Opportunistic Aston Villa in midst of surprise rise despite attacking woes
Second in the Premier League table and first in your small-sample-size hearts, Aston Villa is quite the story in the first month of the season. Laughing at your Total Shots Ratio calculations, the opportunistic Villans have picked up a hefty 2.5 points per game from their paltry 1.5 shots on target per contest, and the preseason relegation candidates have pushed themselves a quarter of the way to safety already after their shock 1-0 win at Anfield on Saturday.
Yes, you read that correctly: Aston Villa has 10 points thus far while totaling just six shots on target for the season. Just half a dozen in total, with four of them coming in one match vs. bottom-of-the-table Newcastle. From that sparse collection, Villa has somehow squeezed out four goals -- enough to nab two 1-0s, a 0-0 and a 2-1 to park the club right behind league-leading powerhouse Chelsea after four matches.
To paraphrase The Dude, this lack of aggression cannot stand, man, but Villa should get main striker Christian Benteke back from an Achilles' injury soon, and a return even to last season's mediocre offensive levels should be plenty if the Villans' improved defensive posture has staying power. In many ways, this offensive start has been an extension of what happened all of last season, even before Benteke was lost in early April.
According to data compiled by SBNation's Cartilage Free Captain, Villa finished 2013-14 with the third-lowest percentages in the Premier League in both percentage of "danger zone" (central areas inside the box and dangerous zones just outside either post) shots on target and percentage of overall shots that came from inside the box.
Villa's paltry 36 goals in 38 matches were basically right on expectation for the club's overall offensive threat. It was just a pretty punchless team. Things got worse when Benteke was lost, as the Villans scored just five goals in their last seven matches, and were shut out four times. As he hasn't yet returned this season, and Villa did very little to reinforce in the summer transfer window, their early offensive struggles are hardly unexpected.
Villa currently is last in the league in both shots attempted and shots on target, and also third to last in dribbles past opponents. Where they've been making hay – beyond their opportunistic goal scoring – is on the defensive end. According to WhoScored.com, Villa is one of three teams in the league not to allow a shot from inside its six-yard box, and nearly 50 percent of its total shots allowed are coming from outside the penalty area.
That's better than last season's rate of 45 percent, and Villa has been much better at denying good goal scoring chances. Last season, the club allowed more than 38 percent of total shots to come from the "danger zone." On Saturday, Villa limited Liverpool to a handful of legitimate chances (and just one shot on target) even though the Reds amounted 18 total attempts at goal.
Given the club's tenuous ownership situation, with American Randy Lerner openly looking to sell and the related lack of clarity as to how much money would be available come January, Villa was a trendy pick to drop prior to the season. Now, even with its next four matches coming against teams that also finished in last year's top five, Villa is in terrific shape to come through its early schedule difficulties.
Points now count the same as points later, and even if Villa gets nothing from the next month, it would just need a point a match the rest of the way to get to the magical safety mark of 40. So, scoff if you must at the league's literal one-shot wonders, but come May, when these 10 early points could look really crucial to their survival, Aston Villa will be having a good laugh of its own.