Aston Villa struggling to find the right balance between attack and defence

After 4 games played since the return of football, Aston Villa still remains in deep trouble, and manager Dean Smith seems to be stuck between a rock and a hard place.

Smith has stated on a few occasions this season how easy it has been for teams to score past Villa, and he’s right, as 60 goals conceded is the worst record in the division. It’s clear to see since the resumption that he has been working on making Villa harder to beat and score against.

The statistics prove that he’s been successful on that front. Fifty-six goals were conceded in their first 28 games, which is an average of exactly 2 goals a game. A further 4 goals have been scored against Villa in the 4 games since the restart, which has brought Villa’s average goals conceded figure down to 1 per game. It’s a considerable improvement but it has affected Villa’s attacking play in a negative way.

Despite a change in formation from Smith in the game against Wolves on Saturday to play 2 strikers (as I called for during my previous piece), it didn’t help at all to make the team more menacing and threatening in the final third.

A worrying pattern of play from Villa

A worrying pattern of play has emerged from Villa recently in their build-up play. Passing is very slow and predictable at times, which allows the opposition to prepare for the inevitable long pass up to the striker by getting players in position around where the ball is likely to end up.

This works 90% of the time even if a Villa player wins the ball as there isn’t a teammate up there to pass to because they are all much too deep and worried about a counter-attack from the opponent.

This pattern has happened when one striker plays upfront and it happened again on Saturday when there were two. Both Samatta and Davis preferred to drop deep and try to get the ball. The two were never close enough together to spot each other’s runs or get the opposition facing their own goal.

Only 2 goals scored since the restart is not surprising when you watch the team at the moment. You can point to the defensive improvement and say this is a reason for optimism but scoring an average of 0.5 goals a game still isn’t ever enough to get any points, even if the defence continues to perform as they’re currently doing.

The next 2 fixtures against an in-form Liverpool and Man Utd will be sure to test that defence but either way, we’re going to have to see something different happening in attack. More urgency and variety in their play is sorely needed. Perhaps by handing a start to Indiana Vassilev?

His pace and dynamism is what’s missing at the moment and pairing him with Keinan Davis and instructing him to run past the opponent’s defence are bound to give the opposition more trouble than Villa are currently causing teams. Dean Smith did show that he was willing to change things by playing 2 up top against Wolves. I do think he needs to mix things up again to get the results needed between now and the end of the season.

Next: Solskjaer's real test is coming

His main message to his players has to be centred around giving opponents a hard time playing against this Villa team, and this means getting more players forward, making runs in behind, making things happen at the top end of the pitch, and taking more risks because if this doesn’t start to happen soon, Villa will be waving goodbye to the Premier League.