Jack Grealish, Dean Smith, Emi Buendia

DEAN SMITH'S TENURE AT ASTON VILLA COMES TO AN UNDERWHELMING END. THE WRITING HAD BEEN ON THE WALL FOR SOMETIME NOW

Just as the heads into yet another international break, one might have expected a quiet two week spell coming up. Well, those people have been massively disappointed. Less than 24 hours after Norwich City fired Daniel Farke, despite him getting their first win of the season, the sack race has claimed another victim. Five consecutive defeats and a current standing of 16th spelled doom for at who is now without a club.

 

This has been coming for a while now, given the kind of football that Villa had played since the start of the season. Without the services of their talisman and captain , who was so crucial during Smith’s entire tenure, the manager just could not get his side firing like before. However, the departure of a central piece tells only a part of the story.

 

The transfer window and activities behind-the-scenes all conjoined to provide a less than hospitable atmosphere.

 

ALL THAT GLITTERS IS NOT GOLD

Grealish leaving was not that big of a surprise, especially since the form he has been showing since Villa’s return had been terrific. Manchester City came with £100m and it later emerged that the midfielder had a “gentleman’s agreement” with the club over expectations of playing European football.

 

Losing such a key piece was always going to hurt but he was not the only influential figure leaving. Assistant manager , who had been with Smith since the Championship days, departed in order to spend more time with his family. Nevertheless, credit to the board that they reinvested the amount in bringing in talent quickly.

 

Danny Ings, Leon Bailey, and Emiliano Buendia were the headline signings while they also brought back Axel Tuanzebe and Ashley Young. Suffice to say, the expectations have not yet been met by a long margin though there were missteps as well.

 

A first-class defensive midfielder/ball player was the need of the hour. Villa were heavily linked with James Ward-Prowse before the Saints captain signed a new long-term deal. Unsurprisingly, Ward-Prowse was one of the best players on the pitch yesterday as Villa were completely outclassed once again.

 

The fact that the club only went after attacking players who could add goals has also not panned out. Bailey needs more games to get up to match fitness level while Ings has not played since the defeat to Arsenal. Tuanzebe has not improved the leaky defence while Young remains on the periphery.

 

Adding another solid defender should also have been high on the priority list since they only have three senior options. Needless to say, that also did not materialise and all of this before one delves into the coaching of the team so far.

 

MUDDIED TACTICS AND POOR UTILISATION

Last season was a clear uptick for Villa and Smith, finishing 11th and picking up 16 wins in the process. Emi Martinez was in inspired form since his move, keeping the third-highest number of cleansheets while Ollie Watkins and Grealish ran the attack. Smith operated with the 4-2-3-1 but he has been heavily rotating his formation this time.

 

One of the reasons for this was to accommodate Buendia who is not a like-for-like replacement for Grealish. Buendia operated down the right flank during his time at Norwich but Smith has mostly used him as a number 10 or as part of a midfield trio when playing as a 3-5-2. That has led to extremely subdued performances from the Argentine, and was absent at that famed win at Old Trafford. He has been in and out of the side with Smith struggling to find his optimal position.

 

Injuries and tiredness have certainly not helped Smith either. Martinez and Douglas Luiz, two of the most consistent starters, had clearly been fatigued since returning from the international break in mid October. The goalkeeper has been culpable of letting in a few soft goals while Luiz has looked far shorn of his best self.

 

Watkins’ is yet to get back to top gear since returning from an early season injury while the backline has let in the third-most goals in the league (20). Tyrone Mings has also been dropped on a couple of occasions while Tuanzebe looks overwhelmed. Smith introduced youngster Jacob Ramsey for a few games but he still has a long way to go in order to match up with the best.

 

The defeat against Wolves was Villa’s sinking ship in a nutshell. Leading 2-0 till the 80th minutes, Smith and co. crumbled to ship in three goals in the remaining time. Their stats are damning in all aspects of the pitch. They are only averaging 3.5 shots-on-target and 276 accurate passes per match which puts Villa in 16th position while having less than 50% possession on average so far.

 

Smith used the 4-3-3 in recent times but that was only rearranging the deckchairs on the Titanic. Buendia was equally ineffective as a right hand attacker with little support from the players behind. Simply put, the team was looking extremely disjointed and bereft of ideas in the final third.

 

DESERVING OF IT?

Smith’s time at the club has no doubt been a success but fans want more and so do their ambitious owners. They have invested heavily since returning to the top-flight and this season was about moving up the table with notable improvements.

 

The start to the season has been really underwhelming, clearly missing Grealish’s influence on games. However, Smith did himself no favours by using players out of his position and not going more aggressively after defensive targets

Though he can point to not having his best players all of the time, poor results and no signs of changing the mentality resulted in him being shown the door.

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