Too little too late or a chance of salvation? Time running out for Villa
Words by Anish Dogra
Six games to go, six proverbial cup finals for the Villans to stave off an immediate return to the EFL Championship. It’s been an inconsistent season to say the least for the Villans having produced an exceptional run to reach the EFL cup final only narrowly losing to Manchester City after a decent display.
In the league, however, it has been a season of many lows with very few highs. The club find themselves in 18th place courtesy of goal difference after Bournemouth’s poor result against Newcastle. There was a case for optimism last night and a chance to leave the relegation zone but we’d have needed a 5-0 win by Chelsea over West Ham. Instead, the Hammers pulled off a result that seemed a bigger shock to them than it did to the rest of us. That left us one position off safety with all teams having played the same number of games.
To compound the club’s problems on the pitch thus far, Villa have lost 15 points this season from winning positions. Certain games in particular that will have hurt the club immensely were their results against Liverpool at home where they were leading until the 87th minute, Tottenham Hotspur at home losing out to a 94th minute winner from Heung-Min Son (with a broken arm) and Arsenal Away having led twice before conceding goals in the 81st and 84th minute.
Dean Smith’s side haven’t exactly shown the form since the restart to suggest they can thwart relegation having only earnt two points from their first four games back and only scoring two goals in the process. Not only that, the club’s next two fixtures are rather daunting with a trip to newly crowned Premier League champions Liverpool and a visit from Champions League chasing and in form Manchester United. So, what can the club do to ensure they are playing Premier League football next season?
First and foremost, Jack Grealish the club captain and one of the few bright sparks in this Villa side needs to start showing the form which saw him in contention of being called up to the England squad pre lockdown. The 24-year-old attacking midfielder who runs and bleeds Aston Villa since joining the club as a six-year-old needs to summon up the powers of Villa legends and captains in the past who had achieved glory in their time. Whilst the talented Englishman may be on his way out this summer amidst interest from both Manchester clubs, Villa’s number 10 most certainly has the elegance and craftiness to produce performances against the opposition that could prevent the club from returning to the EFL Championship promptly. The bigger problem, as we’ve known for a while, is that there is only one Jack Grealish in our side and the reliance on him is huge !
Perhaps one player waiting patiently in the barracks who could make a massive impact on the club’s fortunes is former Liverpool goalkeeper Pepe Reina. The former FA Cup winner who served as Liverpool’s number one goalkeeper for eight seasons before moving to Napoli in 2013 could be another spark that Villa desperately need for the remainder of the season. The Spanish keeper is currently Dean Smith’s second preference in goal as at the moment, Orjan Nyland is favoured and has started the last four matches.
The experience Reina offers in what has been an illustrious career for the Spaniard could prove crucial for Villa’s upcoming games. Spending eight seasons as Liverpool’s number one enabled the goalkeeper to establish himself as one of the best keepers in the Premier League and the understanding he will be able to provide of the league to his defence which is largely inexperienced could prove pivotal in Villa’s battle against relagation.
Goals, goals, goals. Those three words have largely summed up why Villa are in such a precarious position. Thus far, Aston Villa have conceded 60 goals in the division with no team having allowed in more this season.
Whilst Sam Allardyce has been portrayed as a negative and boring manager with dull tactics, one thing he cannot be questioned is his methods of ensuring his teams are rarely beaten and tough to break down. His appearance on Sky Sports’ Monday Night Football show back in 2017 highlighted how a club could ensure they are not relegated. In 15 years as a Premier League manager, the former England manager has never been sent down to the Championship.
One of the most obvious but simple methods he employed was keeping clean sheets, something Villa have only managed five times this season, the joint second lowest thus far. Clean sheets among other processes in Sam’s blueprint for survival could be another tactic Dean Smith may look to employ if Villa have any hope of avoiding relegation.
The timer is certainly running out of sand quickly and Aston Villa must ensure they do everything they possible can to avoid falling into the pit and back into the EFL Championship. Six games, six cup finals it’s do or die for the former European champions.