It’s three losses on the trot now for Aston Villa. The latest? A suffocating defeat against local rivals Wolves 2-1.
Here’s our talking points.
1. This loss hurts
No bones about it, this loss hurts. Villa were ineffective, Wolves were dominant. Everything worked for Wolves, nothing worked for Villa.
AVFC now spin into an international break looking a bit bereft. Any loss in a local match hurts, but within the context of the league, this one is sore.
2. Villa cannot be expansive without possession
Aston Villa have faced three expansive, possession-orientated, pressing teams and have fell to each one of them. A good first-half against Manchester City resulted in a loss. A strong 86 minutes against Liverpool resulted in a loss. A stunted second-half fightback against Wolves resulted in a loss.
There is a theme here - Villa have been the weaker side in all games. Playing Liverpool at home, they settled back and allowed Liverpool to attack. Their stand-off, containing approach forced Liverpool to the edge. Away at Wolves, Aston Villa attempted to get forward, fast and aggressively and almost exclusively ended each attack by plowing into a defender and starting a counter for the other side.
It is perhaps honourable, and brave, that Aston Villa want to attack every single team in this league. However, bravery is closely followed by naivety. Villa learned that they could contain teams like Liverpool, and failed to set out to contain Wolves. Instead, they pushed forward too hard, and allowed massive gaps at the back for wingers to exploit.
In these matches, Villa should not be scared to stand-off until they are sure they can push forward. Their bluster earned them nothing at all, and they lacked the possession of the ball that they need to attack with gusto.
3. You can’t allow Ruben Neves space to shoot
If you want to stop Wolves from winning games, you need to shut down the one player on their team who can hammer home low-percentage shots.
According to Wyscout data, Neves takes a lot of shots from outside the box, and scores a lot of goals from outside the box. He can hit the ball hard and with direct accuracy.
If there’s one player who will score from distance, if given the time, space and incentive to do so, it is Ruben Neves.
Neves was passed the ball from a set-piece, set up, and scored from outside the box. His shot was unstoppable, precisely because Villa had made it so that it was unstoppable. At the very least, it was incredibly naive to pin the entire team into the box and give Neves the room he needed.
Douglas Luiz could’ve stopped the shot with his head, but he moved out of the way, and the shot entered the net unchallenged but for the late palm of Ørjan Nyland. The goalkeeper had no chance at all, but the same can’t be said for the rest of his team who set up to allow that shot.
4. Of course Villa aren’t great without Grealish
Villa can be good without Jack Grealish, as I mentioned last week, but they need to adapt. Without Grealish, they cannot hold onto the ball. Without Grealish, they lack finesse in the final-third. To succeed without Grealish, Villa need to dirty their clean brand of football and disregard certain parts of their footballing philosophy as it cannot be carried out in full without Jack Grealish playing on the pitch.
Villa looked good against Liverpool as they relinquished possession and dug-in against a superior team. Lacking their best footballer, Villa tried to run at Wolves and caught a slap in the mouth.
It seems odd - without your captain, and the star of the team, how could you possibly set up the same way, in the same formation, and the same playing style? Aston Villa aren’t the cream of the crop and the depth is not so deep that they can simply replace Grealish and play the same way.
The worst thing about last week’s heartbreaking loss to Liverpool? That Villa learned nothing from it.
I’m sure this isn’t naivety, but it seems like it. Expect Grealish to be back for Villa’s match against Newcastle in a few weeks.
5. Trezeguet is at it again
October-November has been the story of one player above all at Aston Villa, and that’s Trezeguet. He has run his feet off for the Villa this month, and after he finally got off the mark for the club against Liverpool this week, he doubled up with another goal against Wolves.
He really is a joy to watch, and he is a player that wants to make things happen. He is full of self-belief and that should be celebrated, even if he is prone to a mistake or three. Out of all the Villa players, Trezeguet is perhaps the one that simply didn’t stop believing in the teams ability to turn the result around.
The rest should hold him up as an example. He’s an imperfect player, but he demands so much from the team, and is so expectant of success. After his goal crossed the line with a few minutes remaining, he demanded that the squad return and score. His passion is infectious and he’s getting better every match.
6. Crushing injuries
Villa’s match was ruined by their lack of self-belief, but injuries didn’t help at all. Villa were forced to make the two substitutions that in a normal match they’d never make as they took off Jed Steer and Matt Targett due to injury in the first half.
Their replacements weren’t bad - Neil Taylor and Nyland were serviceable - but Villa couldn’t boost their side in the second half due to the fact they’d used two of their three changes in the first half.
The injuries are now building for Aston Villa. Targett left with blurred vision due to a head injury, Jed Steer needs a scan on a achilles injury, Jack Grealish is still struggling with a muscle injury, first choice goalkeeper Tom Heaton also has a calf concern while Björn Engels is out due to a hip injury.
These shouldn’t all be long term injuries, but if they are aggravated over the busy December fixture list, Villa will have serious problems unless they can adapt.
7. Konsa’s debut
Ezri Konsa came into the Aston Villa lineup today for Björn Engels, and he didn’t really put a foot wrong in a difficult league debut.
No Villa player really shone at all - but Konsa was fairly classy in his first league game for Villa. He won three aerial duels, chipped in with tackles and clearances, and even managed to make a chance for Villa via a key pass.
Villa’s defense is deep. We know the quality of James Chester and Kortney Hause, as well as the outstanding abilities of Tyrone Mings and Engels. We can say with some certainty that this defense has a strong chance of surviving and injury crisis.
8. Wolves were well-drilled, Villa were clueless
The top teams in this game are the top teams because they are lethal in front of goal and stout at the back. In essence, this boils down to decision-making, and the speed at which decisions are made. Bad teams make poor decisions slowly, good teams make great decisions quickly.
More and more, Villa look like the former. Their attacking play is often effective, but it is ponderous. Villa looks confused and clueless when presented with possession in the opposite half.
Dean Smith decried Villa’s lack of movement during the match - but surely he has some tangible effect on Villa’s movement? The players did themselves no favours at all against Wolves, but the buck stops with Smith and his coaching team.
He certainly knows that. He’s an intelligent man, and a decent bloke to boot. He knows what’s up, and it is time for a change in these matches. Villa have no right to victory in these games, so it’s time to act like the weaker team and make it hard work for teams to beat us, especially when playing away from home.
9. It’s a good thing Villa have so many keepers
Villa have deep goalkeeping strength - even fourth-choice Lovre Kalinic is an international goalkeeper. It was thought that Villa would sell a keeper in the summer, and thankfully they didn’t.
With the signing of Tom Heaton over the summer, Jed Steer probably didn’t expect to start many games for the Villa this season. Double that for Ørjan Nyland, who probably didn’t expect to see the bench.
Well, Steer started and Nyland came in after Steer’s achilles injury. Both unexpectedly so. With Heaton and Steer’s injury, Villa’s oddly stacked goalkeeping department is something of a gift, and means they are covered.
At the end of the season, we might be quite grateful that Villa couldn’t shift a keeper in the summer.
10. Don’t overreact
Villa got crunched away from home, against well-drilled Europa League standard opposition. It happens, and especially so when you’re lacking your best player.
Furthermore, Villa also have a manager who is new to the Premier League and still adapting. Dean Smith is a promising coach, who has succeeded so far with Aston Villa. He led them to promotion last year and deserves so much room and respect from us. Calling for his head is naive and disrespectful.
Villa have lost three games, two away from home, against stronger teams. The context hurts, but it also illuminates.
11. Next up
The international break thankfully separates Villa from their next match against Newcastle. Villa need to regroup, replan, recover and find their place in this league. The break comes at a great time, so enjoy a break from league football folks.
Up the Villa.