Within touching distance of the play-off spots after a very positive unbeaten run, the season looks more promising for Aston Villa now, but there are still areas that need significant improvement if automatic promotion is the true aim.
Words by Matt Blogg (@Blogg_Matt)
After a stuttering start to the new season with just two wins from the first seven games, Villa have been playing catch up since the early stages of the new campaign, but the appointment of Dean Smith has seen the team regain form and climb up the table, currently sitting in 8th. Within touching distance of the play-off spots after a very positive unbeaten run, the season looks more promising for Villa now, but there are still areas that need significant improvement if automatic promotion is the true aim.
Last season’s success was built upon a strong and resolute defence, keeping 21 clean sheets in 46 league games. However, this season Villa have only kept 5 clean sheets in 22 league matches, and the leaky defence is costing the team precious points. 19 goals conceded at home is the worst record in the Championship and something that desperately needs addressing if promotion aspirations are serious, which they undoubtedly are.
Initially, at the time of writing, we had discussed the need for a new goalkeeper – and the club duly delivered with the signing of Croatian international Lovre Kalinic.
With our defence down to the bare bones, this is another area that needs improvement and additions. Both right and left back are positions that need looking at, with teams targeting our full backs as weak spots consistently. Alan Hutton splits opinion like nobody else and is either seen as irreplaceable or unplayable, and personally I think his time in the starting eleven should be over. Defensively he is naïve and his lack of natural defensive ability is costing the team on a regular basis. Both West Brom and Stoke’s main tactics were to target the Scot, whichever side he was on, and he was caught out in both matches, making mistakes that led directly to goals. It may be an unpopular opinion, and I will happily be proven wrong come May, but as long as Alan Hutton is in the team, Aston Villa will not get promoted. Defending needs to be a full-back’s priority, so for me Elmohamady and Taylor (when both fit) should be the starting full backs for Aston Villa. However, bringing in a left back in January would be a massive signing from Dean Smith, as having a natural left footer on that side when we are without Taylor (who has seemed revitalised since Smith’s arrival) is something that we miss hugely.
Finally, centre back. Steve Bruce let Elphick go on loan in the Summer and failed to land a replacement, much to the bewilderment of Villa fans, leaving the club with 2 recognised senior central defenders, and this is something that needs addressing critically. Luckily, it hasn’t seemed to hurt us too much as of yet, but one injury and our defence is wide open. James Collins and Gary Cahill are names that are being thrown around, and honestly, we might as well just get both. The cover is essential in a 46-game league season, and currently the 3rd choice centre back is either Bree, Revan or Jedinak, and once again, which one of them fills you with real confidence?
Attacking wise, Villa couldn’t be much better at the moment, with incredible depth and in-form players who strike fear into even the toughest defences in the league, so really it is just defensively that we need to strengthen. The goals are flying in at both ends in Villa games at the minute, and while the attackers are exciting every fan and justifying dreams of automatic promotion, the defence is reminding us that we aren’t the finished article and are still a way off achieving the goal that has stood since the day we were relegated.