maddening inconsistency from Steve Bruce’s side.
A day late, but really, that wasn’t inspiring enough for me to take time out of my college football Saturday. So we get xV on Monday instead!
It feels like every time Aston Villa take a step forward under Steve Bruce — see Norwich City or even Bristol City, to some degree — they just turn around and take another step back. Let’s dive in.
This should have been one of Brentford’s most difficult fixtures of the season. It wasn’t.
Aston Villa are one of this division’s most talented sides, if not the one with the most talent — there’s a double-digit-assist winger who can’t get a league game in this squad (more on him later) — and that should mean one thing for teams coming to Villa Park: they should be happy with a draw. Think about when Villa were in the Premier League, heading away to Old Trafford or Anfield; these were matches where you knew you had the inferior talent, and knew you were away from home. You never expected three points in these stages, and the onus was on Manchester United or Liverpool to get the game going.
While the talent disparity between Villa and Brentford is not as great as the talent disparity that existed between United or Liverpool and Villa, it’s still very clear and evident — the Bees’ squad is worth just £23.8 million, according to Transfermarkt. Villa’s is worth £85.2 million.
There is no reason and no excuse why Villa shouldn’t be the better side every single time they step out on the pitch at home against mid-table or lower-half sides like Brentford, and absolutely no reason they should get outplayed like they did Saturday. The visitors put five shots on target against Villa’s one, and were the better side in the xG charts put out by Experimental 3-6-1 and Ted Knutson, especially so in the latter chart (1.94–1.07).
The result itself is disappointing, but not the problem. The way the result was attained, however, was the problem. By virtue of being one of the division’s most talented sides, Aston Villa should be able to make Villa Park a much tougher ground than it is to win points at.
Sam Johnstone saved a point for Villa
This doesn’t need to be too in-depth, so let’s get it out of the way: Johnstone was big, and the only reason Aston Villa won a point Saturday. Whenever you concede five shots on target, and well past 1 xG, you’re especially pleased with a clean sheet.
Why isn’t Albert Adomah in the team?
Don’t get me wrong, I generally like Ahmed Elmohamady and think he was a good signing. A good depth signing, that is.
Adomah has a proven track record in this division — he was one of just three Championship players to record double-digit assists last season — and he’s found himself amongst the goals fairly consistently throughout his career for a player who typically plays in wide positions, and he was a key player for Villa last season.
Elmohamady has been fine. But when Villa are bereft of ideas and crying out for creativity in attack, banishing your most creative player to, well, wherever the hell it is players who don’t make the 18 sit, is just miserable, miserable management. Villa had something that worked with Adomah, who was one of the most consistent players. They’ve thrown it away for familiarity, or defensive presence, or some other line of crap Steve Bruce probably wants to spout.
It’s these types of personnel decisions that make one question if Bruce can ever right the ship at Villa.
I’m tired of underperforming
Leeds United hosted Burton Albion, and drilled them 5-0. Middlesbrough went away to Bolton Wanderers, winning 3-0. Wolves got a deserved win against Millwall, 1-0.
What do these three matches all have in common? They’re all examples of genuine promotion contenders taking the initiative, not letting their opponents get the point they came for, and getting the job done against relegation candidates.
While I think Brentford are a little better than Burton or Bolton, at least, they still aren’t a good side. Every time Villa drop points against a side that isn’t a promotion contender, they’re falling further and further back from the pace. That’s not promising by any means.
It’s about time to forget about automatic promotion
Of the last 10 teams to go up automatically from this division, just two have had fewer than 10 points six matches into the campaign: Bournemouth in 2015, and Brighton & Hove Albion last season. Both those clubs had eight points by this stage.
Villa are not out of it, no, but it’s hard to envision this team, managed by Steve Bruce, going on the type of extended run it would take to get Villa back on pace for automatic promotion. If you assume 90 points is good for automatic promotion, Villa will need to win 84 points from the remaining 46 matches, which seems markedly suboptimal and difficult to see happening. That looks something like going 25-9-6 the rest of the way. Do you think that’s possible? I think it is, just not with the current management.
Steve Bruce should have the rest of the month, at most, to save himself
Between now and the end of the month, Villa host Middlesbrough, Nottingham Forest and Bolton, while visiting Barnsley and Burton. I would say three wins is the minimum, with a draw thrown in. That would take Villa to 16 points through 11 matches, which while not great, is very manageable — Sheffield Wednesday were on 17 points at that stage last season, Fulham 14. Both made the play-offs.
But let’s say Bruce continues to sputter, winning one, drawing two, and losing another two. He has to go, right?
That would be just 11 points after 11 matches, only one point more than Roberto Di Matteo had when he was sacked nearly a year ago. And Bruce hasn’t (yet) lost points because his goalkeeper can’t kick the ball.
Jordan Veretout scored for Fiorentina yesterday
But tell me again how he wasn’t good enough to play for a mid-table Championship side.