Jonathan Kodjia Dean Smith
Whilst Dean Smith’s era has only just begun, collective and individual improvements are showing. We picked out five players who have improved under Smith at Aston Villa. 
Words by Regan Foy (@FindFoy)

Whilst Dean Smith’s tenure has realistically only just begun, vast improvements have been made to not only the collective style of play and attacking prowess, but these improvements are shown in individual players too. Whether they’re just more suited to this style of play, or they’ve learned something thanks to the collective coaching they have on offer.

There are five stand out players we’ve picked that have shown improvement during the games that Dean Smith has been at the helm;

5 – Conor Hourihane

At the start of the season, Conor Hourihane was barely getting a look into the side behind the likes of John McGinn and Birkir Bjarnason, other than a few appearances where late goals from himself probably ended up elongating Steve Bruce’s time at the club. 

Hourihane is still probably preferred less than Birkir Bjarnason in the holding role of the midfield three, but since Birkir’s injury, Hourihane has deputised well and is looking much better in this role than any time he had played a more defensive role under Steve Bruce.

He’s more adept in his tackle, tracks back well and often involves himself in a centre-back three when the ball is being played out of the back. His passing ability has never been questioned, but it has certainly improved.

4 – Orjan Nyland

The Norwegian goalkeeper left a lot to be desired under Steve Bruce, often making game-changing mistakes or questionable decisions. His ability as a goalkeeper is apparent, as shown by a number of quality saves – but under Bruce’s tenure Nyland looked bereft of confidence.

Since Dean Smith’s arrival, and the subsequent arrival of Neil Cutler as a goalkeeping coach, Nyland looks more assured when coming to claim a ball – an issue that was rather apparent beforehand. 

But not only this, his distribution has improved tenfold. Rather than just booting it long, or sending a skewed kick out for an opposition throw, Nyland often plays it short to the defenders, or throws it to a winger to attempt a counter-attack. This was evident a few times via balls to Albert Adomah during the Second City Derby.

He’s showing improvements, and will only get stronger.

3  – Albert Adomah

Albert Adomah looked to be a player far from the goal machine of last season at the start of the season, and whilst the winger hasn’t necessarily hit the heights that made him such a figure amongst Aston Villa fans, he’s playing much better under Dean Smith.

Playing on his preferred right hand side, Adomah looks strong on the ball and often takes on players with confidence. 

This was shown yesterday with two assists in the Second City Derby, the best of which was a well-weighted ball to the back post for Jack Grealish to head home.

Hopefully his injury isn’t too serious and he’ll be back in the squad sooner rather than later – but at least we may get more of a look at Anwar El Ghazi or Yannick Bolasie in his absence.

2 – Jonathan Kodjia

Jonathan Kodjia has endured a bit of a love-hate relationship with the Aston Villa faithful during what is now his three seasons at the club.

The first season saw Kodjia score close to twenty goals, whereas last season he spent the vast majority of time sidelined with injury.

This season, Kodjia has come up with a number of important goals, most notably against Brentford a few months back. 

But under Dean Smith, Kodjia has been performing playing as a left-winger rather than a striker – thus allowing Tammy Abraham to keep his role as striker. Kodjia now comes deep to collect the ball when needed, helps out defensively and looks far less lazy when off the ball.

More importantly perhaps, Jonathan Kodjia has learned that trying to take on his man isn’t the only way out of a situation and often plays passes to his team mates, something that has troubled supporters since his arrival.

1 – Neil Taylor

Neil Taylor has had a tumultuous time at Aston Villa since his arrival from Swansea, often under-performing and eventually losing his spot to Alan Hutton.

This season, and especially under Dean Smith, Neil Taylor looks as if he’s regained his confidence at the club – which would have been affected by poor performances and the horror challenge during internationals that kept Everton’s Seamus Coleman sidelined for some time. 

Under the Smith regime, Taylor has regained his spot at left back and has been an important factor this season. For one, it’s allowed Alan Hutton to return to his natural position, but Taylor has made some important game-saving tackles, blocks and decisions when his team mates have made mistakes or the opposition have been on the attack.

Not only that, but Taylor looks more confident in helping attacks too – often helping his left-side peer Jonathan Kodjia or Jack Grealish if the find themselves in trouble. 


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