Dean Smith: the man Villa need to lead them into a new era
Dean Smith has been given time to build a Villa team that epitomizes the man himself: hard work, organization and a sense of freedom are now phrases which are commonly associated with Aston Villa Football Club.
During difficult periods last season, Smith realistically could have been sacked with the club going into a new direction. Now, the thought of a world without Dean Smith managing Aston Villa manager seems unimaginable as the faith shown has been repaid in full. The Villa hierarchy were brave and stuck with the man chosen to lead the club into a new era.
There were many problems in the previous campaign- a lack of consistency in team selection, an over-reliance on Jack Grealish and an error-prone defence. Those have been all been analyzed and repaired by Smith and his staff over the last six months.
A transformative summer transfer window has led to a mostly settled starting 11- nine players have played at least 13 Premier league games in the 20/21 season. Due to an increased level of consistency, every player knows their role and a sense of a cohesion and team spirit within the squad is being developed. The role that Smith has played in this cannot be understated- creating a relaxed environment for the players and their improvement is clear to see. Ezri Konsa, Douglas Luiz and Matt Targett in particular, have seen their performance levels rise during the last 25 Premier league games.
When discussing the team spirit within his current squad, Smith said: “There's no player who's going to want to go out there and be under their level because that would let the team down and there's a great team unity at the moment.”
The shrewd signings of Ross Barkley, Ollie Watkins and Bertrand Traore have reduced the pressure on Grealish to create and the movement from attacking players has been excellent. An option for a forward pass is so often available for a player in possession. Villa have been playing with a sense of freedom and fluidity, scoring 29 goals in 15 Premier League games whilst a re-energized Anwar El Ghazi has scored 5 in his last 6.
Smith has shown great belief in the Dutch international, reinstating him into the team following his winning penalty against Wolves and recently told AVFC TV: “a confident Anwar El Ghazi can get into a top six team in my opinion”.
Changes to the defensive structure during a reflective lockdown period bought results. Pre project restart, the gap between attack and defence was too big. Smith naively looked to go toe to toe with every opposition, leaving the back line exposed as they faced more shots than any of team in the Premier League.
Post project start, this changed completely. The midfield dropped deeper, giving the defence the support it needed, allowing Villa to defend as a team rather than as individuals. Villa went from having the worst defensive record in the league to one of the best. Performances improved and eventually results came, picking up eight points from four games to clinch survival.
"We walked off the pitch at Leicester conceding too many chances and too many goals," Smith said in July. "We had a gung-ho, open nature, trying to win games, and it just felt we needed to have more discipline, and not just in our back four, but the whole team."
In what is a simple but massively important attribute to have, Villa now have a team who clearly care. It should be something that you can say about any sports team in any league, but that so often is not the case.
Smith instils this attitude into his players and when asked about his team talk following the play off final victory against Derby County, his response was refreshingly simple: “I just told them to be a good teammate.”
In an exciting Premier league season, Smith will be looking to take Villa into Europe for the first time since 2010.
Article by: Jake Alberice