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Dean Smith claims Aston Villa feel "a lot safer" with updated protocols

Nine players and five staff returned positive tests and the club's Bodymoor Heath training facility was closed down.

Dean Smith admitted everyone at Aston Villa feels "a lot safer" amid a rollout of updated health and safety measures at their training complex following a recent coronavirus outbreak.

Nine players and five staff tested positive for Covid-19 and the club's Bodymoor Heath training ground was closed earlier this month, forcing Villa to put out a youth team for their FA Cup defeat to Liverpool on January 8.

Asked about what has been done to reassure players and staff alike since their facilities have reopened, Smith revealed the wearing of nose and mouth coverings has been mandatory inside the training centre.

"It wasn't part of the protocol before to have to wear a mask all the time while inside the training centre but now it is," Smith said. "There have been an awful lot of upgrades within the protocol system of the Premier League.

"You certainly come back in having had that outbreak and you can see there's a change straight away. The increase in protocols maybe should have been earlier when we knew there was a new variant. It was certainly more contagious.

"But the new protocols are in now and we feel a lot safer."

The pandemic is creating a unique set of circumstances for clubs hoping to bolster their squads in the transfer window, with Smith acknowledging scouting players on video instead of in-person has become increasingly prevalent.

"There's a much bigger emphasis now on video scouting than there ever has been," he said. "Obviously, it's too much of a risk to be travelling too much, especially in a lockdown, so a lot of it has been done (with video scouting).

"You still go and do your character references from people who have worked with people before, which is a really important part of the process as well.

"But I think the whole country and possibly the world has slowed down a little bit in terms of what you can and can't do."

Villa bounced back from their 2-0 defeat at Manchester City last Wednesday – the first Premier League game in 19 days – by defeating Newcastle at the weekend to rise up to eighth in the standings.

Former Liverpool and England defender Jamie Carragher said afterwards on Sky Sports that Villa "have a once in a generation chance" to finish in the top four this season – although Smith was quick to play down the suggestion.

"It depends how long a generation is," Smith said ahead of his side's trip to Burnley on Wednesday evening.

"It could be a special season but we're not even at the halfway point, so there's an awful long way to go. We're not looking that far ahead at all, we're just looking to the next game and trying to get some points on the board."

The loss to Pep Guardiola's side a week ago was tinged with controversy as Rodri appeared to return from an offside position to dispossess Tyrone Mings in the build-up to City's opener.

Smith was sent off for his protestations – and served a one-match touchline ban against the Magpies – but it has been reported the Premier League has changed its guidance to referees to prevent a repeat occurrence.

"It became such a talking point after the game, I don't think that law was ever designed to be interpreted as it was," Smith said.

"You can't be seen to seek an advantage from an offside position and come and challenge for the ball. I'll be pleased to see the interpretation of that law change. Rightly so in my opinion."

As for whether he would expect the £8,000 fine he received from the Football Association to be rescinded, he said with a smile: "I don't think there's any chance of that."

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Aston Villa's Ollie Watkins celebrates scoring their first goal with Ross Barkley and Bertrand Traore on January 23, 2021
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