Dean Smith needs to be applauded for his tactical decisions during Aston Villa’s unbeaten run, which has seen the side sitting a little more comfortably in the Sky Bet Championship table.
Words by Matt Blogg (@Blogg_Matt)
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In recent weeks, Villa have been in irrepressible form, winning eight out of eight and flying up the Championship table. The return of Grealish may be a huge reason for this, but Smith’s tactical nous cannot be over-looked.
With Villa on some of the best form in World football at present, it would be easy to simply look at their results and praise the players for achieving a fantastic feat in eight consecutive wins (and counting). However, despite playing some teams that, on paper, Villa would be expected to beat, Dean Smith has had to pull out some serious rabbits to do his part in maintaining Villa’s form. In what many expected to be the most comfortable game of the eight at Rotherham in the last away game, Villa recorded arguably their most impressive win, and a huge portion of the thanks has to go to the manager. Down to ten men after a dubious second yellow card for Tyrone Mings, and a goal down after Rotherham captain Will Vaulks smashed home the resultant penalty, Villa looked down and out at half time, with the game seemingly drifting away from them.
Cue Dean Smith’s tactical genius.
In the past, Villa would unquestionably have sat back, soaked up pressure and tried to catch Rotherham on the break, which simply would not have worked due to their discipline without the ball. Instead, Smith reacted rapidly, bringing Jedinak on for Adomah before the first half was even up. Then at the break, Smith changed the system, and it was this decision that won Villa the game. With a man less, Villa needed to fill the central positions more, and with El Ghazi playing in an unnaturally central position after the Mings red card, the pressure was on Smith. But he changed from a 4-3-3 to a 4-3-2 and suddenly, after the break, Villa were on top. Bringing Kodjia on was the perfect call by Smith, as the Ivorian completely changed the game and swung it in Villa’s favour. Obviously, it still took a moment of Grealish magic to win the game, but by taking the game to Rotherham instead of trying to ride our luck, Smith’s tactical decision gave Villa the chance, and ultimately won them three of their most important points this season.
It is not the first time this season that Smith has delivered when the pressure has been put on him, and it won’t be the last. On this run of form, the formation and system has been untouched, as you don’t fix what isn’t broken. But the rotation from Smith and the clever substitutions always seem to have an impact. For example: Bringing on McGinn against Blues won us the game, bringing on Kodjia won us the game against Rotherham, bringing on Green changed the game at home to Sheffield United and bringing in El Ghazi in recent weeks has really paid off with the Dutchman contributing consistently, most recently with the assist for Hourihane’s winner at home to Bristol City.
Arguably his best decision as Villa manager so far though has been making Grealish captain, something that Bruce apparently thought about but never went through with, and maybe he missed a trick. Frankly, Smith is answering every single call being thrown his way at the moment, and not a single head in that Villa camp can put a foot wrong, with confidence higher than ever and not a team in the league looking to forward to playing us, home or away.
Deservedly winning Manager of the Month for March after maximum points, Smith will be hoping for much of the same in April, and having already won the first three games this month, who would bet against us?