Following the loss to Chelsea, Villa go to St. James Park in what has become about as much of a must-win game as any match can be apart from a final-fixture showdown to avoid relegation.

Smith’s coming in for plenty of criticism following the restart. And if the papers are to be believed, he’s likely hearing much of what supporters are saying on the forums.

As far as Chelsea goes, Dean said he had them play off and not press high, otherwise they’d have been too open and shredded. Which is about as honest as it gets. And when you look at the game, that’s what you saw. Sit tight, funnel the play outside, deal with the balls into the box. Naturally, Chelsea finally broke through, but the lack of concentration and closure following Chelsea’s equalizer proved the difference. The deflection certainly wrong-footed Nyland.

So yeah, Chelsea had a lot of the ball. Almost all of it. But shots on target were only 5-4 to their favor, shots in the box, 8-6. It didn’t look pretty. But Villa were closer to getting something than all the possession and flair made it look. You could call it unfair, but if Jota’s touch sneaks in? May well have finished 2-2, and each side with 5 shots on goal.

Was there a lack of grit? Yes. A bit more fight for the ball in the middle would’ve helped break up the constant pressure. But we’ve seen this against top teams all season. The players show a bit too much respect until it’s a bit too late. And if we’re looking to Big Sam, he’d be trying much the same thing. Maybe he’d play a 4-4-2. That’s about the only difference. Davis and Samatta are isolated with Jack and Ghazi/Trez dropping back to defend, and it might well be that 4-4-2 would make a difference.

The issue is that Villa have got who they’ve got. We’re not deep, and our starting XI has to play flawlessly, up to the top of their ability, to get wins. And I’m still thinking that Villa having played a game before Chelsea didn’t help. A big exertion coming out of the gates, minimal recovery given the long layoff.

And while Smith sticking with 4-3-3 is consistent with how we’ve lined up much of the season, I’ll say again that 4-4-2 might simply not be an option this early in the restart. I don’t think either Davis or Samatta have 90 effective minutes in them. You could play them and bring on Vassilev and Baston, but my guess is that’s not who Smith wants to see out there in the last 20-30 minutes. We’ve read that he told Davis and Ally they’d be splitting time.

Excuses? Maybe. Reasons? Maybe. It’s true that we’ve had moments where we’ve looked good, but most of the season, we’ve not.

If I’d have been planning this out, I would’ve gone for the win against Sheffield, which we did, but didn’t get, and I’d have conserved energy and played for a draw against Chelsea. Which is largely what we did, and didn’t get. The restart is hardly fair to teams like Villa. Which isn’t to say life is fair, or sport. But a gassed starting XI with little quality to fall back on…Not like we have Tammy on the bench and are starting Giroud. Or can bring on a Barkley.

Hourihane or Nakamba? Well, we know Hourihane can score, and can deliver a wicked set piece ball. If you’re trying to win, you’re probably thinking you want that potential out on the pitch.

So…Here we are. I don’t think Dean will be out if we lose or draw. I think he’s here to the end. Do I think he’s lost the players? No more than I think the players are questioning themselves and whether they have the necessary quality.

Anyway. That’s me. I may be too forgiving, too optimistic. Feel free to lambast me…I know many disagree.

Small changes from Dean for this evening. Looks as though Jack will tuck in behind the front three, and Samatta will get the start. You may disagree with the tactics, but Smith is playing as many attacking players as he can.

Nyland, Konsa, Hause, Mings, Targett, McGinn, Luiz, Grealish, El Ghazi, Trezeguet, Samatta.

Over to you.

Comments 53

  1. Formation has worked better tonight but too many poor players to create good opportunities.

    At least people will stop asking why Trezeguet doesn’t start

  2. Smith insists on playing his favourites regardless of form or context… McGinn should never have started and the wingers are utter s**t.

    Defending unforgivable

  3. We should have won the game.

    We just cannot finish. It is ridiculous.

    We could have scored 2 goals in the first half.

    We should start with Samatta and Davis on Saturday

    Trez is a complete waste of space

  4. Frem,

    I didn’t think we looked clueless, tbh. Maybe just not good enough talent-wise, but the approach was fine. Got Jack in the middle like everyone wanted, the subs all contributed. He might see something there in what he finished up with on the pitch.

  5. RichardS,

    Yes, should’ve won, like Sheffield. Players have to take their chances, and they haven’t. But there’ve been enough to win games.

  6. Not clueless John, but Smith waits too long to change personnel and failed badly in starting with McGinn. It’s clear to all commentators that he is way off fitness and game awareness.

    Davis…can’t put in what God left out.

  7. We looked good to start today, too, Frem.

    Over the season, you’d have to say that if we’d taken more of the early chances we create, we wouldn’t be in trouble. We’ve often started fast, don’t score, and it seems to me like it gets in the players’ heads. I know I always feel like it’ll come back to haunt us, and it basically does.

    Should he have changed earlier? Could well be right. Will he start the next one the way we finished this one? Maybe. A lot of that’s going to depend on Wolves.

  8. Smith probably had nothing to do with the decision on the majority of signings so I have some sympathy with the (lack of) talent at his disposal.

    Where I feel he has failed is his stubbornness in not being willing to change the players or the formation around when the existing scenario is not working.

  9. PW,

    I get that, and you’re clearly far from alone. I think Dean’s pretty honest, but I’d like to know more about why he does what he does. I just try to ‘argue’ the side where he’s got the benefit of the doubt. Why? Because I don’t think he’s stupid. I just don’t get the sense when he talks about the game or performances that he doesn’t see what we’re criticizing.

    Might be giving him too credit. What I see so often is that we do well, or well enough, at whatever approach we’re trying. Nicked leads against a lot of the top clubs. The players just can’t see it out or get the second.

    Then there are the games where the players have just completely bottled it in terms of fight, been out-willed.

    Today, the thing that was frustrating me most was how many times the barcodes came away with the ball from a challenge, bounce, series of bounces. We just don’t have ball-winners.

    But I am very grateful for Luiz’s sudden improvement. He’s reading and reacting better, and we might well have lost all three but for his work.

  10. Yes John, there has been an inconsistency in the intensity and concentration during many games. To be relegated will be a crime because in truth the bottom 6, plus Newcastle, are very mediocre.

    We didn’t look second best to Toon or SU, but on the other hand we never look like we’ll win

  11. More failings from smith ,no natural right back playing then he blames konsa for goal easy young target
    Elgazi what does he do 3 matches 3 crosses sweet jesus
    McGinn dead on his feet from centre who would known that
    1 up front when everyone was crying out for 2
    As for smith not having a say in new players konsa target jota drinkwater his players shocking value,only player stood out over 3 games luis starting to look a class act
    Rant over again

  12. John.

    Agreed – Dougie has been quality – i have been impressed with his performances.

    Can we beat Wolves on Saturday?

    I do hope so.

    I t

  13. I’m not so sure it’s Dean’o who doesn’t have a clue or the players TBF. Sheffield and today we should of won had we taken our chances, and yes the Sheffield goal was a goal, we got away with one there. Chelsea, we were doing quite well until we scored, and then we sat back to far, defending to deep. After they got the second we looked the better team when pushing. Our only hope is three others are worse than us and we can invest in a couple of quality players this year instead of a team of average guys willing to put in a shift. Well that’s my two cents worth and look forward to Wolves the weekend, I haven’t missed a game yet since the restart and I still believe we can pull it off.

  14. With Konsa, I think he was afraid of giving up the penalty. Which, tbf, is a legitimate concern. But Mings would’ve gone down and either tackled him or blocked the shot. I don’t think Konsa had anyone else to worry about.

    But everyone on that side of the pitch totally lost concentration. We’ve seen that with subs a lot. It’s like they all expect the guys to take 10 minutes to get into the match instead of being like, “uh oh, new challenge, get on it.”

    I have to say, I knew from the second he was introduced that Gayle would score. He’s undone us many times.

  15. Hey, Canadian V.

    Yeah, our problem with the big clubs seems to be that we’ve gotten goals too early, and then we’re very poor trying to get the ball out and just settle it upfield when they dial up the pressure. Everyone’s deep, and there’s no good outlets. The CBs and DMs just eat up the clearances, etc., and recycle it at will.

    We we do get it out, we’re too anxious to break and score, fluff our lines every time.

    But. Like you, I still believe we can pull it off. We’re nudging closer on GD, and it might well come down to that. The Palace, Everton, Arsenal stretch…Gonna be big. Arsenal can be had, and we might just nick a point against Utd. A lot will depend on what Arsenal are playing for by then.

    With Pool thrashing CP, hope they finally clinch before we play. Never know, they may play with abandon and destroy us, or we could catch them with a bit of a hangover.

  16. Frem,

    I think it shows frustration as much as pressure.

    Individual errors and lapses in concentration have cost us so many points this season. However you set things up, tactics, effort, training, it all goes out the window when players allow preventable goals.

    Is it harsh to call him out? Maybe. But I know I’d be sick of it by now, and it was pretty clear watching who the one player responsible for that area was.

  17. Reflections on the game, the morning after. The Wai Ayes looked comfortable with the ball but didn’t create much. We should thank Spud for spending 40 million to replace Gayle. You just knew he would score when he came on.

    Better shape for me when Jack is in the middle. Dougie is playing well in his position. The problem lies with our 2 wide men, Trez and El Gassy. They are not contributing and we need those positions to contribute. They both needed hooking much earlier and hopefully benched for the weekend game.

    We ain’t down yet. But we are running out of games.

  18. Trez and AEG are simply not doing enough at present

    AEG frustrates me the most. He could do so much more.

    I simply don’t understand how pro footballers getting paid so much can spurn so many chances. The one Trez must last night was unforgivable.

    I would bring on Drinkwater against Wolves. He can pick a pass. He should be able to slide balls through for Samatta and Davis

  19. Plug,

    Yeah, I think it comes down to that, Trez and Ghazi. That’s the weak point, just not getting enough out of them. And we don’t need a lot, a goal here or there, better defensive work.

    Probably a lot of what Dean’s talking about when he refers to training ground players.

  20. Didn’t see the game just updates but I will take that point, I’d also take one on Saturday right now, as long as those around us keep losing.

    I am quite happy we haven’t gone gung ho as well. I think maybe Smith wants to build fitness and keep our players intact. Picking up draws is a good while we get a head of steam for the final 4 games which look better bets than the rest bar Newcastle.

    Might also be a surprise that we have had better XG (expected goals) in all three games (including Chelsea) than the opposition. We are just not putting those good chances in it seems. That means whatever tactics Smith is applying is working but he can’t kick the ball in for them. Also means the goals we have conceded are errors or deflections rather than exceptional chances.

  21. How many Villa fans cheering the name of Jay Rodriguez tonight. A great goal and a great win for Burnley, keeping Watford in the mix still!!

    Sean Dyche wants Villa to still be in Premiership when he is appointed as new manager.

  22. Hello all, its been a while. My nerves are a mess with these games coming thick and fast, 90 minutes of torture everytime.

    Not going into the games but the news that really pi**ed me off today was the players let go –

    While some of the kids were expected and McCormack welcome, I cannot believe we are letting Green and o’hare go. Purslow’s high and mighty logic would be fine if we were top half but staring relegation and the loss of so many players, can we really afford to let them go? Seems to be something that will come back to haunt us as it always does.

    Rant over

  23. Villalore- the Callum Ohare thing has been rumbling a while. He wants 1st team and at this point there is a very small chance he’d get it if we stay up but would probably feature if we don’t. The club is in a hole because their contracts are up end of June but the season is not. Doyle -hayes I like too, he will likely end up at Sheffield utd or the like. Green hasn’t really done much at Preston and I think he ended up at CF for charlton. Shame but these lad should of been blooded 3 years ago.

    I think that they could get an extension but won’t play for us again, fair play to Ohare he wants football that means something.

  24. MK – Well its a funny one with the delayed end of the season but it does leave us a little bare. Worst case (but likely) scenario that we go down, there will be an exodus out the door, we could have had a little stability with the boys who have been around the squad. Cant go through another rebuild so soon, another season up would have set us up nicely.

  25. Why is Smith still here?

    Lose tomorrow and he must be gone

    Get Dyche, what ever league we are in. Or go and get Howe

    Pay them what ever. Not the biggest fan of either but will take us further than Smith

    Ideally we’d get Potch long term

    But now, we need big Sam, not Smith

  26. Frem,
    I think Dyche will move at the end of the season, and Villa have been in talks with him, but whether he ends up with Villa is another matter.

    One thing for sure is that Brentford have hit form at the right time, and look like they will be the dark horses, and come in as champions of the Championship, because they refused to sell any players in the last window, and have kept their team together, with a great manager.

    Unfortunately, Villa have American involved in their ownership, and we all know that Americans think that soccer is a college sport played by young professionals, and do not have a real clue about proper player development.

  27. PP,

    Going to have to disagree with you there.

    While the stateside appreciation of football may be lacking, the overall sports-ownership perspective on money, results, evaluation, recruitment, training, nutrition, diet…It’s far more advanced. It’s a ruthless business, emphasis on business. The way soccer/football is handled, in general, is miles behind the way US professional sports are. There are exceptions. But read a dedicated NFL site, and you’ll see the metrics, the way it’s done. Ruthless. All stats are public, not just those from games: how much they can lift, their armspan, jump height, reach, 0-40 speed, whatever.

    And contracts? A Michah Richards simply cannot and does not happen. He’d have been cut loose after his first season. They give a recruit from college (who’s had 3-4 years experience playing at a high level) 2-3 years to prove himself. Often less. Depends on the assessment that goes into the draft after college. The higher you’re ranked, the more immediately you’re expected to become a starter.

    The big difference is relegation. In the states, they can put a team together over 3-5 years without worrying about relegation. And some never try: they’re guaranteed money and existence, after all. Edens, he’s guided his basketball team from nothing to something competitive. He knows philosophy and execution/results, watched it play out. But he’s had the luxury of not worrying about relegation. However, it’s not a difficult concept. Win now, in other words. And that’s an imperative in American sports given contracts, salary caps, free agency, etc.

    The sport itself doesn’t matter. The principles are the same. He’ll fire anyone in a second if they’re not getting it right. He also knows that you’ve got what you’ve got at a given moment. If he could spend like he wants to, and him and Sawiris could, we’d have all the targets we’ve drooled over.

    One other difference: college/university sports. These are the developmental leagues. You can watch players there, like against like, with all the pressure of professional leagues: money, titles, television, magazine covers, interviews, national championship games on prime-time TV in front of 100,000 and millions watching… all with kids 17-21. So much more pressure than the football youth system.

    In basketball, an 17-18yo kid will jump to the pros after one collegiate season if he’s got anywhere near what it takes. In American football, it will take 2-3 years for them to mature, learn, and develop physically (17-20) to ever stand a chance in the pros. If you’re 22 and not on one of 32 team’s rosters, you’ll never play professionally, let alone start. There are no Championship, L1 or L2 bargains. This is what Edens has grown up with: a PL + 0.5 worth’s of teams. The professional talent is sorted by the time they’re 19-21, max, and that comes out of hundreds of college teams, thousands of players.

    We’ll see what happens to Suso and Smith. But right now, he’s sticking with Smith, and Sawiris appears to be in agreement. Suso? He’ll be the bigger question mark, I’d think.

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