Through four games under Dean Smith, it’s clear there’s an evolution in style of play.
A comfortable 2-0 win against a Bolton side struggling to score and rediscover their early season peak may not seem to be much of a turning point for Aston Villa. But, in my opinion, it was another game where the new style implemented by Dean Smith was really visible to everyone watching. There was plenty of fluid movement, especially in midfield and in the wide areas, where, more passes went to a Villa shirt with the ball spending far less time in the air. There was some tangible end product to finish off attacks.
As early as the 4th minute, Tammy Abraham picked up the ball with his back to goal, turned his man, looked out and found the clever run of Jack Grealish between the two Bolton centre-backs. He slotted it home for his first of the season. The fans have been pleading with Grealish to add more goals to his game by getting into the box more; hopefully this is the start of that process.
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The setup in midfield of Grealish, John McGinn and Conor Hourihane was an interesting choice: the absence of a blocker like Mile Jedinak and Glenn Whelan has usually been filled by Birkir Bjarnason. But his injury absence forced Dean Smith’s hand to play Hourihane in a deeper role with McGinn and Grealish playing further ahead as attacking midfielders. It worked very well, as Hourihane was allowed to use his excellent passing range , as well as retaining his combative nature to good effect in the game.
The defensive contributions of wide players Albert Adomah and Jonathan Kodjia allowed the full backs to get forward plenty of times as they knew the wingers would pinch narrowly when Villa lost possession. It was what Villa did when they were not in possession which arguably represented the biggest positive: They hunted the ball down closing as much space as possible whenever a Bolton player had it. Starting from the front was Tammy Abraham, who won a couple of challenges by putting pressure on a defense that always looked vulnerable.
Although he endured a scoreless match, the selfless work of Abraham was bound to have pleased Smith and the Aston Villa supporters as he led by example in a team display which provided excitement and hope for the future. There’s a chance, yet, that this Villa team can accomplish good things this season.