Are international breaks coming around more regularly this year or is it me?
The second one of the season is upon us and Aston Villa go into it sat in tenth place, just scraping into the top half of the Premier League table.
On the surface of it, that isn’t half bad. Seven games in and matches against Chelsea, Manchester United, Everton & Tottenham Hotspur have all been played, so to sit top-half is pretty impressive.
Having said that, when you look at the bigger picture from the outside looking in, you see some glaring inconsistencies.
Dean Smith’s men hammered Everton but lost to Watford. They won at Old Trafford but failed to beat Brentford at home.
Does this explain more about the madness of the Premier League than Villa themselves? Or is there an aggravating unpredictability about the claret and blue?
Instead of trying to digest this all myself, I’ve brought in the help of the experts. Some of the hardy Villa faithful themselves.
Here’s what they’ve made of the 2021/22 season so far and the expectations for the campaign ahead when we get back underway on October 16th.
‘Smith is searching for his best side’
Typical villa, plenty of positives and plenty of frustrations. Consistency moving forward will be key.
Pre-season felt like a disaster. The Grealish saga, COVID issues, cancelling fixtures and players away on international duty left Villa feeling under-cooked when kick-off rolled around in August.
A disappointing opening day in hindsight was almost inevitable and Villa muddled through to the international break with four points from two home games.
Performances improved massively post international stoppage and despite a 3-0 reverse at Chelsea, the signs were positive. Back-to-back wins against Everton and the once in a blue moon victory at Old Trafford had smiles on faces but a disappointing effort at Spurs indicates for Villa to take the next step they need to develop some consistency.
Smith is searching for his best side. He seems determined to play Ings and Watkins together but 3-5-2 doesn’t feel like the way to go in every game. He will need to show flexibility to get the best out of an overall better squad at his disposal this year.
More to come from Bailey and Buendia in particular and with Watkins off the mark - plenty of kids getting a chance to impress, the future seems bright.
Europe was the target pre-season and there is no reason to suggest it can’t be realised. On their day Villa can beat anyone, unfortunately they can also lose to anyone. I trust Smith to get it right and Villa to win more than they lose and push into the top eight this season. (Shaun Blundell - @Shaun_F10Y)
‘We will get better as the season goes on I’m sure of that’
Seven games into the new campaign have been pretty mixed which shows where we currently sit in the table, 10th.
But all in all it’s a work in progress and I’m sure we will get better especially when Leon Bailey returns from injury.
The major standout for me was the brilliant win at Old Trafford coupled with wins at home to Newcastle and Everton. Witnessing Leon Bailey’s cameo where he destroyed Everton was pretty impressive too.
The one negative would be we that are slightly inconsistent which will give Deano and the staff something to ponder in the international break.
Sitting in 10th the season is still all to play for, we will get better as the season goes on I’m sure of that so I’m still optimistic of a top eight finish and hopefully a push for Europe. (Luke Robinson - @lukerobinson89 / @utvpodcast_)
‘I expect improvements on last season’
I remain optimistic. We paid for a poor pre-season at Watford but have grown since without being able to put our strongest side out still.
Smith continues to grow with the team which is a positive and being able to adapt the formation has worked for us. It remains to be seen if he can change the formation to benefit Villa depending on who the opposition is.
We still have a young squad so will experience dips in performances but many Villa fans genuinely felt we could have got something against Spurs. Injuries have not been kind to us either but it’s something everyone has to deal with.
Expectations remain the same as my early season predictions. I expect improvements on last season. A top half finish would be great and I’m still hoping for a decent cup run in the FA Cup. (Stuart Young - @Avillafan)
‘Ings and Watkins doesn’t look like it’s working’
Inconsistency is the key word. Injuries, formations and personnel have all been hampered by inconsistencies.
We’ve not seen anything - barring the incredible man of the match 20 odd mins - from Bailey; Buendia hasn’t settled and looks to be off the pace - lack of preseason and an untimely international break in September and Traore hasn’t found any rhythm - again - injuries.
Back 4/5 (depending on formation) have not been as resolute as last season. Martinez is a huge presence but Villa losing possession leaves huge holes for teams to counter and Son did just that. Leading me onto my next point.
Villa’s trio of Ramsey, McGinn and Luiz are too similar and none can run effectively with the ball ala Ndombele or a certain he who must not be named. None can retain possession for long enough to drag Villa up the pitch hence the transition football Villa play now.
Winning it back high means we don’t need to build possession or break teams down, which we have never been able to do under Smith. Great wins v Everton and United, who were both unbeaten at the time, suggests this is a team on the rise but must find consistency - soon. Away form is a worry, lost 3 out of 4, and Smith must find a balance in defence and attack.
Ings and Watkins doesn’t look like it’s working. Both seem to be stifling one another’s game. At 2-1 down v Spurs, Cash crosses and Ings takes a touch rather than volleys the ball first time which demonstrates he is low on confidence.
The run of fixtures post international break will be a time to get consistent results and get both Buendia and Bailey on the pitch. Villa can’t rely on Cash and Targett for attacking output - neither are that good and will have more 6/10 rather than 8/10 games. The signs are good but Villa must find ruthlessness and consistency. (Kasir Kkay - @Kkasir23)
‘I am so excited about the academy’
Positives - We look a better team without Grealish. We no longer have a focal point and are less predictable in how we play. We’re also playing quicker. We have finally beaten Manchester United. Love Emi’s mind games.
We still haven’t been able to field our best team due to injuries so I think a lot more is to come when Bailey is back for instance. That though shows the depth of our squad these days that if we lose a player it’s not the end of the world.
I am so excited about the academy. We have brought through JPB, Carney and Archer this season. I can see a few more breaking though next season which will render the transfer window less and less relevant as we go forward.
Our set pieces look quality. Smith has arranged an excellent coaching around him. Tactically we look more astute.
Negatives - Consistency issues. Some games we are excellent like against United and Chelsea and some games we’re just not on it. We were poor against Spurs and Watford.
We still have a few issues with ball retention which if we can iron out we’ll be a quality side. Ings and Watkins don’t seem to have clicked as yet.
Expectations - an improvement on last season. Ideally top 8. (Misha Miguel - @MishaMiguel1 / AVFC - The Pride Live)
‘I’m disappointed with a narrow loss away at Tottenham. A team who were in the Champions League Final the same season we were launching cabbages at B6.’
We needed a response after the Watford game. The win over Newcastle showed we would not feel sorry for ourselves. Strangely enough, I thought Chelsea away was one of our better performances. B6 was back to its best against Everton and I’ve been waiting for that win at Old Trafford for far too long.
Tottenham was lackluster and showed we need consistency. When we have a consistent level of high performance, that’s when we can start talking about Europe. But I believe in the process.
We’re here to compete and, from my perspective, that’s all we ask at this point. It’s also worth noting about the youth academy. Our club offers a pathway to the first team, and that’s attractive for any rising star. I think we can finally say with truth, Proud History, Bright Future. It’s going well, but there’s more to come this year and beyond.
The Old Trafford win was overdue. I have a renewed hatred for the Sly 6 so this result had an added dimension. We’ve started picking up clean sheets and we look dangerous from set-pieces. Our rock-n-roll set-piece coach is working. Mcginn looks back to his best after his injury. Dougie is finding his feet and composed this season. Matty Cash looks made for the wing-back role. While we need to be patient, Ramsey is showing signs of becoming some player. Other than the Everton cameo, we’re yet to see Bailey, who’ll entertain us when injury-free. So there’s many positives and there’s more to come.
Negatives? We’re yet to see Ings and Watkins connect. When Bailey is fit, how’s he going to fit him in with a 5-3-2 system. Although a dilemma, suppose that’s not a negative. It just shows we’ve got the depth we’ve craved for the last few seasons.
Context is key here. I remember the Preston home game a few years back. Walking out of the ground, I genuinely thought League One was on the cards. Three years later, I’m disappointed with a narrow loss away at Tottenham. A team who were in the Champions League Final the same season we were launching cabbages at B6.
I like to dream and say we’ll break into Europe. But keeping my feet firm on the ground, I expect us to improve on our finish last season. Let’s say 9th. (Neal Sawyer - @TheNealSawyer)
Do you agree with what these Villa fans have had to say? If you want to put your opinion across in a future piece, feel free to drop me a DM @benaramsdale & I’ll be sure to get you involved.