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Aston Villa 2021-22 season review - star player, best moment, standout result

Sports Mole takes an in-depth look at Aston Villa's 2021-22 season, which saw the West Midlands side go through a transitional period under Steven Gerrard.

On the back of last season's 11th-placed finish, Aston Villa have re-established themselves as a Premier League club after having previously taken three years to earn a return to the top flight.

However, rather than continued progression being made at Villa Park, it has been nine months of change and consolidation, brought on by a managerial sacking and a step up in quality with regards to player arrivals.

Here, Sports Mole takes an in-depth look back at Villa's 2021-22 campaign, one which has only kept them as one of the Premier League's works in progress.



SEASON OVERVIEW

Aston Villa manager Steven Gerrard on March 19, 2022© Reuters

Final league position: 14th

EFL Cup: Third round

FA Cup: Third round

Top scorer: Ollie Watkins (11)

Most assists: Emiliano Buendia, Danny Ings (6)

While Villa were left to benefit from the £100m, which includes add-ons, that they will receive through the sale of Jack Grealish, the fact that the transfer saga did not reach a conclusion until nine days before the start of their season did not aid their chances of making a fast start.

Emiliano Buendia, Leon Bailey and Danny Ings were all brought in to strengthen Villa's options in the final third, but they were all powerless to prevent their new side losing 3-2 to Watford on the opening weekend.

Dean Smith's team responded with 10 points from the following five matches - the only defeat coming at Chelsea - but the five-game losing streak which followed ultimately cost boyhood supporter Dean Smith his job in the dugout with the club in 16th position with 11 points from 10 games.

The incoming of Steven Gerrard brought the response that was required, the former Rangers boss beginning with a 2-0 win over Brighton & Hove Albion and going on to prevail in three more of his next five games, the two defeats during that period coming by one-goal margins to Manchester City and Liverpool.

Ollie Watkins had rediscovered some form at this stage, scoring in three of those games, but it was Jacob Ramsey who was really elevating his performances, the academy graduate making himself indispensable in the most advanced of the three midfield positions.

However, the upward trajectory would not continue for Villa, who won just one of their following seven games and went out in the FA Cup third round to Manchester United. Gerrard and the club's hierarchy responded midway through that period by signing Lucas Digne, Calum Chambers and, most notably, Philippe Coutinho.

The pull of playing for his former Liverpool teammate naturally proved pivotal when it came to the Brazilian departing Barcelona for the West Midlands, and he made an instant impact with a goal on his debut against Man United in the Premier League, the playmaker contributing four strikes and three assists from his first eight appearances.

Nevertheless, Villa's and Coutinho's season soon began to fizzle out, albeit with the team having no concerns with regards to relegation. Either side of the March international break, Villa suffered four successive defeats, and a run of two wins - against Burnley and Norwich City - from 10 games left the club heading into the closing fixture at Man City in 14th position.

Although reaching 10th position was still mathematically possible on the final day, it probably felt unachievable until Coutinho put Villa 2-0 ahead with a quarter of the game remaining. However, City came roaring back with yet another famous final-day comeback, leaving Villa to accept their current spot in the table.



PREMIER LEAGUE STATS

Wins: 13 (10th)
Draws: 5 (=15th)
Losses: 19 (4th)
Goals scored: 52 (9th)
Goals conceded: 54 (10th)
Yellow cards: 79 (=2nd)
Red cards: 3 (=3rd)
Passes: 14,888 (14th)
Shots: 464 (10th)
Big chances missed: 31 (17th)
Saves: 98 (16th)
Tackles: 634 (8th)
Own goals: 2 (=4th)
Hit woodwork: 7 (=19th)
Clearances: 629 (16th)



HOW DID IT COMPARE TO LAST SEASON?

Romelu Lukaku scoring for Chelsea against Aston Villa on December 26, 2021.© Reuters

Finishing just three places behind last season's 11th spot and that particular position still being within their reach heading into the final day, there is an argument that Villa should not feel too disheartened with their efforts over the past 38 games.

However, they have accumulated 10 points fewer than in 2020-21, leaving Gerrard fully aware of the size of his task in the summer. Had they closed the season without a four-game winless streak, however, there may have been a different perception of their season.

In terms of cup competitions, Villa also went out of the FA Cup at the third-round stage last year, losing out to Liverpool. Being eliminated from the EFL Cup in the third round was one stage earlier than in 2020-21, although that particular last-16 exit was more damaging with Championship side Stoke City having prevailed at Villa Park.

From an attacking perspective, Villa have only scored three goals fewer this campaign, netting 52 times. The major disappointment will be Watkins scoring just 11 times, compared to 16 strikes being recorded in all competitions the previous season.

Another contrasting return has been in terms of the amount of goals which have been conceded. Villa may have ended the season with the 11th best defensive record, but conceding 54 times is eight more than the last campaign.



PLAYER OF THE SEASON - JACOB RAMSEY

Aston Villa's Jacob Ramsey celebrates scoring their first goal with Ashley Young on December 14, 2021© Reuters

A number of Villa players can say that they have made a sufficient contribution this season. Watkins has chipped in with 11 goals, making him the club's top goalscorer, Ings has 13 goal contributions to his name (seven goals, six assists), and Matty Cash has been an important ever-present on the right-hand side of the defence.

However, Ramsey has arguably been Villa's biggest success story this season, showcasing the attributes required to suggest that he can become a mainstay in this team for years to come. While six goals is an important run for a player with his role, it has been the 20-year-old's overall game that has really stood out, his explosiveness and running into the box offering something different to Douglas Luiz and John McGinn.

Gerrard placed trust in Ramsey from the off, but it was a match-winning contribution at Norwich City in December that really saw him stand out. During the following two months, Ramsey twice had a hand in two goals in the same match, those games in question being thrillers against Man United and Leeds.

Like his team in general, Ramsey has failed to kick on during the closing weeks of the season, but making 29 Premier League starts in a single season before the age of 21 has helped laid the foundations for better things to come.



STANDOUT RESULT

Aston Villa's Kortney Hause celebrates with Danny Ings after the match against Manchester United in the Premier League on September 25, 2021© Reuters

On several occasions since Gerrard's arrival, Villa have posted convincing results, particularly during a three-game stretch in February and March where they defeated Brighton & Hove Albion, Southampton and Leeds, scoring nine goals and keeping three successive clean sheets.

However, Villa's best win of the season came under Smith's watch in September. Villa travelled to Old Trafford to face Man United having convincingly defeated Everton in the previous game, and that momentum continued to build with a dramatic 1-0 triumph at the Theatre of Dreams.

The game appeared done and dusted with two minutes remaining when Kortney Hause directed a smart header inside David de Gea's near post after meeting an inswinging corner, but the drama was far from over as Hause conceded a penalty in added-on time courtesy of handball.

Goalkeeper Emiliano Martinez spent the time before the spot kick goading Bruno Fernandes, and his gamesmanship worked a treat, the previously reliable Portuguese sending his penalty high over the crossbar and gifting Smith one of his standout moments before departing Villa six weeks later.

> Click here for a full list of Villa's results from the 2021-22 season



BEST MOMENT

Aston Villa's Philippe Coutinho celebrates scoring their third goal on March 5, 2022© Reuters

Aside from beating United on away territory, there is not a particular moment which stands out for Villa when it comes to on-the-pitch action, perhaps only the comeback draw in the reverse fixture against the Red Devils deserving a special mention.

For us, however, everything revolving around the signing of Coutinho has to be Villa's best moment. All things considered, they would not have been in the running to sign the Brazilian maestro without having Gerrard at the helm, but his arrival and subsequent agreement to remain at the club in the long term has the potential to be the trigger for other high-profile names to follow.

Having found himself in and out of the squad at Barcelona for one reason or another, Villa will be delighted to have got 19 appearances out of Coutinho during the second half of the season, an achievement in itself. There have been times when he has gone missing in games, but he has also shown on occasions that he can be Villa's new match-winner, something that they missed when Grealish left in August.

The fact that Coutinho will be lining up in a Villa shirt next season will act as the catalyst for four or five top signings being made during the off-season, and it could ensure that Villa make the move from the mid-table positions.



TOP PRIORITY FOR SUMMER

Aston Villa manager Steven Gerrard on April 2, 2022© Reuters

The fact that Villa have conceded eight more goals than they have scored this season tells you everything that you need to know about their priorities this summer. The full-back positions are locked up with Cash and Lucas Digne, but Villa desperately require more consistency in the middle of the defence.

Villa's only clean sheet against a top-seven club this season came against United in September. Perhaps too much should not be read into that given their current status, but they will not fulfil their potential under Gerrard unless they improve on that statistic over the coming seasons.

Who should they sign? Marseille's Boubacar Kamara is already on his way and Villa are going to become an attractive option for countless other players this summer. With centre-back a priority, they should be involving themselves in the race for James Tarkowski, who appears likely to depart Burnley on a free transfer.

In terms of other areas, any signings may act as direct replacements. Backup options at full-back, an alternative to Douglas Luiz if he moves on to pastures new, and potentially a third frontman if Gerrard opts against including youngster Cameron Archer in his plans.



FINAL VERDICT

When Gerrard replaced Smith in November, Villa sat just seven points adrift of the top six, and there was a feeling at the time that a push for European qualification was not out of the question.

The initial bounce under the Englishman made that an increasing possibility but even though Villa did not push on after Christmas, this was a season for building blocks to be put in place ahead of what they hope will be a sustained push for the top 10 and better in 2022-23.

As well as only finishing in 14th, early cup exits acted as a disappointment, even if they were understandable having drawn Chelsea and Man United away from home. Nevertheless, that will be a targeted area for improvement ahead of next season, Gerrard likely looking to put together a squad of 22 or 23 players which can handle a potentially busier schedule.


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Marseille's Boubacar Kamara pictured in October 2021
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