It’s yet another Premier League weekend where refereeing and VAR are dominating the after match talking points. Whilst I will not deny I am furious at referee Kevin Friend essentially deciding the spoils today, there are more pressing concerns for Dean Smith and Aston Villa to address.
Whilst a debateable two booking red card for Trezaguet and the inexplicable decision to chalk off Lansbury’s goal in injury time will be blamed for today’s defeat, going forward the coaches and players need to look inwardly to guard against these occurances.
As a fan, I love the fact that Smith is steadfast in his desire to provide us with an attacking and exciting brand of football, in our efforts to kick on in the top flight and so far, despite three defeats in 4 league matches, the signs are reasonably positive.
How long can the shoots of positivity continue to be referenced, if the defeats continue though? Will there come a point when a more pragmatic approach will be required for the purposes of self preservation?
This is the trap that expansive, forward thinking coaches like Smith can fall into in the Premier League, when they are caught between philosophy and results. Fortunately it would appear that Christian Purslow is prepared to take the hit in backing Smith, in order to establish the playing style, but what is already clear, is that we will need to be able to adapt far more, as even relatively average teams at this level, possess the knowhow to stifle attacking systems.
At home I wouldn’t change it. We absolutely should make every effort to impose ourselves on visitors to Villa Park, on the pitch and in the stands, with raucous, partisan atmospheres being created. If we lose, we lose, but we should be working to make Villa Park a fortress and be that team that other clubs dread visiting.
It is away from home, like today at Crystal Palace where we need to adapt and be more savvy. Midfield is a problem area in these situations, despite the obvious talents of McGinn and Grealish, they are being shown that they struggle to dominate the play in attacking areas. Both players want to push forward and have a tendency to empty the midfield readily, leaving us open to fast transitions in the case of a turnover.
With only one sitting midfielder, most recently Douglas Luiz, the counter press then becomes difficult. If we are pushed up high during a period of dominance , this is easier, however so far we have tended to be playing more on the break so no always positioned well to win it back.
This was a problem on occasions last season and Smith asked McGinn to sit in more. Of course though we want Grealish and McGinn to be our playmakers and clearly the defensive role would not make the most of their abilities.
Smith’s style is all about possession and playing football in dangerous areas. Not having the ball will be common for us this season and we need to be able to be effective out of possession, however somehow Smith needs to find a way to get our players on the ball more and in my opinion this involves playing with a second deep lying midfielder, or double pivot, particularly away from home and against top 6 teams.
I would not want Smith to be switching systems too much, but being able to flick from 4-3-3 to 4-2-3-1 would allow us to guard against being overrun in midfield as we have been today.
There are clearly options in the squad for this, with Conor Hourihane proving himself more than capable in a deeper role, with the added bonus of his assist and goal threat. Also Marvelous Nakamba, again conspicuous by his absence at Selhurst Park today, offers defensive energy and ability to break up play, alongside Douglas Luiz.
Naturally this may mean breaking up the McGinn and Grealish number 8 double act, but they are clearly not having the same influence that they had in the Championship, although I am confident that both will improve. It may require Grealish to adopt a more forward, inside left type position in certain matches, but plenty of top players have been asked to ‘do a job for the team’ and Jack should be no different.
This now is about the team. Whilst the glimmer of positivity are there and the team will improve over the season, results wise it has been a bad start, albeit by rights we should be a point better off. With West Ham, Burnley, Norwich and Brighton awaiting before we meet Man City and Liverpool consecutively, the next period is all about points, however they come. It is by no means panic time, but the intensity needs to ramp up now, so that the positive vibes at the club can continue to carry the team forward.