Aston Villa’s Struggles: Poor Form or A Bigger Issue?
Aston Villa’s top-four aspirations took a massive hit as they fell to a 2-1 home defeat to Manchester United on Sunday. With Tottenham Hotspur’s last-minute winner against Brighton & Hove Albion, Unai Emery’s side moved to fifth in the league table with United breathing down their neck.
Sunday’s defeat marks a third consecutive home defeat across all competitions, with losses against Newcastle United, Chelsea and now Manchester United. This begs the question, is there a bigger problem arising at Aston Villa?
Villa’s Awful 2024:
Despite being midway through February, Villa have registered just one Premier League win in 2024. That came in a 5-0 away thrashing of bottom-of-the-league Sheffield United, but some would suggest that win has papered over a few cracks. Their only other victory across all competitions this year came in a 1-0 away win at Middlesbrough in the FA Cup Third Round, which even then relied on a last-minute Matty Cash winner.
Since then, Emery’s men dropped points at Goodison Park in a goalless draw before suffering the same fate against Chelsea in the FA Cup Fourth Round. Newcastle United would then pull off a surprise 3-1 victory at Villa Park, before Villa seemingly got their season back on track at Bramall Lane.
But since that 5-0 win, Villa have lost successive home games to Chelsea and Manchester United, leaving them out of both domestic competitions and the UEFA Champions League places.
Despite Aston Villa’s recent drop in form, many Villa fans will still be optimistic about their chances of qualifying for the UEFA Champions League next season – and perhaps rightly so. In terms of xG, xGA and average possession %, their performances recently have been fairly similar to those of their excellent run of results before Christmas.
This suggests that their overall performances haven’t dropped too significantly, but they aren’t being clinical enough in those game-changing moments. Particularly in the defeat to Manchester United on Sunday, where Villa had bags of half-chances, but things weren’t quite clicking in the final third.
John McGinn, Douglas Luiz and Jacob Ramsey constantly found space in and around the opposition box but couldn’t add the finishing touch to any of their attacking moves. It feels like a lot of their attacking output is falling reliant on Ollie Watkins, who has only managed two goals in Aston Villa’s last ten games.
Diaby, the Key?
Villa’s marquee summer signing, Moussa Diaby, was at the epicentre of their early-season success but has since struggled for a consistent run of games. After picking up an injury earlier this season, Emery has since opted to use the likes of Leon Bailey and John McGinn in Diaby’s natural position on the right wing.
The Frenchman is undoubtedly an incredibly talented player with bags of flair and a clear eye for goal. If Aston Villa are to make a serious push for the top four towards the end of the season, Diaby will undoubtedly play a huge part in such success.
Ultimately, Villa must look at how far they have come under the guidance of Unai Emery, and they’re there for a reason. They’re a brilliant football team with the tenacity to grind out results when the going gets tough.
Despite their woeful form this calendar year, I still firmly back Villa to finish the season. I expect them to push the likes of Spurs and Manchester United all the way in the top-four race, but their season will reach a whole new level as their European campaign advances, too.