Manager Dean Smith is in the hot seat following Aston Villa’s abysmal 4-1 defeat to West Ham at Villa Park on Sunday afternoon.
Despite reportedly having the backing of the club board, Smith will see Friday’s match at Southampton as a must-win. Villa currently sit 15th with 10 points, three clear of the relegation zone.
The club owners are notably ambitious and will not accept steps backward. The goal heading into this season was to improve on last year’s 11th-place finish, but Villa are on pace to finish 19 points short of 2020-21’s 55.
On Sunday, we saw a mediocre Villa fall behind in the seventh minute. A good combination between John McGinn and Emi Buendia yielded an Ollie Watkins equalizer in the 34th minute, but West Ham went back ahead just four minutes later via Declan Rice.
Villa imploded five minutes into the second half after Ezri Konsa was shown a controversial red card for taking down Jarrod Bowen. Later in the frame, Villa, down a man but pushing for an equalizer, were caught out and conceded twice in four minutes.
The red card and West Ham’s sparkling form aside, Villa looked out of sorts from the start. The first two goals were scored off shots from outside the box. Keeper Emi Martinez could have done better with both, but goal scorers Ben Johnson and Rice were given too much space by Villa defenders on both occasions.
Dean Smith’s future with Aston Villa in the balance
In a pre-match press conference, Smith stated: “players win football games, not systems,” and if he truly believes that, Villa’s poor start to the season makes a lot more sense. The squad looks disjointed, at times unable to complete simple passing plays.
Most goals this season have come via individual flashes of brilliance, but Villa have 10 points from 10 matches and are in danger of being pulled into a relegation scrap. Smith’s philosophy is hardly yielding positive results.
After Sunday’s match, the gaffer said: “the perception outside the football club is very different to what it is like inside Bodymoor Heath. The players believe in what we are doing.”
That’s just straight-up hard to believe. Since the loss to Wolves, we’ve seen players arguing on the pitch, heard eyewitness accounts of discontent on the sideline, and have zero points to show for three abysmal performances.
The defense is in shambles. Villa have allowed three goals in three consecutive Premier League matches for the first time since 2012.
The offense is uninspired. Danny Ings, Buendia, and Watkins have yet to find their form. Villa have failed to register an expected goals (xG) rating of higher than 1.5 in any single match this campaign.
The midfield is crying out for a stalwart number 6. Douglas Luiz has been good, but this side needs better coverage in midfield. Too often have they been bossed. Look at Villa’s opposite numbers against West Ham: Rice and Tomas Soucek. We’re way off the mark.
Life after Jack Grealish was always going to be hard. But now there’s a question to be answered: how much of Smith’s success came truly because players–specifically Grealish, the best talent to come through Bodymoor in a long, long time–won him matches?
Grealish is gone. It’s going to take a strong system to get Villa back to winning ways. Smith, though, is short on time.