Aston Villa are flying high in the Premier League at the moment and The Hard Tackle takes a look at the reasons behind this turnaround.
After avoiding relegation by a meagre point on the final day of the 2019/20 campaign, Aston Villa have exceeded all sorts of expectations coming into the 2020/21 season. After eight gameweeks, the Villans sit pretty on 6th place, three points from the top of the table and with a game in hand.
Aston Villa are scoring goals for fun and have the joint second highest goal difference in the league. Along with the goals, they boast the joint best defensive record as well. These records are phenomenal for a team that escaped relegation by the skin of their teeth the previous season.
Most #PL 𝗚𝗢𝗔𝗟𝗦 scored in 2020/21 so far:
2️⃣0️⃣ – Chelsea
1️⃣9️⃣ – Spurs
1️⃣8️⃣ – Aston Villa, Leicester, Liverpool pic.twitter.com/Ic6QAUEw5C
— Premier League (@premierleague) November 12, 2020
The resurgence of Aston Villa began back when Project Restart was kicking off, when football returned after a three-month hiatus forced by to the Coronavirus crisis. However, there were a lot of key factors that have allowed Villa to convert that run of form into a strong project and vie for long-term consistency.
Here at The Hard Tackle, we enumerate several reasons that played a role in making Aston Villa a force to reckon with.
Right before the suspension of the season due to the pandemic, Aston Villa, having just lost their previous four matches, sat in 19th position. Dean Smith’s job was under more scrutiny than ever. The Aston Villa board’s decision to stick with Smith throughout the lockdown paid off, as Aston Villa began Project Restart with a string of positive results and ultimately escaped relegation.
Having secured a place in the Premier League for the 2020/21 season, Dean Smith made sure he did not get carried away and reaffirmed that nobody at the club was satisfied with a 17th-placed finish.
Coming into the new season, the attention of CEO Christian Purslow changed from Head Coach, Dean Smith to Technical Director, Jesus Garcia Pitarch. The relation between the CEO and the Technical Director had soured over the topic of poor recruitment and Aston Villa hired the impressive Johan Lange.
Lange, with his pristine understanding of data, was the perfect fit for a modern club. Lange’s record at Danish FC Copenhagen was impressive as well. The appointment of Lange created a strong relationship between the coach, director and owner. This helped Villa develop a strategic plan to go into this season with better preparation and make a strong case for themselves.
👏🏻 Credit to Aston Villa they recognised a change was needed to work towards the clubs ambitions! 📈
— Beard Of The Match 🦁 (@BeardOfTheMatch) August 8, 2020
The appointment of Craig Shakespeare, last seen as the interim manager at Leicester City, as an assistant coach was also incredible business by the Villa board.
While Aston Villa’s recruitment in the previous season had been in abundance, there were several questionable deals. In the 2019/20 summer window, Villa spent approximately £100 million to bolster their squad for the Premier League.
However, their inclination towards signing players from the Belgian League earned a lot of criticism, with both Wesley and Mbwana Sammata finding life hard in the Premier League. Centre-back Engels and the multiple goalkeeper signings did not help their case either.
This season, however, Villa changed their approach and relied much more on the tried and tested players of England’s top two leagues. Addressing the goalkeeping department was important and the signing of Emiliano Martinez from Arsenal was shrewd business.
Martinez’s rise following the resumption of football was impressive, and at £20 million, it seems to be a bargain in today’s market. The investment has proven worthy, with Villa keeping a clean sheet in four of their first seven matches in the Premier League.
— Aston Villa (@AVFCOfficial) October 6, 2020
The signings of Ollie Watkins for from Brentford and Matty Cash from Nottingham Forest were extremely clever, with the duo making an instant impact at the club. Deadline day arrival Ross Barkley has proved pivotal as well, with the Chelsea loanee showing glimpses of his old self in a more familiar number 10 role. Bertrand Traore, signed from Lyon, has previously played in the Premier League for Chelsea and seems to be getting eased into the starting lineup.
With all the new signings, Aston Villa’s best bit of business has to be in securing new deals with Tyrone Mings and talisman Jack Grealish. These deals show a lot of intent from the club and are really healthy for the long-term future of the club. Villa’s ability to fend off interest from big clubs for their captain shows that they mean business and their performances this season can second that.
Dean Smith: The Man of The Hour
From almost losing his job to turning the tide at this club, Dean Smith deserves a lot of credit for Aston Villa’s resurgence in the past six months. The development of Tyrone Mings and Ezri Konsa has been phenomenal, with the duo looking extremely assured at the back for Aston Villa.
Douglas Luiz’s rise as a disciplined defensive midfielder has done wonders for both the player and the team. Luiz is now starting for the Brazilian national team, and Aston Villa are playing with a lot more freedom.
Aston Villa had the second worst defence in the Premier League last season, conceding 67 goals. There was no doubt that Villa needed to change things at the back. During the lockdown, it was Dean Smith who did a lot of homework. The Englishman studied Liverpool’s defensive structure and style of defending; he also emphasized upon the importance of a solid backline.
His role in bringing Ross Barkley back to his best will be an interesting one to watch, as Barkley attempts to find a spot in the England national team. Barkley has looked in tremendous touch under Smith, and the Aston Villa manager must really be complimented if the Chelsea loanee can continue this rich vein of form.
No longer a one-dimensional attack
Aston Villa were without a doubt a one-man show last season, and their over-reliance on Jack Grealish was evident while going forward. Teams could easily mark him and nullify major threats from Villa’s side.
The addition of Ross Barkley in the number 10 role and John McGinn’s return to peak form has allowed Grealish to receive the ball in much more dangerous areas. Grealish can now focus on scoring and creating goals and leave the ball progression to his able midfielders.
Aston Villa are firing on all cylinders, scoring in open play with every 7th shot and every 40 minutes on average.
The Lions sit sixth with a game in hand, which if won would take them top of the EPL on goal difference.
— Vizi Football (@ViziFootball) November 16, 2020
Ollie Watkins has added to the Aston Villa attack as well. He has the ability to hold the ball and run in behind the defence as well. He can create space for the likes of Barkley and Grealish, where the duo can combine and cause damage. Watkins’s predator-like instincts are a huge asset to this Villa attack as well.
Aston Villa lacked tenacity in their frontline last season. This time around, they look fierce. They have pace, silky skillfulness and are extremely clinical. Putting seven goals past the champions of England is an achievement to be proud of. Full-backs Matty Cash and Matt Targett also add an X-factor to the Villa attack.
— Aston Villa (@AVFCOfficial) November 9, 2020
Villa look very tight-knit as a unit. They combine beautifully going forward. McGinn and Luiz in midfield are a deadly pairing. McGinn adds to the attacking impetus as well while Luiz has impressed everyone with his performances in the middle of the park. Villa’s stability in defence and an answer to the goalkeeping conundrum has really helped them gain confidence from the back. Aston Villa look like a really exciting team this season, but it was surely a team effort.