Where Aston Villa must improve to ensure Premier League survival

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Dean Smith’s Aston Villa players have collectively run the shortest distance in the Premier League since the season began back in August.

Project Restart is set to test the fitness levels and mentality of Premier League players that have taken their longest mid-season breaks of their careers.

100 days in lockdown will have passed when Villa kick-starts the league’s resumption against Sheffield United since taking a battering at the King Power in March. Over that period, player conditioning, fitness levels and matchday preparation would’ve been put firmly at the back of the minds of Premier League footballers set to resume professional sport in England.

This has offered Villa the time to recuperate, take a step back and assess the lowly position they found themselves in three months ago. In the Premier League, the minimum requirement is maximum effort, and for Villa, they’ve felt the consequences of not putting the necessary effort in certain games.

The numbers that matter

Villa have covered 2,998km in 28 top-flight games, which is 20th in the table for this measurement of application and desire to perform at an optimum level.

That equates to 33km fewer than the second-worst side Arsenal. Here we can draw conclusions that from equally disappointing seasons in the context of the club’s aspirations, Villa simply must cover more of the football pitch to collect more points before the season officially concludes.

Coupled with the league’s worst defensive record, in almost every aspect of defending from shots faced to most individual errors, the physical conditioning of a group of players new to the English elite level must improve dramatically over the lockdown period to increase Villa’s chances of survival come August.

Above Arsenal sits Wolves, Crystal Palace, Leicester City and Manchester City, and that’s not bad company for Villa in a normal table, but by inspecting the numbers associated with distance ran, styles of play can be a key influence.

High ball possession can decrease distance covered with the opposition doing the bulk of the work to win the ball back, whilst Wolves and Crystal Palace are both proud of particular styles that involve a rigid structure and defensive solidity.

Villa must compare themselves to the teams around them – fellow clubs scrapping for survival.

Where the problem lies

Four of the bottom six Premier League clubs have covered the furthest distance since game week one include Brighton, Norwich and Bournemouth, all of whom top the list. Watford are listed in sixth for the most distance covered at 3,163, a significant increase since the appointment of Nigel Pearson.

Villa are therefore at polar opposites to their relegation rivals in terms of the presumed measurement of hard work.

Dean Smith told VillaTV: “We’ve spoken about the teams we’re playing, we’ve spoken about form, and there is no form, we’re going into this with everybody on an even keel now. Conditioning-wise, I’m really pleased with where the players are.

“We’ve certainly learnt an awful lot of lessons, but the proof of the pudding is putting those lessons into practice now in the remaining games. I’m very confident we can go and do that.

“The players are as well, the work we’ve done during lockdown and where we are now, this is a brand-new season, it’s tournament football for 10 games. And we’re prepared for that.”

Nakamba's effort needs to be match by his teammate if they want Premier League survivalMarvellous Nakamba, at 11.73km, has clocked the furthest distance in a single game for Villa in a late January win over Watford. Though his club-high distance is bettered by all but one Premier League club in a single game, emphasising Villa’s need to improve in this area.

To Smith’s discretion, the new five substitutions rule allows Villa to add some fresh legs onto the pitch, but with limited quality on the bench, Smith seems reluctant to accept the new law.

“I wasn’t for it (five substitutes rule). I just believe we started the season with certain rules and now we have changed it. I suppose it helps the clubs with the bigger squads”, said Smith.

“There was talk to change it because there is more risk of injury but having more subs doesn’t help that. I just wanted it to stay as it was. I think Sheffield United were the same.”

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