Dean Smith has shown us many emotions in 2020, from near despair in July when the extended Premier League finished to utter jubilation just a few months later when Villa destroyed champions Liverpool 7-2. What everyone wants to know is, how has Smith been able to turn things around so much and so quickly?
Aston Villa’s status that they would remain in the Premier League was only confirmed on the last weekend of last season after they drew 1-1 at West Ham. The club finished with a total of 35 points and only earned 1 more point than 18th placed Bournemouth- even the goal difference was only 1 out so everything could have changed on that final weekend.
It is interesting to note though that Villa did go their last four games of the season unbeaten quite a mean feat for a team who lost 21 games. With Villa’s participation safe for this season, from the outside it seemed as though Dean Smith’s team would be amongst the favourites to be relegated this season, a kind of well done, but maybe last seasons escapade was simply a stay of execution.
And yet here we are in November of the new season and after 8 games Aston Villa are in 6th place. They have been a regular top four side too though faced back to back defeats recently and that looked like the call for them to start slipping down the league table. Villa’s last game was away to Arsenal who have improved this season, the script had been written that Villa would now lose 3 games in a row and their 15 minutes of fame was about to be quashed. But Villa had other thoughts and out played Arsenal winning that game 3-0. Now we probably have to take Smith’s side seriously. After all they come into this weekend having already beaten Arsenal, Leicester and Liverpool.
So what has been the turn around at the club? In the summer Villa made 3 interesting buys bringing in Bertrand Traore from Lyon for £17m, Matty Cash from Nottingham Forest for £14m and Ollie Watkins from Brentford for £28m. The fee they paid Brentford for Watkins certainly raised many eyebrows, not because it felt like a steep transfer for a player playing lower league but because of the anticipation of who Villa have just had the confidence to splash that amount of money on a lower league player. And of course the fee was a club record.
Well Watkins is repaying his managers faith and has scored 6 league goals in seven appearances including a perfect hat trick against none other than Liverpool in that infamous 7-2 win over the Reds.
But while Villa were happy to splash the cash spending over £70m once you take out Watkins it has actually been the players that were already at the club that have made the most impact. Stand up Jack Grealish, a player who has been hyped for several seasons, his only problem being that he was playing in the Championship and nobody could really tell if he had the right level for the Premier League. After a debut season in the top flight which only saw flashes of his brilliance he has really turned it on for this season.
Grealish has been Aston Villa’s number 1 outstanding player so far. The midfielder has scored 4 goals and assisted in another five and his value in the fantasy football league is just 3.5m and he has amassed a total of 33 points already. He has a new found hunger and loves his free role that Smith has given him as play maker.
Ross Barkley has been another brilliant signing, the former Everton player was struggling to make an impact at Chelsea but has already done more in his work rate with Aston Villa in a few months than a few seasons at Stamford Bridge. He also grabbed an all important 3 points with the only goal when Villa beat Leicester 1-0 at King Power Stadium.
The biggest change for Villa though seems to be in their attack minded tactics. Last season the club looked to afraid to come out and just hoped to settle for draws, but with the attacking players at their disposal Smith has adopted a rule of attack first, and it seems to be working.
On the change up Smith said: “We always felt that if we retained our Premier League status, we could be more strategic in our planning this year.”
Villa certainly have been and at home they have adopted a 4-2-3-1 formation, but don’t be fooled into thinking that Villa are playing 1 up front. All three players in midfield are very capable of switching to attack and that has been telling giving that the club have scored 18 goals so far this season, only Tottenham and Chelsea have netted more.
This weekend Aston Villa will play Brighton at home where they will be the favourites to win and if they do they would go into 2nd place, so there is all to play for and all eyes will be on Dean Smith’s side this season as they try to finish in a European place.
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