Did Aston Villa Make A Massive Mistake Firing Dean Smith?
This image is a derivative of Aston Villa - FA Cup Final 2015 day - flags outside Birmingham Moor Street Station by Elliott Brown (CC BY-SA 2.0)
The managerial merry-go-round continues.
Last week Dean Smith was the fifth manager to face the axe this season and while he's recently inked a deal to take over at struggling Norwich, his Villa departure came as a shock.
He had enormous success at the club during his three years in charge, first helping to hoist them out of the Championship and into the EPL before establishing them as a mid-table team over the last couple of seasons.
While yes, much of Villa’s success in this period can be attributed to phenomenal exploits of Jack Grealish, Smith also played a major role in the star's rise with the club reaping the rewards of his recent 100 million euro transfer to Manchester City.
At the time of Smith’s firing, Villa were 16th and sported a -6 goal differential, while according to Stats Insider’s futures model are now a 7.3% chance of being relegated.
With that said, these numbers don’t tell the whole story with Smith overseeing a wretched run of injuries all season coupled with a tricky draw all the while having to adjust to life without Grealish.
All this triggers the question, were Villa justified in ending Smith’s time at the club?
Dissecting the last month
A predominant reason for Villa’s axing of Dean Smith was the club’s most recent month of truly dismal football losing 5-straight EPL fixtures while shipping no less than 13 goals in the process.
On the surface Villa seemed to be a shell of what they were in recent seasons or even over the first few weeks of the new campaign where they earned wins over both Everton and Manchester United.
The first of the five losses came against Spurs away from home. Under regular circumstances this would be a loss that Villa fans would be able to stomach especially considering they were without new signing Leon Bailey while Emi Buendia was only fit enough to play the final 20 minutes. Spurs were coming off three horrendous London derby losses and had blood in their eyes.
Villa’s next loss came against Wolves in a very unlucky game. They dominated the bulk of the match, scoring first through Danny Ings before doubling their lead with 20 minutes to go thanks to John McGinn. Emi Buendia started, and the difference was felt with the Argentina producing 2 key passes and creating 1 big chance... And then the wheels fell off. Within ten minutes Villa had blown a 2-0 lead before losing 3-2 with all three goals coming from set pieces.
Next up was a resurgent Arsenal who dominated from start to finish and whom were up 3-0 by the hour before Villa netted a consolation 83rd minute goal of their own.
It was however their Halloween fixture at home against West Ham which perhaps sealed Smith’s fate. While the game was in the balance at halftime, with Villa 2-1 down yet controlling possession, the team imploded once again after Ezri Konsa was red-carded. Soon enough the floodgates opened and the Hammers poured on 4 goals.
The most recent result was a 1-0 loss away to Southampton and which acted as the final straw for the Villa board, terminating Smith's tenure days later. After conceding very early to Adam Armstrong, Villa couldn’t get going and went into the half one goal down. Despite playing much better football in the second half and having the lion’s share of shots and chances created, they couldn’t break down the Saints and slumped to their fifth successive defeat.
What these results have illustrated is that while Villa perhaps didn’t perform at their best over the last month they were quite unlucky in the majority of their results, confirming that sometimes the football gods simply aren’t in your corner.
The Trend Continues
When looking at Villa’s season, many factors need to be addressed beginning with squad turnover.
Losing a player like Jack Grealish had a massive impact on the continuity and cohesion of the team. Despite bringing in Leon Bailey, Danny Ings and Emi Buendia, these players haven't had a chance to gel together and within the system that Dean Smith wanted to employ.
The new signings haven't started together in the same side at any point this season, further perpetuating Smith’s struggles to bind and connect his troops.
Clearly however the Villa board feared the spectre of relegation so much so they severed Smith's contract rather than keep faith that their new talent will get fit and that Smith would be able to keep them afloat.
Aston Villa may very well come to regret the sacking of Dean Smith, a manager who provided them so much and perhaps still had plenty more to give.
Did you enjoy this article? Join our free mailing list to get the best content delivered straight to your inbox, or join the conversation by leaving a comment below or on the Stats Insider Twitter or Facebook page.