Another brave Aston Villa effort against one of the Premier League’s big boys had an all too familiar ending last weekend as a quickfire double from Liverpool handed them a late 2-1 victory.
Losing any game in the depths of injury time is totally gutting. However, conceding late goals, and ultimately points, is becoming an unfortunate hallmark of Villa’s season.
For some supporters, there are plenty of positives to take. But for others, there is a growing concern that lessons are not being learnt.
Taking the Liverpool result on its own, I can’t help but see the positives. It shouldn’t be underestimated just how good this Reds side is.
We are talking about the European Champion’s here. I think that significance gets lost because we are familiar in seeing and hearing about Liverpool week in, week out. If this was Barcelona, Real Madrid or Juventus I think the enormity of how well Villa played would be lauded much more.
We’re also talking about a team who are unbeaten in the league in 28 games. That’s close to going on for a full season, and it’s currently the fifth ever longest unbeaten run in the Premier League era.
They are relentless. The pace and power they possess are incredible and they keep pressing you. The mentality of never giving up instilled by Jurgen Klopp is ironclad.
Villa are not the only ones to succumb to the intense pressure imposed by Klopp’s men. They recently beat Leicester City in injury time. And they rescued their unbeaten run against Manchester United a couple of weeks ago late on also.
Too many late goals
That being said, while the Liverpool result can maybe be isolated a little in terms of the quality of the opposition, there is, without doubt, an issue that needs addressing; we are conceding far too many late goals.
Of Villa’s 18 league goals conceded so far, 8 have been in the last 10 minutes of matches. Perhaps even more tellingly, we have only conceded 3 first-half goals all season, and not one of those have been away from home.
So, from that, we can surmise pretty confidently that we are not doing in the second half of games what we are doing in the first half. To me, that points to fitness and concentration levels. And crucially, mentality.
And that is evident in some of the goals we have conceded. Going back to the loss against Spurs on the opening day, there was sloppiness in possession from Jack Grealish which led to them taking the lead. Against Arsenal, a mix up between Tyrone Mings and Neil Taylor again saw us surrender a lead. At other times, we just look completely out of gas. Is that because the players are still getting to grips with a pressing style of football?
It’s hard to be too critical of this current Villa side though. The football has been good for the most part. Perhaps the only game where we haven’t really performed was the 1-0 defeat a Crystal Palace. And we are just one win off a top 10 position in the table; this league is so tight so far this year.
I do think there is a danger of having a complacent attitude towards the issue though. We can look back and say we’ve given the likes of Liverpool, Arsenal and Spurs a close game. But then there becomes an acceptance that because it’s against the big teams, it’s ok. I don’t like the free hit mentality at all. I think as Aston Villa, we shouldn’t see ourselves as being inferior, especially if those are the levels we’re trying to aspire to.
But it’s a hard balance, because, as a newly promoted side, can we really lambaste the players and management for not beating the big teams in this division and caving in to the intense pressure that they are capable of putting teams under? I’m certainly not going to do that. And I think most people can see that the signs are encouraging for us.
The danger for me though is the mentality that is created from these repeat episodes. We have seen this before over the last few seasons, where there becomes an expectancy of conceding late on amongst the crowd and the tense atmosphere plays a huge part in things. The players feel it and become nervy. Of course, the only real way of combating this is for the players themselves to display the resilience that is required. Because, with all the best intentions, a crowd of 40k people will not keep their heads when being put under pressure.
It is slightly wishy-washy just saying that it will all come together and we’ll be fine. But realistically as fans, that’s all we can do at the moment. There are signs that we’re being moulded into a good side and we’re competitive at least right now.
That said, this is something that Dean Smith and his staff need to work on stamping out and quick. Because, as we’ve seen first hand, it’s something that becomes a habit and the expectancy rears it’s head as games wear on. Rest assured, it’s something our opponents will already be taking note of. We cannot afford to have a weakness of this severity that can be exploited. Concentration, mentality, fitness, tactics; whatever is the cause, it needs to be fixed.
It’s far from panic stations right now. And there are plenty of positives and I’d much rather be in our shoes than six or seven others in this division. So, it’s very much still a case of in Dean Smith we trust. And I’m sure he’s already working on the solution.