After an impressive win away at Leeds United, Aston Villa fans entered this midweek fixture with hope and optimism against bottom of the league struggles, Sheffield United.
Sadly, they were only greeted with another disappointing performance on a Wednesday night.
The question is, what went wrong?
The team selected was identical to the line-up against Leeds and this could possibly be the first issue.
It could be argued that if the system isn’t broke do not fix it, however, playing Leeds and playing Sheffield are two very different prospects.
Marvelous Nakamba possibly wasn’t needed in this game; on average Sheffield only have 43.86% possession.
Nakamba was extremely useful in the Leeds game in breaking up the play and although didn’t put a foot wrong in this game, Villa could have benefited from the sharp passing of Douglas Luiz to progress them forward.
A main issue as outlined by Dean Smith was Villa’s quality in the final third.
Villa attempted 45 crosses in this game and only 6 of them were accurate.
Ollie Watkins did almost score from one of them after his looping header hit the bar, however, for the majority of this game, his teammates failed to pick him out.
Playing against Sheffield United is an issue in itself, however, playing against Sheffield in a relegation fight with 10 men was destined to be even more of a scrap.
They recorded 20 blocks, 220 pressures, and 77 interceptions.
This defensive commitment paired with the majority of their players being in their own half, made it extremely difficult for a depleted Villa squad.
The graphic outlines the average positions of Sheffield.
This made it extremely difficult for Villa to carve out any chances.
When they did manage to create an opportunity, their poor quality in the final third let them down.
Villa did have chances, with an expected goals (xG) value of 1.44 xG.
Bertrand Traore should’ve done better after dribbling around what seemed like the entire Sheffield defense as he slotted his chance wide, but had an xG value of 0.40.
For reference, David McGoldrick’s goal only had a value of 0.41 xG.
John McGinn also did the same as he pulled his early chance wide, as well as Watkins hitting the crossbar.
It was clear in this game that Villa were missing Jack Grealish, which is to be expected.
On the other hand, they are also missing right-back, Matty Cash, who leads the Premier League in successful defensive actions per game with 13.57.
The goal came from McGinn and stand in right-back Ahmed Elmohamady failing to track McGoldrick as he ghosted into the box; the defensive presence of Cash could have prevented this happening.
There weren’t many positives, but one was McGinn looking back to his best and showing glimpses of the player that was so vital in the promotion season and the start of last season.
He recorded 63 passes (80.3% accuracy), four dribbles (100% successful), nine ground duels (88.8% successful), three aerials duels (100% won), and three shots blocked.
He was all over the pitch and this performance was promising from him.
Overall, it was a performance to forget for Dean Smith’s team.
The sooner Grealish and Cash are back the better as Villa face a big test on Saturday against Wolves and I expect Dean Smith will be demanding a reaction.