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Aston Villa is on the slide under Dean Smith after losing Jack Grealish

Having escaped descent through the skin of his teeth in 2020, Aston Villa improved tremendously last season by jumping from 17 to 11 in the Premier League.

The expectation was that Dean Smith’s team would continue its upward trajectory, potentially mimicking teams like Leicester and West Ham by challenging Europe this time.

But only 10 games on the season and all of that seems to be in tatters. Four consecutive losses, the last of which was a 4-1 loss to the Hammers on Sunday, have prompted a sobering reconsideration of ambitions at Villa Park.

Dean Smith enraged on the touchline during Aston Villa's 4-1 loss to West Ham on Sunday

Dean Smith enraged on the touchline during Aston Villa’s 4-1 loss to West Ham on Sunday

Villa's backline is beaten when Jarrod Bowen escapes to celebrate West Ham's fourth goal.

Villa's backline is beaten when Jarrod Bowen escapes to celebrate West Ham's fourth goal.

Villa’s backline is beaten when Jarrod Bowen escapes to celebrate West Ham’s fourth goal.

Aston Villa has made informal contact with former Roma coach Paulo Fonseca

Aston Villa has made informal contact with former Roma coach Paulo Fonseca

Aston Villa has made informal contact with former Roma coach Paulo Fonseca

A four-game losing streak has seen Villa sink to 15th place, just three points above the drop zone.

A four-game losing streak has seen Villa sink to 15th place, just three points above the drop zone.

A four-game losing streak has seen Villa sink to 15th place, just three points above the drop zone.

Only three points separate Villa from Burnley at 18th and the direction of travel at the moment is clearly down rather than up.

In fact, it has gotten to the point where, as Sportsmail exclusively revealed Monday night, Villa probed former Roma manager Paulo Fonseca when considering possible replacements for Smith.

Villa’s bad streak

On September 25, Villa played Manchester United at Old Trafford and won 1-0. But since then …

October 3 Tottenham (A) 1-2

October 16 Wolves (H) 2-3

October 22 Arsenal (A) 1-3

31 October West Ham (H) 1-4

While noises outside the club continue to support Smith, his manager since October 2018, the fact that alternatives are being considered does not bode well.

It wasn’t until September 25 that Villa snatched the 1-0 win from Manchester United thanks to a late goal from Kortney Hause.

Since then, losses to Tottenham Hotspur, Wolves (from 2-0 up), Arsenal and West Ham have erased any early-season optimism and put Smith under some pressure.

The obvious explanation for Villa’s troubles is that they miss Jack Grealish, the £ 100 million English star who joined Manchester City in the summer, but that would be too simplistic.

The current problems are clearly deeper than the loss of a single player, even one who scored seven goals and set another 12 in all competitions last season.

Villa wasted no time reinvesting Grealish’s windfall in players who he believed would creatively compensate for his departure.

£ 33 million to Emiliano Buendia, £ 30 million to Leon Bailey and £ 25 million to Danny Ings was an outlay designed to replace Grealish’s goals, but Villa is not creating enough opportunities, much less seizing them.

Emiliano Buendia risks a missed opportunity during Villa's 3-1 loss to Arsenal last month

Emiliano Buendia risks a missed opportunity during Villa's 3-1 loss to Arsenal last month

Emiliano Buendia risks a missed opportunity during Villa’s 3-1 loss to Arsenal last month

Leon Bailey has struggled with injury and fitness issues, and he performed below his best ability.

Leon Bailey has struggled with injury and fitness issues, and he performed below his best ability.

Leon Bailey has struggled with injury and fitness issues, and he performed below his best ability.

At least the summer arrival Danny Ings has found the goal with three goals for Villa so far

At least the summer arrival Danny Ings has found the goal with three goals for Villa so far

At least the summer arrival Danny Ings has found the goal with three goals for Villa so far

For example, only Leeds, Newcastle and Norwich have created fewer “great opportunities” than Villa’s paltry total of 13 so far this season. Only five have made fewer shots in total than Villa’s 115.

According to Opta, they have only produced one ‘counterattack’ this season, which suggests that they are not very good at counterattack.

Players hired at some cost to replace Manchester City's Jack Grealish for the summer have yet to come to life.

Players hired at some cost to replace Manchester City's Jack Grealish for the summer have yet to come to life.

Players hired at some cost to replace Manchester City’s Jack Grealish for the summer have yet to come to life.

Likewise, they are in the fourth worst place for regaining possession in the last third, so they do not press at the top of the field either. It helps explain why the chances have been slim.

Bailey, the only figure who could be good at doing those last two things with his breakneck pace, has been hampered by injury hits and does not appear to be in the physical condition to complete a full 90 minutes today.

Buendía, so excellent for Norwich in the Championship, came as a record signing for Villa’s club, but has only one goal and one assist in nine games thus far.

Held back by a nagging hip problem early in the season, the Argentine has not emerged as the central creative force that Villa had hoped he would.

He presents a problem because Smith wanted to base his attack line around Buendía, either playing the 10th role or one of the open positions, but the spark has been lacking.

He was also upset about being the substituted sacrificial lamb after Ezri Konsa was shown a red card on Sunday, initially heading straight down the tunnel before heading back to the bench.

The hope is that Buendia and Bailey, plus Ings, who has scored three goals so far, will become a fully functioning front of three. But it hasn’t happened yet.

Ezri Konsa received a red card for this foul on Jarrod Bowen during Sunday's horror show.

Ezri Konsa received a red card for this foul on Jarrod Bowen during Sunday's horror show.

Ezri Konsa received a red card for this foul on Jarrod Bowen during Sunday’s horror show.

John Terry left Smith's coaching staff in the summer and his influence could be lost.

John Terry left Smith's coaching staff in the summer and his influence could be lost.

John Terry left Smith’s coaching staff in the summer and his influence could be lost.

Villa Accessories

Friday Southampton (A)

November 20 Brighton (H)

November 27 Crystal Palace (A)

December 1st Manchester City (H)

December 5th City of Leicester (H)

December 11 Liverpool (A)

The lack of chances and goals is one aspect, but conceding them is another big problem. Villa has conceded three or more goals in three consecutive league games for the first time since December 2012.

That’s despite the bottom line being pretty settled all season with Emi Martinez in goal and Matty Cash, Tyrone Mings, Ezri Konsa and Matt Targett in most of the time.

They have averaged 1.9 goals against so far this season, and only Norwich and Newcastle have more leaks. Those teams are last and second, respectively.

The 3-1 loss at Arsenal was a good example. Not only did the Gunners score their first goal from an unmarked header in a corner, but they repeatedly cut through Villa’s defense, offering them acres of space.

Emile Smith Rowe’s goal, the third for Arsenal, saw Villa’s defense woefully out of position as he ran to score through a Mings deflection.

Losing the vast defensive sense of coach John Terry, who left in the summer to seek a permanent managerial role somewhere, couldn’t have helped.

Villa’s midfield has also looked weak in all those recent defeats. It’s too easy to miss or get through, and opponents take the lead from the first whistle.

Villa endured a terrible afternoon when they blew a two-goal lead against Wolves

Villa endured a terrible afternoon when they blew a two-goal lead against Wolves

Villa endured a terrible afternoon when they blew a two-goal lead against Wolves

When Jacob Ramsey added to Villa’s concerns in the 15th minute of the West Ham game, the only option was for Ashley Young, 36, to be played out of position.

Declan Rice and Tomas Soucek were able to dominate Young, John McGinn and Marvelous Nakamba for the remainder of the contest.

It all adds up to problems across the field for Smith to solve before Friday night’s trip to Southampton. The fact that other managers are being considered will not improve your mood.

Four losses in a row may pose only one problem, but if that streak continues, it will be a crisis situation from which Smith will not recover.

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