The feel-good factor from reaching the Carabao Cup Final at the beginning of March has completely dissipated from Aston Villa, who are now staring straight at a swift return back to the Championship.
Since an encouraging 2-1 six-pointer win over fellow strugglers Watford on January 21st, Villa have entered a barren league run that has produced four consecutive defeats, leaving them in 19th position in the Premier League and balancing on the precipice for their top tier survival. The statistics for fans of Dean Smith’s side are ominous, the pathway down being illuminated.
In the summer of 2019, Aston Villa, upon promotion after three years in the Championship, spent £133.25 million on new transfers, the most ever for a side coming straight up from the second tier. This included five defenders at a cost of £55.5 million. They also retained the services of John Terry as assistant manager, the Chelsea legend signing an extension to remain at Villa under the end of the 2020/21 campaign.
Despite this, Aston Villa have had the fewest clean sheets in the Premier League this season, alongside AFC Bournemouth and Tottenham Hotspur. They haven’t kept a clean sheet since the Boxing Day 1-0 win over basement club Norwich City, and haven’t managed to produce one on the road all season. With their three-year exile in the Championship, it means the last time Aston Villa kept a clean sheet away from home was in January 2016, in a 0-0 stalemate with West Bromwich Albion.
The latest submission, to Leicester City, saw four goals fly past goalkeeper Pepe Reina without response. It makes for further worrying reading that whilst Aston Villa are scoring at a rate of 1.17 goals per league match, they’re leaking in an average 1.93. Their 56 goals conceded is the worst in the Premier League.
Harvey Barnes’ opener for the Foxes perfectly encapsulated the Keystone Cops element that is beginning to plague Villa’s backline. Confidence, from both the players and those in attendance, is visibly bereft. No other side has recorded more errors leading to goals this season in the Premier League, with Aston Villa players now chalking up into double figures.
Villa also holds the record this season for most goals conceded via set-pieces (inc. penalties), with a total of 19, while no side has shipped more goals via corners than the Midlands outfit (9).
Centre-back Tyrone Mings - who with the bonuses inserted into the deal that brought him from Bournemouth on a permanent deal in summer 2019 has potential to be the club’s record signing - was guilty of gifting Leicester their second, a failed attempt at a headed clearance grazing the side of his arm, providing the penalty for Jamie Vardy to tuck away. 2-0 up, it was the Foxes down the rabbit hole, the swashbuckling swag subsequently steering to saucy scenes as Vardy and Barnes grabbed their seconds.
It leads the question to ask, what exactly has John Terry been instilling? The former England international is one of the most celebrated and decorated defenders of all-time, an impervious centre-back for Chelsea, with whom he became the first player to captain a Premier League side to the title on five occasions. There are few evident remnants of any education taught within that Villa backline from that wealth of experience Terry has to offer. Dean Smith himself can boast a respectable career as a centre-back in his playing days.
Villa’s next league game is welcoming Terry’s old side Chelsea, a team who’ll be buoyant coming off a 4-0 rogering of Everton, and the Blues will no doubt be salivating at the prospect of Villa’s defensive frailties being ripe for exposing once again.