Are Aston Villa Really as Bad as Last Season? Or Has There Been Progress?

Aston Villa performance comparison to last season

A common belief muttered in the stands at Villa Park this season has been of deteriorating performances compared with last season. Unfortunately, flourishes of play that lit up Villa Park for 15 minutes in the recent Norwich game, haven’t been regularly forthcoming.

Villa’s best performance was arguably on their trip to Anfield in the 2-2 draw with Liverpool, in which they should have been out of sight by half-time. That was followed up with the 4-3 against the Baggies, but then a terrible February of one goal and one point from four games. How can a team that played as it did in the first half against Liverpool, then go on to be so abject? Consistency has been a problem for Lambert and his young chargers.

Negativity has been strong despite an improved league position compared with last season. However, the latest ‘The Villa Fiver’ article now shows us to be below last season in terms of points against the same opposition (currently three points down on last season). In this article, I will attempt to compare last season’s performances with this season, in a statistical manner, to see if performances really have dropped.


In my opinion, I have never seen a worse Villa side than we saw last season. 5 home wins, 69 goals conceded and completely abject performances were mainly forgotten over the summer due to a vast improvement in results in the final 10 games of last season (W5 D2 L3) and also in part to some early transfer activity from Paul Lambert.


I believe in part that negativity is as strong as it is right now due to expectations being too high. Firstly, I put this down to Martin O’Neill’s reign still being somewhat fresh in the memory. But more importantly, last season, Paul Lambert gave Villa a fresh start. We knew, as fans, that this was a transition period for the Villa team and it would take time. Therefore, any performances this season were bound to be viewed much skeptically than last season, and any lack of improvement in performance has only been exacerbated by the aforementioned deterioration in results. So how have we differed this season? What has Lambert changed?  Here is my analysis.

Formation and style of play

Continuing with his reputation from his time at Norwich, Lambert was never afraid to rotate his starting XI; Lambert’s first league game in charge saw a front four of N’Zogbia, Ireland, Holman and Bent! However, his popular 4-4-2 diamond formation never stuck, and instead Lambert experimented with formations throughout the entire season. Lambert is perhaps best known for his trial of five at the back around the Christmas period last season, and unsurprisingly, switched back to four at the back after huge losses to Chelsea, Spurs and Wigan. From then on, Lambert stuck to four at the back. This season, Lambert has switched from four to five at the back on many occasions. It appears that despite poor results with three centre-backs last season, Lambert is not afraid to change the number at the back this season.

Looking at the games in which five at the back has been deployed (Man City (H), West Ham (A), Southampton (A), Arsenal (H), Everton (A)), Lambert sees five at the back as a way of playing against the stronger teams. Interestingly, Villa have done well in these games and were unlucky not to pick up results in every single one of these game. In particular, games against Man City and Southampton saw two 3-2 wins, and only six shots on target! Arguably, then, Lambert has got his tactics correct vs. the ‘better’ teams.

With the way Villa have played against the bigger teams, we, as fans, are clearly warranted in questioning both the results and performances against teams lower down in the league. Furthermore, why, for the second year in a row, are we averaging more points away from home?


Possession45% (18th)40% (19th)42% (18th)
Touches in the penalty area259* (18th)264* (16th)523* (16th)
Chances created165* (18th)161* (11th)326* (12th)
Shots inside box77* (19th)78* (15th)155* (16th)

* – stats correct up to the Norwich game


Possession47% (13th)44% (14th)46% (13th)
Touches in the penalty area515 (12th)339 (16th)854 (13th)
Chances created235 (18th)203 (15th)438 (16th)
Shots inside box139 (15th)113 (13th)252 (14th)

* indicates part way through season.

Under McLeish in 2011/12, Villa were 18th for possession with 44% overall. Surprisingly, then, Lambert’s first season saw a decent improvement in possession despite being seen as a ‘counter-attacking’ side by the media, but this season Villa have fallen to where they were in terms of ball retention under McLeish.

Of course, possession stats can be broken down further, as where the possession occurs is more important than just keeping the ball. Villa are 16th for possession in both the opposition half and the final third. In 2012/13, these were 14th and 15th respectively. So as well as seeing less of the ball overall (both home and away), Villa are seeing less of the ball in attacking areas compared with other teams in the league. When looking at touches in the opposition penalty area, Villa are also a lot less threatening this season. Even more worrying is that we are seeing even fewer touches in the penalty area at home, and barely creating more chances at home than away.  Also, Villa are having more shots in the penalty area away from home than at home – no other team has had more shots away from home than at home other than Villa.

One positive? We are creating a lot of chances. On average, we are creating 16 chances a game vs. 11 last season.  But compared with 12/13, we are having less possession, fewer shots, and having fewer touches in attacking positions.

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  1. I think we have improved, although there is still a lot of work to do. Similarly to Arsenal, we have a strong core, and just need 2 or 3 magnificent players to take us to the next level.

    We dont have to overhaul the squad, nor fire the manager.

    • I agree, the right two or three players, a decent DM & a AM, could really transform the team. Villa need to be a little bit more bolder in the transfer market to get them.

  2. So are we better or worse? Where is your conclusion? The reason Bacuna is playing right back is because Lowton has been awful this season, was have looked far more secure on the right with Bacuna than with Lowton. Another reason for the issue on the flanks is that we have been primarily playing a 4-4-2 diamond as opposed to a 4-5-1 so the flanks haven’t been protected as much.

    Our mistakes have been more costly because those mistakes are happening closer to goal as we have been inviting teams onto us a lot more so as create more space for the counter attacks. Tactically we are much better than last season, the fact we are seven points better off after the same amount of games compared to last season as well as having conceded 15 fewer goals and having scored 5 more goals! The only area we were better last season was possession. Stylistically we were better last season as we were so open, but in terms of tactics, defending, scoring and results compared to the same stage last season we have improved! We need 10 goals and 11 points from 10 games to beat our points and goals totals of last season and need to avoid conceding 31 goals to match last season goals conceded tally, so to me the OBVIOUS answer is YES WE HAVE IMPROVED!

    • Me personally (I didn’t write the article), if we had brought the elusive attacking midfielder or experience head/talent in midfield, we would have improved without any doubt. You would have hoped Villa would have been around at least the 50 pt mark this season. It wasn’t that much to ask for.

    • Hi there 🙂

      This article came before the Norwich game, and I think that first half sums our season up in terms of just not having a clue as what to expect when we play. It is strange that often our play is predictable, yet we’re capable of getting these fantastic results at unexpected times.

      What I wanted to get across was that we’re creating more, albeit in different areas of the pitch, but having less of the ball has been quite frustrating from the fan’s point of view, especially at home. Tactically we’re better away, but at home I feel we’ve gone downhill slightly, which is a shame as expectations were increased so much from the last 10 games from last season.

      In all honesty I couldn’t say who I favoured at RB – it’s swung a few times between Bacuna and Lowton for me. I wouldn’t say that Lowton had a lot of support last season down the right – it was only really Weimann offering him any protection there last year. I like your point about the diamond though.

      I also wanted to get across (which I only really mentioned at the start) is that we have been better off in terms of points AND in terms of who we play at virtually all times this season – yet the performances have been far below far (which is what fans seem to have focused upon). You have to remember though that we’ve played 28 games this season – from that point last season we won 5 of the remaining games, so it’s not too much of a surprise that we’ve surpassed that total from last season. It would be nice to finish the season as we did, and go into the summer break with as much positivity as we did last season.

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