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Villa have already taken a ‘monumental jump’ this season

The issues for this new-look side have been obvious.

Fans, as ever, came into the season as optimistic as ever and the performance they were met with at Vicarage Road caused widespread panic.

Since then the ship has steadied, but with four points from the opening three games against some of the less-threatening opponents in the league, the views of fans are mixed so far.

Creativity

Villa have scored five goals so far this season.

On the face of it, this is a reasonable tally when taking into consideration it is more than Leeds United, Leicester City and Tottenham Hotspur.

However, two of these goals have come from the penalty spot. This is the joint most in the league with Everton on the same amount as well.

This is where the first issue for this Villa side arises.

Non-penalty expected goals (NpxG) is a metric used to analyse the chances a side creates while excluding the penalties they take. A penalty has an expected goals (xG) value of 0.76 xG meaning around 76% of the time it is scored. If a penalty is given, it will make up a large majority of a team’s xG value and may inflate their figure.

An inflated xG value indicates the team may appear more creative than they actually were.

For example, against Watford, Villa had 1.1 xG but only 0.3 NpxG, showing how little they created when removing the penalty that Danny Ings scored. Over the first three games, Villa have accumulated 1.4 NpxG when excluding penalties, which is the lowest value in the league.

Danny Ings scores Aston Villa’s second goal in a 3-2 defeat to Watford at Vicarage Road

Their struggles are only further emphasised by other statistics.

They are 17th in the league for shot creating actions as well as their average shot distance of 18.3 yards being the third furthest out in the league.

Villa need players such as Emiliano Buendia and Leon Bailey to step up and improve not only the volume of chances but the quality of them for this side.

The team quite obviously has creative issues but this has been improving recently. As previously mentioned against Watford it was 0.3 NpxG, against Newcastle it was 0.4 NpxG and more recently against Brentford they recorded a value of 0.6 NpxG.

A slow but steady rise indicates the new teammates are gelling and finally beginning to create. This is promising, especially knowing that it was a disrupted team selection that resulted in this increase.

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Accuracy

Fans can take comfort in the small improvements they have seen as the team has played more frequently together. Another area they have improved on is their accuracy when attempting shots on goal in open play.

Against Watford they had ten shots on goal and only one effort was on target, Newcastle saw nine shots and once again only one was on target, whereas Brentford faced seven shots from Villa and five of them were on target. Their accuracy increased from 10% to 11.1% and finally took a monumental jump to 71.4%.

Villa are becoming more threatening as the squad gels together and this is a promising sign for the coming weeks which as previously mentioned, will see the likes of Leon Bailey and Ollie Watkins returning to the side who will add to this increasing threat.

Aston Villa's Ollie Watkins
Aston Villa’s Ollie Watkins

They rank 13th in the league in terms of shot accuracy at just 26.9% and 19th for total shots on target with only Crystal Palace having less. Without the recent improvements, these figures would have been much more disappointing.

Further Improvements

Ignoring the obvious headaches a team selection will cause, the return of Ollie Watkins won’t only help with efforts on goal.

Villa’s current style of play was still tailored to the runs he would make in behind the defence and his ability to hold the ball up. Danny Ings has tried his best but doesn’t bring the same pace and physicality that Watkins does.

Villa have progressed the ball at 2.11 metres per second, which is the fastest rate in the league.

They have also attempted 320 passes above shoulder height which is the third most in the league. Both of these statistics point to the long balls that Watkins would often latch onto and cause issues for defenders or bring others into play from.

His return will significantly increase Villa’s threat going forward as Ings, Buendia and Bailey feed on the outlet he provides.

Outcomes

It is quite early to start predicting how the season will unfold for this new squad.

Opta have currently given Dean Smith’s side a 0.6% chance of Europa League, 0.2% chance of Champions League and a 7% chance of relegation. This may be disappointing for fans who had high hopes of European football this season, but as West Ham showed last season it is possible to start slow and finish strong.

Dean Smith is set to be without a couple of key players for the trip to Chelsea. (Photo by RICHARD HEATHCOTE/POOL/AFP via Getty Images)
Dean Smith is set to be without a couple of key players for the trip to Chelsea. (Photo by RICHARD HEATHCOTE/POOL/AFP via Getty Images)

At this point last season West Ham were 11th on one less point than Villa having played Wolverhampton Wanderers, Arsenal and Newcastle United.

They went on to finish sixth, outlining this season is far from over. Villa were fourth at the time and all fans will be aware, the season has 38 game weeks and there are many twists left.

Overall, its been a slow start for Villa and many fans will have expected more going into this season.

There are several reasons to remain positive, however, with signs of improvement breaking through and players returning from injury.

The next few games with tough opponents such as Chelsea and Everton coming up will be a real test for this team.

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