Dean Smith

Villa manager Smith laments penalty as relegation woes continue

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Aston Villa’s hopes of a result at Leicester City went from possible to unlikely in a heartbeat, and the Villans’ day was laughable by the final whistle.

Dean Smith‘s men conceded a controversial penalty and then fell apart in a 4-0 loss to the third-place Foxes at King Power Stadium on Monday.

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“Very tough night,” Smith said on NBCSN after the match. ” You don’t want to go and lose 4-0 anywhere. We started the game quite bright first 10 minutes but they had a lot of the ball. We made a big mistake for the goal. Going in at halftime and change a few things up.”

Then came the hour mark, as Smith was preparing a pair of attacking subs in search of an equalizer. As the reinforcements strode to the touchline, Villa defender Tyrone Mings blocked a Harvey Barnes cross with his shoulder and Leicester was awarded a penalty.

[ MORE: Vardy, Rodgers on Leicester win ]

“Second half they get a penalty. I didn’t even know what it was given for at the time. Obviously checked for handball. Looking back it hits his shoulder but it gets given, and they score and it becomes a bit of a basketball match. … We then became architects of our own downfall.”

That they did.

Villa was walloped on the day, and things don’t get any easier with Chelsea headlining a brutal run of fixtures. The club sits 19th, two points back of a trio of teams.

How can Smith and his crew find enough points to stay in the top flight?

“Being hard to beat,” he said. “That’s what we wanted to be coming here today. For periods we were. The scoreline, unfortunately, is a harsh reflection.”

Villa boss Smith seethes at players ahead of League Cup Final

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Aston Villa manager Dean Smith‘s team left him snarling after a 2-0 loss at Southampton on Saturday.

Villa remains a point above the drop zone after the loss, but could sit in the bottom three should Watford or West Ham get points later this match week.

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Out-attempted by a resounding 28-4, Smith wasn’t interested in hearing about the side’s League Cup Final date with Man City next.

“I am not bothered about the cup final next week, this was our cup final today and we were terrible,” Smith said, via the BBC. “Certainly some players have played themselves out of next week.”

Smith’s Villans should’ve carried more urgency given their next six PL fixtures. Leicester City and Chelsea start the run before a Newcastle pallet cleanser leads into Wolves, Liverpool, and Manchester United.

Instead, they were insipid.

“We never laid a glove on them in the first 20 minutes. I try to defend the players but today was not good enough. They were miles off it in the first half. A bit better in the second half. It was a game that could have been won but we didn’t create enough and didn’t defend enough. They were deserved winners.

“We can’t keep talking about getting good starts. Not starting well is a concern. We can’t play that bad again. It gave me a lot of heart seeing them against Tottenham but today was dreadful.

Villa are too talented to go down in theory, and the Midlands set will love its day at Wembley Stadium next weekend. But Smith’s men are still in a position to be competing in the Europa League and the Championship. Wild.

Here are a few more Smith thoughts, transmitted via our own Joe Prince-Wright at St. Mary’s.

PL Sunday preview: Aston Villa host Spurs; Newcastle travel to Arsenal

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Sunday’s slate of Premier League fixtures promise to have a wide-range of action, as a pair of top-six sides host a pair of bottom dwellers.

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Aston Villa vs. Tottenham  — 9:00 a.m. ET, on NBCSN and NBCSports.com

There’s a strong sense at Tottenham that Spurs can finish top four in Jose Mourinho’s first go around, especially on a two-game winning streak heading into Sunday.

Spurs trail the surprise of the season Sheffield United by two points, meaning that a win at Villa Park can propel the London club back into the European mix. Having won their last five away trips in Aston with a combined score of 14-1, there is little evidence to question why Spurs would be unable to leave Birmingham with three points.

“We had a good week,” Mourinho said. “Three very good training sessions. Of course I told you if we didn’t play against Southampton [in an FA Cup replay] I would give the players some time but we would be back early.

“Because of the Southampton game we had less time for training but we had three very good days. We went through different aspects of our game to improve.”

Following a week with only practice activity, Villa take on, perhaps, the most important stretch of games since the second half of their disastrous 2015-2016 Premier League season – their last before the drop to the Championship.

According to manager Dean Smith, his staff and players are up for the battle that is avoiding relegation. Villa are only one spot to the right of the red, dotted line, making every game from here on out crucial for the Midlands club.

“As everybody knows, we had a big turnaround [of players] in the summer and they’re starting to gel,” he said. “For the first time we’ve had a mini break and we’ve seen a positive side to it. It gave everybody a chance to have some time away from the place, and to clear their heads.”

INJURIES: Aston Villa — OUT: Davis (thigh), McGinn (ankle), Heaton (knee), Wesley (knee), Steer (foot) | Tottenham — OUT: Kane (thigh), Sissoko (knee)

Arsenal vs. Newcastle — 11:30 a.m. ET, on NBCSN and NBCSports.com

With five draws in seven matches, a week-long camp in Dubai, Arsenal and Mikel Arteta are returning to the Emirates with the obligation to win.

Arsenal are projected, for the first time in 25 years, to finish outside of the top six. Of course, a lot of that falls on ex-manager Unai Emerey, but Arteta, 37, has yet to demonstrate the edge many believes he has on other up-and-coming teachers of the game.

The Spaniard will need time – lots of it and financial backing – but the fact that Arsenal are level with Newcastle with 31 points after 25 bouts doesn’t help Sunday’s scenario. Three points, and a well-executed defensive plan against the Magpies, however, may put out many long-burning fires for all thhose involved with Arsenal.

“I think we have to generate some defensive stability, but not by defending deep,” Arteta said. “I don’t like that. It’s by defending high and pressing the opponent as much as possible. But the process – together as many times as possible in the most efficient way – has to be done properly from here.

As expected, Steve Bruce and company are delighted to be in the position that they’re in, considering that a few weeks into the season it felt that St. James’ Park’s walls were collapsing.

“We’ve got 13 games to go and have got ourselves in a decent position,” he said. “It gives us the platform to have a decent season. I think we’ve done okay. We’ve had huge problems over six weeks and fair play to the squad for showing that resilience.”

INJURIES: Arsenal — Marí (match fitness), Soares (knee), Tierney (shoulder), Chambers (knee) | Newcastle  OUT: Shelvey (thigh), Manquillo (thigh), Carroll (groin), Krafth (ankle), Dummett (thigh), Willems (knee), Colback (knee)

PL Sunday Preview: Watford travel to Bournemouth; Aston Villa host City

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Sunday’s slate of Premier League fixtures won’t be the busiest of all, but it promises to have some drama as bottom-dwellers Bournemouth and Watford face off, while Manchester City travel to Villa Park.

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Bournemouth vs. Watford — 9:00 a.m. ET, on NBCSN

It might be difficult to admit, but Nigel Pearson‘s arrival at Watford has done wonders for the club.

The Hornets secured 10 out of the possible 12 points during the festive period, putting the upwards-trending club two points within reach of escaping the drop zone. Throughout that same stretch of four matches, Pearson and company have outscored opponent’s eight goals to two.

The 56-year-old, who last coached Belgium’s Oud-Heverlee Leuven, is implementing an effective and pragmatic 4-2-3-1 system. But perhaps the reason behind the escape trick isn’t solely based on on-field adjustments, but on the emotional investment that the manager is putting forward.

“I’ve been asked a few times already about whether I had still got enthusiasm or the drive or whatever it is to continue to work, and those are the sorts of questions that I’ve asked myself for sure,” he said leading up to Sunday’s match.

“I wouldn’t be here if I didn’t think we were capable of getting out of the situation that we’re in, but I can’t ask people to be committed if I’m not committed myself, so all those things are very important to me and I think this club has got a really strong identity and there’s potential for us to rediscover what we are as a football club.

“I do feel attached to being a part of that and trying to rediscover that.”

Eddie Howe‘s Bournemouth, on the other hand, are on the opposite site of the spectrum, falling instead of climbing up the table.

Ravaged by injuries, the Cherries picked up a sole point throughout the same span of four matches. Howe, desperate to animate his team (and supporters), is urging for Dean Court to get loud and hostile again – like in the past.

“Teams used to really fear coming here, a tight ground and a great atmosphere,” Howe said. “We now need that feeling back, which only we can create as a team.

“We’ve had good battles with Watford and I imagine this game will be tight again – our motivation levels have to be higher than theirs.”

INJURIES: Bournemouth — OUT: Danjuma (ankle), King (hamstring), Stacey (hamstring), Brooks (ankle), Daniels (knee) | Watford — OUT: Hughes (groin), Janmaat (knee), Cleverley (calf), Welbeck (hamstring), Femenía (hamstring) Prödl (calf)

Aston Villa vs. Manchester City — 11:30 a.m. ET, on NBCSN and NBCSports.com

Everything is moving at hyperspeed for Aston Villa, and they probably don’t want it that way.

Days after earning a laudable draw against Leicester City in the semi-final of the EFL Cup, Dean Smith and company host back-to-back champions Manchester City. It wasn’t too long ago that Villa lost Wesley and Tom Heaton to season-ending injuries, either.

Smith recognizes at what speed the challenging hurdles are coming at, but instead preaches for concentration from his players.

“We played the second-placed team in the cup and now we’re playing the team that are third and have won back-to-back titles,” the 48-year-old said. “They have a world-class coach and world-class players, they can afford to spend £50m on a right back, so we know the test.”

“They have had some off days this season – they got beat at Norwich and Wolves – so we must have belief in ourselves, as well as concentration.”

Fresh off a 3-1 victory over rivals Manchester United, the sense is that Manchester City are finally finding their groove again.

Pep Guardiola and his team may be out of contention for a third straight title, but they have a lot to prove with the EFL Cup and Champions League still up for grabs. In fact, Sunday’s match against Villa may well be a preview of the EFL Cup final.

“We have to play all the teams. Sometimes they’re at the top, sometimes in the middle, sometimes at the bottom. It’s a historic club,” Guardiola said prior to Sunday’s match. “They changed their last set-up in the last game. We’ll try to maintain the dynamic we have.”

INJURIES: Aston Villa — OUT: Davis (hamstring), Steer (achilles), Heaton (knee), Wesley (knee), McGinn (foot) | Manchester City OUT: Laporte (knee), Sané (knee) (knee)

Aston Villa boss says Grealish not for sale in January

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Dean Smith has emphatically informed the rest of the Premier League that Aston Villa’s highly sought-after midfielder Jack Grealish is not for sale this month.

[ MORE: Premier League January transfer needs ]

“People can keep looking, but they can’t touch,” the Villa manager said on Friday amid the latest round of rumors linking the 24-year-old playmaker with a move away from Villa Park.

Grealish was heavily linked with a move to Tottenham Hotspur in the summer, but Villa were able to keep hold of their homegrown star — with the club since 6 years old — after winning promotion back to the PL. Now, Manchester United are the latest club with a reported interest in the England U-21 international .

Year 1 in the top flight hasn’t exactly gone to plan — Villa sit 17th, one point clear of relegation after 21 games — but Grealish has done his part thus far, racking up six goals and five assists in 19 PL appearances.

“I think he’s a big target for many teams and you can see why. He’s a top player, but as I’ve said before, our owners are very ambitious and want to establish us as a top Premier League club.

“To do that you have to keep your best players, so we’ll be keeping hold of Jack Grealish.”