Aston Villa sit eight points adrift of safety at the foot of the table heading into the final three months of the season. The club opted against supporting manager Remi Garde by making new signings in the January transfer window, while all of their relegation rivals entered the market at least three times each.
So do this proud club, who have never been relegated from the English Premier League, stand any chance of survival in the remaining thirteen matches?
A quick glance at the table tells a very brief story of Villa’s struggles and one very notable thing stands out: their lack of goals. They have scored just 20 times in 25 league games, comfortably lower than any other side in the division. Indeed, only three other teams average less than a goal per game and it is no surprise that they are also embroiled in the relegation battle.
Is the problem poor finishing or a lack of creativity in the first place?
In terms of chances created, Aston Villa find themselves at the bottom of the pile once more. They have fashioned just 19 Great Chances all season. Naturally, the fewer chances you make the harder it is to score, but this figure is alarmingly low compared to the four sides directly above them, who all carve out Great Chances with significantly more regularity:
This lack of creativity immediately raises a red flag about their already slim chances of avoiding the drop. Another danger sign is that of these same five teams, they also find themselves with fewest Good Chances created. Unfortunately this is unlikely to change anytime soon, with no new signings arriving to raise creativity.
Even when Villa do create chances their conversion rate is poor, with 3.2 openings typically required to put the ball in the net. Of the same clutch of teams only Newcastle are finishing chances at a lower rate. Steve McClaren’s side are now far more creative, though, so can afford to be a bit less ruthless:
So far all things point towards relegation, but is there any cause for hope at all?
The short answer at this stage would be “not much”.
Since Garde took over in November the club’s form has improved, with the Frenchman losing just six of fourteen games. He might have only won twice, but it is important to remember that this was a squad who had lost seven in a row when he took over. So this is encouraging, especially with other teams at the bottom still going through poor patches of form.
Villa have improved defensively as well, with three of the four teams directly above them in the league having conceded more goals.
By tightening up, they have ensured that they remain in games, giving their forward players an opportunity to earn maximum points with a single goal at the other end. Clean sheets remain a rarity, though, which is an issue for a shot-shy team. They have secured just five all season, but with three secured in their last five matches they are noticeably harder to break down under the new manager.
It is also worth stating that they do a better job of preventing chances from being created in the first place compared to those around them, which is definitely cause for some optimism:
Another major thing that goes against Villa in the remaining fixtures is that complete lack of investment in the playing squad in the January transfer window that we discussed earlier.This may be encouraging, but it is not enough on its own to suggest that they have a genuine chance of staying up. The eight-point gap remains the key issue with just a third of the season remaining. Although it does not look insurmountable on paper, no team has ever clawed back such a margin to survive at this stage of the season.
All four of the sides above them spent money to strengthen their options, but Garde finds himself with the same squad that started the season. The only “new” arrival is Aly Cissokho, who was recalled from loan and has featured regularly since returning to Villa Park.
On the plus side they will not have to spend time bedding in new players, but if the squad was struggling before, there is only a small chance of them improving enough through training and tactical adjustments alone.
Their schedule for the rest of the season is fairly arduous too, although they do have crucial home matches against Bournemouth and Newcastle to look forward to:
In comparison to the others around them it appears that the already bleak outlook for Aston Villa shows no sign of changing, with a late run to avoid the drop increasingly unlikely with every passing week.
It seems that the slight upturn in form under Remi Garde may just be delaying the inevitable, with the club still destined for life in the English Championship next season based on their current metrics. Villa’s inefficiency in front of goal remains the most prominent signal of their impending drop and outweighs their recent defensive improvement significantly.
So, after all of this, is there any hope for Aston Villa?
It seems not…