Aston Villa p*ss all over firefighter Allardyce’s chips

Matt Stead
douglas luiz jack grealish aston villa

The good news for Sam Allardyce is that not every team attacks with the Aston Villa verve. Lord.

Notts County supporters will be only too eager to stress that Sam Allardyce has built his reputation as a cast-iron guarantee of survival on a throne of lies. Taking over the Second Division strugglers in January 1997, he guided them from 22nd and four points from safety to 24th and 17 points off the pace.

‘I was in for a shock, as everything that worked for me at Blackpool didn’t at Notts County,’ he later wrote in his autobiography of the third post of his storied and successful managerial career. ‘The players would not respond.’

More than two decades later came a similar level of feedback from his new West Brom squad. A new word may have to be invented for what Aston Villa did to their hosts at The Hawthorns because current dictionaries would do that mismatch a quite horrific disservice.

Five places ostensibly separated these two teams in the English football pyramid in July yet that marginal gap has become a significant gulf over the period of a single summer transfer window. West Brom failed to adequately back a manager that had overachieved in earning promotion a year ahead of schedule. Aston Villa threw funds behind a head coach who barely met his objective. Slaven Bilic paid with his job. Dean Smith has taken that ball and run with it.

He has built a brilliant team to watch. Jack Grealish continues to thrill at its heart, supplemented by a spine that includes the fine pairing of Douglas Luiz and John McGinn, as well as the imperious Tyrone Mings. Ollie Watkins was pursued by much of the division mere months ago and Emiliano Martinez might just have the feeling that he made the best possible choice for his career in moving to the Midlands.

But the thing Aston Villa possess that they lacked most last season is depth. Bertrand Traore has been an excellent addition and was decisive on Sunday evening. So, too, Anwar El Ghazi; there can’t have been many players in Premier League history to have had eight shots in two consecutive matches.

The two Matts at full-back couldn’t be less welcoming to the opposition. The sight of an unused bench that did not even feature Ross Barkley underlines how deep the individual quality runs through this side.

That is now combined with the essential factors that define a team: organisation, work ethic, cooperation. It seems obvious but for so long last season Aston Villa were bereft of any or all three. Lockdown afforded them an opportunity to focus and recuperate and Smith has worked wonders.

They have kept three successive clean sheets in the league for the first time since April 2018, with more than half of the goals they have conceded this season coming in that chastening week against Leeds and Southampton. Only Manchester City have conceded fewer goals all season.

Yet attack has been their best form of defence. Aston Villa are the only Premier League team to have at least ten shots in each of their games thus far. And whatever harsh lessons they were taught in having 27 efforts to no avail against Burnley were clearly taken on board with 19 shots and three goals against these beleaguered Baggies.

Allardyce, on this evidence, has a hell of a job on his hands. But the truth is that few teams attack with that Villa verve. From Grealish’s creativity to Watkins’ finishing, El Ghazi’s persistence, Traore’s skill, McGinn’s timing and Barkley’s direct approach, there might not be a more varied front line in the country. It needs more than a few days to prepare for.

Matt Stead