In the aftermath of our fifth consecutive defeat, much of the focus is on Dean Smith and his future at Aston Villa.
As is expected during such a poor run of form, much of the criticism and questioning is aimed at the manager, and Smith is no exception as he has struggled to arrest our recent slide.
Time will tell if the Villa hierarchy give him the opportunity to put things right after the international break, but it’s going to be a tense few days as there will no doubt be a period of reflection now to see what the best move is for Villa moving forward.
Players still behind him, settle on XI, best system 4-3-3 and establish style & identity
Judging from the response of the players after going down to 10 men against West Ham and the second-half performance at Southampton, it’s clear that they are still fighting for Smith.
The dejection and hurt that is clear from their reactions is a sign that they feel it just as the fans do and are desperately trying to put things right to salvage this season.
That is a significant factor, as if they had downed tools and given up on Smith, then the problem is even bigger and a change must be made.
Instead, this is now down to putting his squad in the best position possible to win games and start getting back on track.
Smith hasn’t made all the right decisions thus far, and that is reflected in our current losing streak and positioning in the Premier League table. In turn, he has to be brave and make big calls, regardless of whether or not they upset certain individuals within the group.
One absolutely key factor that has become clear in the last five games is that we don’t have the players to go with a two-man midfield, and so the best system for us moving forward is the 4-3-3.
Provided everyone is fit, that should allow us to play Douglas Luiz, John McGinn and Jacob Ramsey, and if at all possible, we’ll eventually get a proper look at Morgan Sanson after the international break.
We’ve been far too weak in that department in recent weeks, as our midfield is constantly overrun and outmuscled leading to problems in both phases of the game. Smith has to stick with three in the middle, and that in turn means a back-four and an attacking trident. Once he settles on that, then comes the focus on re-establishing a style and identity about our play as it currently lacks any structure or direction for the most part, and that is badly impacting our performances.
Emiliano Martinez is the first name on the team-sheet, while Matty Cash and Ezri Konsa aren’t far behind him.
Despite their below-standard performances this season, Tyrone Mings and Matt Targett have been pivotal pieces in a backline that was solid and reliable last season, and so we have to back them to rediscover that form and reach that level again.
The best midfield trio is detailed above, while Emiliano Buendia is starting to show more quality, albeit far too inconsistently, and he must stay in the XI and kick on. Leon Bailey was poor against Southampton but remains a big threat on his day with his pace and technical quality, while Ollie Watkins thrives on being the sole operator up top as our focal point in attack.
With question marks over the fitness of the likes of Danny Ings and Bertrand Traore, that should be the side that faces Brighton on November 20, but time will tell if it’s Smith who is still devising the game-plan to give the Villa faithful something to cheer about later this month.