Coming into the game, 84 previous games were split equally with Aston Villa and Leeds United both winning 28 along with 28 draws – Kemar Roofe’s last-minute effort assured Leeds would add one to their tally…
Our 3-2 defeat at the hands of Leeds made me realise that at 2-0 down I would still fancy our chances, yet a 2-0 lead and I still have an ever-present sense of nervousness.
Life under Dean Smith has been tremendous thus far but our first defeat in the last eight games served as a stark reminder of how sheer his task at Villa Park will be.
Luscious Leeds or Lack of Plan?
It’s hard for me to say this but Leeds were tremendous and the league table does not lie unfortunately.
I’m not quite sure what our game-plan was and whilst our first half wasn’t bad by any stretch of the imagination, a 2-0 lead was quite flattering.
Leeds’ game-plan was much more obvious – their assault on the flanks appeared calculated and purposeful. Ezgjan Alioski and Jack Harrison stayed high and wide but were quickly joined by midfield runners Pablo Hernandez and Mateusz Klich in attempt to overload the glaringly obvious weakness of the Villa defence.
With no real threat coming from the middle of the park, this was the first game I have been truly disappointed in Dean Smith not recognising the oppositions plan.
This may be a bold statement but Leeds’ performance was the closest thing I can remotely comprehend to being the ‘Total Football’ of the Dutch 1970’s team. The interchanging of positions flummoxed our defence and was inevitably our downfall.
That being said, our energy levels dropped off in the second half and laziness crept in – the substitutions of Scott Hogan and Birkir Bjarnason didn’t do our quest to find the winner any favours as both were pretty useless and might have wanted to wrap the ball for Christmas as they gifted the ball to Leeds.
Despite the negativity, which is only natural after a loss, our attacking front were potent once again and could quite easily have snatched the victory ourselves in the closing 10 minutes.
On this occasion, our attacking threat could not surpass the sheer dismay of our defence, a fault of our previous manager (and yes Alex Bruce, I do mean your old man).
Defensive Yard Sale
For some inexplicable reason, Steve Bruce ended the summer by offloading our defensive surplus, moves that have now come back to bite us with the unconfirmed news that Axel Tuanzebe may face up to four months on the sideline.
Thankfully, we have faced the majority of the league’s current top-six in the last few months, losing only one but the fact that we have shipped 10 goals in our last three home games is not a statistic to be blase about.
Maybe I am being too dramatic and my usual pessimistic self but Ahmed Elmohamady truly doesn’t deserve to start again with Alan Hutton also testing my patience – young Dominik Revan may want to get his boots laced up in timely fashion.
January cannot come quick enough and if it within Dean Smith’s powers, recalls for loanees Tommy Elphick and Mitch Clark should be at the top of his wishlist.
A back three may also be an option to patch up some of the defensive frailties until we are in a position to exploit our defensive inventory, as depleted as it may be.
A back-three with emphasis on being spread out would have been my call for today’s game considering the high pressing front-three and lack of threat through central areas. This would have matched Leeds’ front line and also covered for their roaming midfielder’s and full-backs who overloaded the wide spaces at will. Wide centre-backs along with, effectively wing-backs would stop the overload whilst the lone centre-back would be charged with dealing with a single forward, in today’s case, Kemar Roofe.
The formation would look as so (based off players available today):
It may not be much of a consolation after the harrowing way in which our defeat was handed out but if top of the league Leeds only just managed to beat us with a historically bad defensive performance (not backed by stats albeit), then I fancy our chances against the majority of our opponents in the second half of the season.
Our attacking threat is omnipresent and under Smith, we seem to be going from strength to strength in terms of cohesiveness going forward, thus, more goals.
I seriously trust in Dean Smith like no manager I have witnessed at the helm of Villa in my lifetime and I believe promotion is still very much a prospect for this season.