Earlier in the season, opposition fans often criticised Aston Villa for having a distinct lack of ‘style’. It seems they’ve discovered it now when it matters most, with sprinkles of swagger on top.
Words by Alan Wilson (@VILLAlan54)
Since Villa’s relegation from the Premier League in 2016, three managers and one ‘caretaker’ have grabbed the rudder at Villa Park and desperately tried to turn the ship around and sail it back into the Premier League. The problem has been clear to see. Di Matteo and Bruce were both given the same remit – get Aston Villa back in the Premier League at any cost but achieve it quickly. This inherant impatience, has been an ugly bedfellow at Villa Park and in recent years has defined the job as a so called ‘Poisoned Chalice’. Both Di Matteo and Bruce went on expensive spending sprees, which of course changed the shape and look of the team, but failed to achieve what was needed most. Namely a settled team of players, playing a recognisable brand of football. How many times did we hear Steve Bruce say after a defeat “We all know that, at Aston Villa we are expected to do more than we did today and it was just not good enough”.
This was never more evident than in the painful play-off final last May, against Fulham. They had a young, fit team passing
the ball quickly and accurately. They traced patterns of play all over the Wembley turf, while Villa’s tired team of individuals
chased shadows all afternoon. Sadly, Villa were just not up to it.
Dean Smith’s arrival made a lot of Villa fans euphoric about having a ‘Villa fan’, and ‘one of our own’ in charge. What was even more intriguing, was the possibility of Smith bringing in a possession based style of play with long spells of ball retention, in the ‘style’ of his impressive, low budget Brentford team. Well, Smith and his coaching team are into their 5th month in charge now and what has happened? Early on, we saw the new broom sweeping clean with a couple of highly impressive 3-0 away wins at Derby and Middlesbrough, followed by some woefully inept displays causing Villa to tumble back down the table after a spate of frustrating draws.
However what we are now witnessing, is an impressive run of results that crucially has catapulted Villa into the play-off zone. But perhaps even more importantly, dare we believe, we are starting to see a defined style of play that is giving Aston Villa an identity, a brand of football. This has been very evident for all to see in the demolition of Derby County, the difficult but satisfying win at St Andrews, the commanding wins at Forest and again against Middlesbrough at home on Saturday. Patient accurate passing, pulling opposing players from one side of the pitch to the other, two or three lightening one-touch passes opening up gaps and sending team-mates down the flanks, or the centre. An unflapable determination to strike back if we concede a goal, typified by the resonse at Nottingham Forest last week.
Because we are alternating and creating runs into forward channels and the wings, we are now no longer reliant on one player (Abraham) to score all our goals. Instead, a variety of impressive finishing, from Grealish, Hourihane, El Ghazi, Adomah and the impressive John McGinn, who has perhaps profited most from this new style of play, as it has allowed him to maraud into advanced positions creating havoc, in and around the penalty area. Suddenly we are looking like Brentford did under Smith, but with much better players. Perhaps best of all, we are now no longer a bunch of individuals, but rather a cohesive team, working hard to tear opponents apart.
Sky Bet Championship, you had better keep looking over your shoulder, Aston Villa and its new brand of football is coming for you!