From driving a Ferrari at 20mph, Aston Villa are now pushing down on the accelerator under their new forward-thinking manager Dean Smith. This was proven during their dominant win over bitter rivals Birmingham City over the weekend.
Six games. Three wins. And three clean sheets for the former Brentford man. At the start of the campaign, Villa hit a lot of potholes in their race for promotion. But, at this moment, the road to the Premier League is beginning to smooth out.
Here, we analyse how Villa won the bragging rights in the Second City derby:
Not getting out of first gear
In the graphic above, you can see the home side dominated the ball throughout the encounter. At one stage, between the 46th- 60th minute, Villa had a mammoth 84% possession of the ball. However, in the opening stages of the match, particularly the first half an hour, Villa did not make those possession stats count as they were lacklustre, ineffective and non-threatening.
In laymen terms, Villa were playing too safe, taking too many touches, building their attacks too slowly and being sloppy in possession.
In the below images, you can see Birmingham City’s Craig Gardner pressing Glenn Whelan, who loses possession of the ball deep into his own half. It was from moments like this where the away side were forcing corners, and as a result, troubling Villa.
In the next illustration, centre-back James Chester has two simple passing options available to him. More so to left-back Neil Taylor who is hugging the touchline. However, his risky medium-ranged pass is intercepted, which further signified the sloppiness to Villa’s opening half an hour.
Frustrations began to boil as Villa were unable to break down their opponents or test goalkeeper Lee Camp in a meaningful manner. As a result of that frustration, playmaker Jack Grealish, alongside wingers, Jonathan Kodjia and Albert Adomah were forced deep into their own half in order to make the ball talk.
Midfielder Conor Hourihane put the icing on a now sour tasting cake when his attempted long-range pass ended up going out for a goal kick.
Not reading the road signs
As a result of Villa constantly losing possession, Garry Monk’s side were able to attack in an efficient manner and target their opponents’ penalty area. Prior to the match, Birmingham had scored eight goals from set-piece situations, whilst Villa had conceded ten goals from dead ball situations. Something was going to give!
In the image below, you can see that number 26, Kodjia loses his marker, Lukas Jutkiewicz. At that exact moment, the target-man is five yards away from giving his side the lead as he isn’t quick enough to react to Villa’s failure to pick him up.
Not long after, Monk’s men win another corner and this time Jutkiewicz is ready to punish Villa, who fail to pick him up once again. The former Burnley player ghosts around the home side’s defence and ends up scoring Birmingham’s first goal at Villa Park in ten years. The signs were there during previous corners, but the signals were not read by Smith’s side.
Before Villa’s comeback, the away side would go onto hit the post with Che Adams, who failed to double his side’s lead. Ultimately, he was punished for it…
Putting your foot on the accelerator
Villa only started their engine when they went a goal behind, but when they got going, they well and truly punished their neighbours. The Claret & Blue outfit showcased their ability to move the ball quicker, overload in the wide areas and inside the box, which resulted in them producing a stunning comeback.
After going behind in the match, Villa began to push higher up the pitch and switch play a lot quicker. In the first image, Monk’s side are dragged to one side of the pitch as Whelan attempts to switch the ball to the other flank in a quick fashion.
As a result of that, right-back Alan Hutton has acres of space ahead of him, but most importantly, he has the option of playing a through ball to Albert Adomah, who doesn’t have an opposition player anywhere near him.
From there, Smith’s tactic of overloading the box pays off as Kodjia brilliantly controls the ball and finds the back of the net to level the scores.
Two minutes later, Birmingham are once again being overloaded on the flanks, and in the penalty area as Villa search for a second. Unable to prevent the cross, Adomah lays the ball on a plate for Solihull-born Jack Grealish, who heads his side into the lead.
Hutton the driving force
From there, Villa were hard to stop as they raced into a 3-1 lead after the break following Tammy Abraham’s penalty kick. Kristian Pedersen did pull one back, but the aptly-named ‘Scottish Cafu’ produced arguably the greatest moment in Second City derby history.
As you can see from the image below, Hutton charges for the loose ball inside his own half and begins a lung-busting journey the Villa Park faithful will never forget.
As he enters Birmingham’s half, the former Scotland international has the option of passing the ball out wide to Kodjia. Hutton declines.
Instead, he continues to charge forward as the option of passing to Kodjia is still available and playing a forward pass to Chelsea loanee Abraham.
Once again, ‘the Scottish Cafu’ declines as he is now surrounded by five opposition players, with Jacques Maghoma doing his best to push him off the ball.
None of that works as Hutton enters the penalty area and slots the ball home with his weaker foot to send the 42,000 strong crowd into party mode.
Aston Villa are now thirteen league games unbeaten against Birmingham following that deserved victory over the weekend. Added with that, the Blues have not tasted victory at the home of their bitter rivals since 2004. Villa’s dominance in this hotly-contested fixture is there for all to see. However, their focus will now turn to Wednesday when they will take on Nottingham Forest before a trip to Tony Pulis’ Middlesbrough at the weekend. Under Smith’s new style, a top-six finish for Villa is a real possibility. Whether they can challenge the top-two spot could be answered in these next six weeks with a high number of tough fixtures coming up.