Following a resilient defensive display against Southampton, Aston Villa fans felt rather optimistic regarding their game with West Ham United. It is safe to say the majority were left disappointed. Having been unlucky in the reverse fixture several months ago, it was an opportunity for Dean Smith’s squad to develop some momentum and also fire themselves into serious contention for European football next year. Sadly, the backlog of fixtures is seemingly now having an impact on Villa’s style of play and ability to remain engaged.
Villa set up in a 4-1-4-1 formation, which has led to a loss each time they used it this season, in a 4–3 loss to Southampton and a 2–1 defeat to Manchester United. This game was no different. Whilst Villa were unlucky against United, this game resembled
the Southampton game, in which Villa were simply off the pace. There were chances in the first half, with Ross Barkley pulling a shot wide and Ollie Watkins hitting the post. The fans know the side they saw in this game is far from what they have witnessed so far this season, so it is promising that Villa can still create chances even when playing badly. However, it didn’t help that Villa fell victim to Tomáš Souček’s fine form and Jesse Lingard’s career revival debut.
Grealish Kept Quiet
A combination of a less than successful formation and player fatigue was the root cause of Villa’s struggles in this game. They were overrun by a well organised David Moyes side, who deserves credit for their assured performance. West Ham overloaded the right-hand side with two defensive players and successfully kept Grealish fairly quiet. In the 80th minute Villa finally made a tactical change, pushing Grealish into the number 10 role and playing a 4-4-1-1. Unsurprisingly, this led to greater success for Grealish as he escaped the shackles of Ryan Fredericks, Vladimir Coufal and Souček. Shortly after this change, the Villa captain linked up with Ollie Watkins to score and offer Villa some hope. It was short-lived.
Villa allowed 11.79 passes per defensive action (PPDA), once again outlining the correlation between a low intensity press and a less than impressive performance. In the 4-1-4-1 formation Villa allowed 13.25 PPDA, and after switching to a 4-4-1-1 only allowed 4. The tactical change-up came too late for Villa, but it did allow them to have more control and gave them a glimmer of hope. Dean Smith will hopefully learn from this and make the necessary changes for the Arsenal game, while the players must hold on to the hope they experienced in the last ten minutes.
Man of the Match
In a miserable defeat there was one bright spark, Ollie Watkins. In terms of his first touch, hold up play and efforts on goal, it’s the sharpest he’s looked in a Villa shirt. With an 87.5% passing accuracy, hitting the woodwork early on, leading the squad in pressures with 19, and an emphatic finish to fire Villa back into the game, he was one of the few in this game who put in maximum effort. He display against West Ham shows exactly what he offers to this Villa squad, and why he was worth every penny.
After the game against Arsenal on Saturday, the Villa players will finally have a much needed week of rest after a long slate of midweek matches. This performance shouldn’t dishearten fans too much; it showed Villa can take their chances, and that a rest would be quite helpful. This squad are still an extraordinary transformation from the squad who on 15 June 2020 Statisca gave a 28.6% chance of survival.