Where it's all gone wrong at Aston Villa – with Smith under pressure

Emi Buendia is struggling to replace Jack Grealish, John Terry is a big loss… and Wolves collapse spooked them: Where it’s all gone wrong at Aston Villa as they look to avoid a fifth straight defeat and save Dean Smith’s job

  • Aston Villa face Southampton on Friday looking to avoid a fifth straight defeat 
  • Dean Smith is under pressure and needs a positive performance and result
  • Sportsmail looks at where it’s all gone wrong for Smith in the last few months
  • Captain Jack Grealish was sold to Manchester City for £100m this summer
  • Assistant coaches John Terry and Richard O’Kelly have also left the club 

Dean Smith faces perhaps the defining moment of his three years as Aston Villa manager when they take on Southampton on Friday night. 

Defeat would be Villa’s fifth in a row and would leave Smith at risk of losing his job before Villa’s next game, against Brighton on November 15. 

Here Sportsmail looks at what is behind the Villa wobble.

Aston Villa captain Jack Grealish was snapped up by Manchester City – he has been a big loss 

Defeat on Friday would be Villa’s fifth in a row and would leave Smith at risk of losing his job

Villa used the £100million Manchester City paid them for Grealish to buy Emiliano Buendia, Danny Ings and Leon Bailey but they have yet to fill the void left by their former captain. 

With Grealish in the team last season, Villa averaged 1.8 points per game. Without him, it was 1.08. 

Injuries have restricted the new trio to barely 30 minutes on the pitch together this term – but Ings has only three goals in nine matches and is now injured and Bailey still does not look fit. 

As for Buendia, the record signing took Grealish’s No 10 shirt and while it is early days, he has done little to suggest he will be at the same level. Why go for Buendia when Matheus Pereira, who had 11 goals and six assists for West Brom last season, was available for a lower fee?

Emi Buendia is struggling to replace Grealish and live up to his £40m price-tag

Coaching changes 

John Terry and Richard O’Kelly left Villa shortly before the season started, with Austin MacPhee arriving as set-piece coach and Aaron Danks joining in the September international break. 

There were clear reasons: Smith had worked with a set-piece coach at Brentford and also wanted younger voices – Danks is 36, MacPhee 42 – on his coaching team. It was felt O’Kelly’s influence had waned since promotion in 2019 while Terry wants to be a manager. 

Yet Terry is a loss: though he rarely took training sessions, the players liked him and respected his achievements, with defenders Ezri Konsa and Tyrone Mings praising his influence. It will take time for Danks and MacPhee to gain that status within the squad.

John Terry (centre) has been a big loss for Aston Villa as he had a close bond with the players

Pre-season problems

Grealish did not join City until early August, meaning the saga ran throughout the summer and was a distraction. Then a Covid case forced Smith into isolation in late July so he missed a part of pre-season. 

The pre-season friendly with Sevilla, scheduled for the Saturday before the season started was cancelled, because of a coronavirus outbreak at the Spanish club. A match was quickly arranged against newly-promoted Italian club Salernitana – far weaker opposition than Sevilla. 

O’Kelly is thought to have rejected a new role overseeing Villa’s younger players which meant he did not officially depart until two days before Villa’s season opener at Watford. Villa produced a grim display and lost 3-2 – which was no surprise given the preparations they had had.  

Smith endured a difficult pre-season and is now fighting to save his job as Villa manager

Absences and tactical tweaks

One of Smith’s plans to compensate for Grealish’s absence was to make his team more adaptable, after they played 4-2-3-1 for virtually the whole of last season. It is a logical aim but has cost Villa at both ends of the pitch. 

They have let in 19 goals in 10 matches this season, compared with 46 in the whole of the last campaign – and Smith was alarmed enough to drop Mings, his captain, for the home defeat by West Ham. 

Their average expected goals tally – a metric Smith places huge value on – is 1.1 per game, and has never been above 1.5 in a single match. 

In mitigation, at different times Smith has been without Ollie Watkins, Douglas Luiz, Morgan Sanson, Ings and Bailey, while goalkeeper Emiliano Martinez had made three trips to South America since the start of the season. 

England defender Tyrone Mings was dropped for the defeat West Ham after poor form

Smith will want to be judged when he can put his strongest XI on the pitch, but it is starting to look increasingly unlikely that he’ll ever get that chance.

Wolves collapse

On October 16, Villa were 2-0 up with 10 minutes to go at home to Wolves and looked secure. 

Somehow, they lost 3-2. Smith denied at the time that his players had shown mental weakness but it is starting to look like a key moment in Villa’s season, with the next two matches producing poor displays and 3-1 and 4-1 defeats by Arsenal and West Ham respectively. 

One way or another, that collapse seems to have spooked Villa and as they approach Southampton, they desperately need to calm their nerves.

Aston Villa players react as Wolves go 3-2 up at Villa Park last month, having trailed 2-0

Share this article

Source: Read Full Article