Have to confess, never thought I’d be looking to this match as a supposed make-or-break affair for Dean Smith. But on the heels of four losses that find Villa in 15th with 10 matches played, here we are. According to some, anyway.
The reporting and rumors have been varied, from Dean’s safe to he’ll be gone if Villa lose tonight. We’ve seen the departures of John Terry and Richard O’Kelly blamed. We’ve heard (repeatedly) that Smith doesn’t know how to win without Grealish. That Villa have no identity. We’ve perhaps more to the point heard about the inadequacies of Villa’s midfield, the formations employed, or the players selected. Why we brought in Danny Ings instead of a midfield destroyer.
For my part, I don’t really think JT or ROK should make any difference at all in terms of coaching. I can’t imagine everyone’s forgotten what they may have learned. Whether their departures have affected training or the dressing room? Who knows.
I also don’t think Smith’s in over his head. As for “identity,” I’ve gone on at length as to what I think Smith’s football is about. But it clearly is a time of transition translating that into a side without Grealish, and that transition has been hampered in no small part by injuries, a disjointed preseason, international duties, and the like. Smith has hardly had available what we’d imagine a preferred starting XI might look like, never mind the chance to drill them all together with anywhere near enough regularity.
Take all of this, and I think that’s why we’ve seen 3-5-2. And I think it’s why someone like Buendia has struggled.
But football doesn’t seem to care. I’ve seen it said elsewhere, and I’ll agree about a culture of “instant gratification,” or, perhaps more accurately, unreasonable expectations.
Yes, there was as five-year plan, and we’re in Year Three. Losing the focal point of the club and a generational talent might set that back a bit. And while it may seem more like a relegation battle already, Villa could very well come storming back once everyone is fit, available, and Smith can pick his sides and system to make the most of what he has.
So, I’ve no idea what tonight really means for Smith and Villa. What I’d like to see, just like any other time Villa take the field, is commitment and the bigger desire to win.
With all the swirling talk, Smith will pick a side that may be his last. The players will know it. Whether he takes risks and places his future in the hands of lesser-known quantities like Morgan Sanson rather than John McGinn….Well, we’ll just have to see.
As Deano said in his presser yesterday, there are things we control and things we don’t. Me, I’ll be rooting for Villa and Smith. If it doesn’t go well and Compass decide to make a change, I’ll have faith they get it right.
Over to you.