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Aston Villa have made a solid start to the campaign but there is still work to be done for Dean Smith
Aston Villa have made a solid start to the campaign but there is still work to be done for Dean Smith

Aston Villa's 2021-22 campaign has been a mixed bag so far.

Dean Smith’s outfit sit 10th in the table following losses to Watford and Chelsea, a draw with Brentford and victories over Newcastle and Everton.

So is last weekend’s 3-0 romp against the Toffees an indication that they have turned a corner or is there still plenty to work on? 

Away from the top flight, the Villans thumped Barrow 6-0 in the second round of the Carabao Cup last month. 

And as they prepare for a rematch with Thomas Tuchel's Blues tonight, we consider how the men from the Midlands are shaping up.

Three at the back

Smith switched to a back three against Chelsea, using Ezri Konsa, Axel Tuanzebe and Tyrone Mings to counteract the West Londoners’ 3-4-1-2 formation.

Villa suffered a 3-0 defeat in that game so it would have been easy to write it off as a bad idea and a lesson learned.

Ezri Konsa (left) and Axel Tuanzebe (centre) form part of a new-look three-man Aston Villa defence
Ezri Konsa (left) and Axel Tuanzebe (centre) form part of a new-look three-man Aston Villa defence

But Villa caused Chelsea problems playing that system — particularly in the first half — and Smith retained belief in the way he set up.

After the match, he said: ​​"We went with the two up top with Ollie (Watkins) and Danny (Ings).

"Another time it could be we play one up top, with one off (the striker), with someone else playing that role.

"I feel with the quality of the squad we have got now we can rotate and play different systems against different teams, in order to give them problems."

Not to be deterred by the Chelsea defeat, the three-at-the-back formation remained for the game against Everton.

This time it paid off and it was Villa’s turn to net three goals in a convincing win of their own.

Taking chances

Danny Ings and his team-mates will need to be more clinical in front of goal as the season progresses
Danny Ings and his team-mates will need to be more clinical in front of goal as the season progresses

The Everton victory was not as comfortable as the scoreline suggests.

It took a sublime cameo from Leon Bailey to inspire the win as Villa struck three times during the 21 minutes the winger was on the field in the second half.

The expected goals (xG) tallies in this game were fairly even, and though Smith’s side had a number of shots on target, the quality of the chances was very low according to the data.

They created no opportunities that Opta would define as “big chances” and there was not much between the total xG of each team, which was 0.97-0.90 in Villa’s favour.

It was an opposite story to the Chelsea match, when Villa actually created more — coming out on top in the xG battle (1.33 - 1.13) and conjuring a “big chance” for Watkins.

Pressing matters

The Villans are emerging as one of the more active pressing teams in the Premier League this season.

They are currently seventh in the league for pressures in the final third, with a total of 170 — just one fewer than Manchester City.

This tactic is regularly used by top clubs to unsettle the opposition and create chances from both defensive and attacking play.

Where does Buendia fit?

One of the things to keep an eye on is where summer signing Emiliano Buendia fits into Villa’s current tactical set-up.

The Argentine had started every game this season prior to the Chelsea fixture but has not featured since the back-three formation was introduced.

This was due to the player quarantining after being on international duty with Argentina.

Buendia makes things happen and it is likely that the quality and number of chances created in this, or any, formation will go up once the former Norwich man is settled at the club and back in the line-up.

With Villa facing Manchester United on Saturday, Smith may be tempted to rotate his side but Buendia is one man who should start as he looks to get back up to speed.

Wat next?

Ollie Watkins is yet to show the same form he displayed in his debut Premier League campaign
Ollie Watkins is yet to show the same form he displayed in his debut Premier League campaign

Watkins is yet to find the net for Villa this term but it feels like it is only a matter of time.

After missing the start of the season through injury, he has been deployed in the last two games alongside Ings up front and the 3-5-2 formation could prove fruitful for the pair.

Despite not netting a goal, Watkins has managed 3.77 shots per 90 over the two games and there is no reason he will not rediscover that scoring touch of last season.

Watkins became a father for the first time at the weekend and will no doubt want to toast the moment with a goal.

Stamford Bridge this evening could be the perfect stage for Villa's new strikeforce to further click into gear.

Tags

Premier LeagueAston VillaEFL CupChelsea

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