Aston Villa’s midseason slump in form has come as a surprise to many pundits after a hot start to the season. Considering Villa took their relegation fight into the final day last year, Dean Smith’s men have massively defied expectations this campaign, by launching themselves up the table and adding themselves to the conversation around the European places.
There is no side in the Premier League, however, whose performances wouldn’t suffer when losing their best player for an extended run of games. Unsurprisingly, Villa have scored fewer goals with Jack Grealish out of the side through injury and illness, with only three in the first five games he missed in February and March. This has inevitably brought with it a series of undesirable results that have stalled Villa’s charge up the table.
The Villans are considered outsiders at around 8/1 with some bookmakers to make the top six amongst a crowded field of contenders. However, given this unfortunate slump in form, many will be reluctant to back them to make Europe, seeing them as an unsafe bet. Bet365, for example, have them 10/11 to finish in the top six and, as can be seen here, they offer 100 free bet credits, which many will use to protect their prediction. The time has come for Villa’s other big names to step up and fill the void.
English Marksman Key to Success
Ollie Watkins was a much-hyped club record £28-million transfer from a Brentford side that narrowly missed out on promotion to the Premier League last campaign. Watkins won the Golden Boot off an outstanding return of 26 goals – with not a single penalty – and had multiple suitors for his signature before the season, choosing to join the project that Dean Smith was building at Villa Park.
On the other hand, Villa chose him because he was a proven goalscorer. Watkins has had a strong debut season, spearheading the push into European contention that saw them only six points off the Champions League places, with two games in hand, following the 1-0 win over Leeds in January. He enjoyed a purple patch with four goals in seven games to start the calendar year but, like much of the team, has struggled without Grealish providing a source of creativity high up the pitch. Only the Harry Kane to Heung-Min Son connection at Spurs has assisted more goals to a single goalscorer than Grealish to Watkins this season.
😩 Ollie Watkins has hit the woodwork as many or more times (7) than 65 of the 98 teams in Europe’s top five leagues this season pic.twitter.com/345yzYXTXd
— WhoScored.com (@WhoScored) March 8, 2021
It’s Not All About Goals for Ollie
Of course, this hasn’t come without some bad luck, as Villa fans are very familiar with the sight of Watkins narrowly hitting the woodwork. Plus, he contributes in other areas. Smith himself has pointed to Watkins’ relentless pressing upfront, saying of the striker, “[he’s] our first line of defence. The reason that we win the ball higher up the pitch this season is his pressing.” This is as important to a modern striker’s toolkit as the ability to score goals. However, without Villa sourcing goals from somewhere, the dream of a first European berth since 2011 will remain just that.
Whether Villa can squeeze into those loftier positions in the table will require a good run of late-season form, and will almost certainly rely on getting Jack Grealish back in the side on a regular basis.