Is the writing on the wall for Aston Villa?
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As Harvey Barnes made it four for Leicester City, Aston Villa's Dean Smith cut a forlorn figure. The Villans were hapless in defeat, making it four Premier League losses in a row. Despite some flashes of brilliance this term, including reaching a Carabao Cup final, the Birmingham-based outfit is suddenly sinking without a trace.
Sure, luck certainly hasn't been on Villa's side while injuries have definitely played their part. Losing John McGinn to a serious ankle problem before the year's turn could well be a deal-breaker, though the Scot is now back in training. Being without both striker Wesley and goalkeeper Tom Heaton for the campaign's remainder is another vital blow. Pepe Reina's horrendous mistake against The Foxes definitely only heightens the latter's absence...
Villa now sit nineteenth in the league table. Yes, they do hold a game in hand over the teams in and around them, though recent performances have hardly been inspiring. Apparently, Smith's job is at stake when Villa host Chelsea this coming Saturday - which only piles more pressure on everyone involved. One thing I must add, however, is the fact that these are the sort of games where Smith's managerial position should be on the line. With respect to last season's Championship play-off winners, nobody expects them to go toe-to-toe with a big-spending powerhouse like the Stamford Bridge outfit. At the very least, I would've liked to see how Villa gets on against both Newcastle United (though this game has been postponed) and Wolverhampton Wanderers before making a final decision.
Let's not forget it was Smith who masterminded the unlikeliest of promotions less than twelve months ago, while when the 48-year-old has had a full complement of players with the confidence flowing, Villa has shown that they're capable of winning Premier League football matches.
What makes Villa amongst the favourites to face the dreaded drop is their fixture list. They still have to play the aforementioned Chelsea, with away trips to both Liverpool and Everton on the cards. The Villans also host Manchester United and Arsenal in their final ten matches. Yes, it's getting tight down there, but I'm certainly not feeling confident about Villa's overall prospects.
Scoring goals hasn't necessarily been the problem. Jack Grealish has been their talisman, scoring nine and laying on eight assists. Conor Hourihane and Wesley (before his injury) have both chipped in nicely. Their 34 goals ranks them twelfth in terms of finding the back of the net. It's preventing them at the opposite end that's the key issue. 56 (!) have been conceded. That's comfortably the poorest in the league, with West Ham second-worst (they've conceded 50). You expect more from the likes of Tyrone Mings, while the failure to adequately replace loan signing Axel Tuanzebe is coming back to haunt them.
Games against Crystal Palace and West Ham will prove to be crucial. It's going to be a nail-biting end to a mixed season back in the big-time, that's for sure. Yes, Villa could still pull it off, which would be incredibly special, but you have to feel nervous about their prospects right now. I do hope they keep the faith with Smith regardless of how this pans out, but don't be surprised to wake up Monday morning to find the Villa Park club on the lookout for a new manager...