With just two matches remaining, Aston Villa currently have 21 points and sit in 9th place. Their latest point came courtesy of a credible scoreless draw at home to Manchester United.
Can the club owners, staff, players, and fans be happy with their current position?
Carla Ward took over as Head Coach of Aston Villa in May 2021. Since crossing the divide from Birmingham City, Ward has transformed the team from last season. She brought in 11 players on contract with a further two on loan. Ward also utilised Villa’s impressive Academy squad including one player, Laura Blindkilde-Brown, being given a long-term professional contract.
Aston Villa: a rollercoaster season
Villa started the season in sensational form gaining seven points from their first three matches. However, in their following eight WSL matches, they only notched up a single win alongside seven defeats.
Beating Birmingham City away from home was a watershed moment for the clarets. It showed their West Midlands rivals they were serious about their ambitions. However, this moment of magic was a rare success after three months of poor results.
From October through until Christmas, Villa conceded 20 goals scoring just two. They also got knocked out of the Continental Cup finishing 5th in a group that contained four Championship teams.
Some fans were becoming restless. Villa had so much young talent in their Academy team but why wasn’t Ward utilising these players more? Why were Villa the lowest-ranked team in the WSL for shots on target per match?Embed from Getty Images
A big turning point for Aston Villa
The Christmas break could not come soon enough for Ward and her staff. The players came back rejuvenated and as the weeks progressed so did the performances and the results.
Villa are still struggling to score goals but they have sure improved their defence. In their last seven matches, they’ve conceded a maximum of only one goal including three clean sheets. Villa are unbeaten in their last three matches and could potentially finish even higher than 9th place.
I would suggest this upturn in fortune is not simply down to the new signings made in January. Midfield veteran Jill Scott along with defenders Anna Patten and Rachel Corsie have made a difference but there is far more to it.
Villa have changed the way they play. Instead of sitting back and inviting pressure, they take the game to the opposition when the transition in play allows. This has taken the pressure off the defence and allowed the team to play with more freedom.
Away form significantly outstrips home form
At home, the Lions have only won once and drawn twice in ten league matches. Away from home, the Lions are the 5th best WSL team having won five and drawn one in ten matches.
Ward, and others, find it challenging to explain this stark difference in form. The erratic and unsociable kick-off times have certainly contributed to the low attendances at the Banks’ stadium. Other factors possibly include the pressure of being at home compared with having nothing to lose when away.
Whatever the issue is, it appears to have been dealt with, at least to an extent. Villa have drawn their last two matches at home including the impressive 0-0 draw with Manchester United so maybe the voodoo has been lifted.Embed from Getty Images
Stars shine for Villa
As we approach the end of the season focus often turns to awards and recognition. Most supporters would agree that captain Remi Allen has been Villa’s most influential player. Her tenacity and willingness to get stuck in for the team is second to none. Allen also has a habit of popping up at the right time in the right place to score vital goals too.
Defensive recognition must be given to three players.
Over the course of the season, the two full-backs Maz Pacheco and Sarah Mayling have done more than their share to stop opposition wingers. They can also win the ball back with vital tackles and bring the ball forward down the flanks.
Centre-back Anita Asante has proven that age is no barrier to continuing to succeed at the top level. At 37 this week, Asante is still keeping opposition strikers at bay by being one or two steps ahead of them.
Struggles in the final third
When Ward was asked about Villa’s struggles in the final third she said:
“I can’t put my finger on why we’ve not been scoring goals. We’ve created an awful lot [of chances], we really have. Have we got shots off? We haven’t hit the target as much as we would have liked.”
“We have one of the highest turnovers in the final third. But we really need to convert them. Set pieces are a massive part of the game. But many things are and we have to try and score goals.”
The overall measure of success
When asked previously as to whether Aston Villa have either met or exceeded their targets and expectations for the season, Ward happily remarks they have exceeded them. The initial target was to exceed last year’s points total [of 15 points] which they did several weeks ago.
If they do finish in 9th place of course it will be a marginal improvement on last season’s 10th place. However, Ward is adamant you’ve got to look at the overall picture.
This is the first season in the WSL where fans have been allowed to watch. Similar to Leicester City, Villa are the new kids on the block and they are learning all the time. Villa are aiming to build both on and off the field and supporter feedback has been vital to them as they continue their journey.
There are bound to be more comings and goings in the summer but overall Aston Villa are gradually heading in the right direction.