Aston Villa running out of steam at the worst time

Sport

Aston Villa were, according to some, Premier League title challengers. Back-to-back wins over Manchester City and Arsenal in December led plenty at Villa Park to dream. Now, though, Aston Villa’s season is at risk of falling apart. Far from being title contenders, Unai Emery’s team might not even finish in the top four.

Sunday’s heavy 4-0 defeat at home to Tottenham Hotspur narrowed the gap between the two top four rivals to just two points with the North London outfit holding a game in-hand. A fifth place finish might be enough for Villa to qualify for the Champions League, but the way they are currently playing there are no guarantees.

While Villa string together three straight Premier League wins before losing to Tottenham on Sunday, their form since Christmas hasn’t been good enough. Indeed, they have won just five of their last 11 league games with defeats coming against Manchester United (twice), Newcastle United and Spurs.

John McGinn’s red card was a turning point in Sunday’s loss and the Scotland international will now be missing for Aston Villa’s next three matches through suspension. This comes at a time when Villa are already without Boubacar Kamara, leaving Emery short of options in the centre of the pitch.

Jacob Ramsey is also sidelined through injury at the moment with Emi Buendia, Jhon Duran and Tyrone Mings similarly stuck in the treatment room. Aston Villa’s squad depth is being tested and it might prove to be the case that they simply don’t have enough cover to maintain their pace over the full campaign.

On top of this, Emery’s tactical thinking has become more muddled in recent weeks. Against Tottenham, for example, he set up Villa play in a back three with wing backs, the idea being that this would allow them to sit deep and absorb pressure before hitting out on the counter-attack. It didn’t work this way, though.

Instead, Aston Villa were unable to play out from the back. They were pegged back by a relentless Tottenham team who had a lot of joy pressing from the front with Leon Bailey and Ollie Watkins left isolated in attack. Emery surely would have been better setting up Villa to play their natural game in their usual back four shape.

“We have to try and control our emotions when we are under pressure and when we are in some moments struggling,” Emery said after Sunday’s 4-0 defeat to Tottenham, addressing his team’s lack of composure in a difficult situation. “The maturity of the players here is getting better. We have to control our emotions, even when we are losing 2-0. We have a responsibility to be mature.”

Watkins is enjoying the best goalscoring season of his career to date, but Villa need more from the players around the England international. Watkins has scored 27% of Aston Villa’s goals in the Premier League this season – only Erling Haaland (29%) has scored a higher percentage of a team’s goals.

Emery surely regrets Aston Villa’s decision not to do more in the January transfer window. Villa were linked with several ambitious targets including Jeremie Frimpong and Inaki Williams, but ultimately only spent roughly £15m on the signing of Kosta Nedeljkovic from Red Star Belgrade and Morgan Rogers from Middlesbrough. Neither are first team figures.

The summer transfer window will present Villa with an opportunity to strengthen their squad again, but the chance to qualify for the Champions League might have bypassed them by then. Aston Villa might not get this opportunity again. They must learn from the mistakes of the last two months to point themselves in the right direction.

Author: Mark Hayes