Aston Villa are on the slide and it isn't all because they've lost Jack Grealish... Costly signings Bailey and Buendia have struggled to settle in, the defence are leaking too many goals and the midfield looks weak as pressure mounts on Dean Smith

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Having escaped relegation by the skin of their teeth in 2020, Aston Villa were vastly improved last season as they leaped up from 17th to 11th in the Premier League.

The expectation was that Dean Smith's team would continue their upward trajectory, potentially imitating the likes of Leicester and West Ham by challenging for Europe this time around.

But just 10 games into the season and all that appears to be in tatters. Four consecutive defeats - the latest being a 4-1 loss to the Hammers on Sunday - have prompted a sobering re-evaluation of ambitions at Villa Park.

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

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

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

Villa's back line are beaten as Jarrod Bowen runs off to celebrate scoring West Ham's fourth

Villa's back line are beaten as Jarrod Bowen runs off to celebrate scoring West Ham's fourth

Aston Villa have made informal contact with former Roma manager Paulo Fonseca

Aston Villa have made informal contact with former Roma manager Paulo Fonseca 

A run of four straight losses have seen Villa sink to 15th, just three points above the drop zone

A run of four straight losses have seen Villa sink to 15th, just three points above the drop zone

Just three points separate Villa from Burnley in 18th place and the direction of travel at the moment is distinctly downwards rather than up.

Indeed, it has reached the point where, as Sportsmail exclusively revealed on Monday evening, Villa sounded out the former Roma boss Paulo Fonseca as they consider potential replacements for Smith.

Villa's bad run 

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

October 31 West Ham (H) 1-4

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While the noises out of the club remain supportive of Smith, their manager since October 2018, the fact alternatives are even being considered doesn't bode too well.

It was only on September 25 that Villa snatched a 1-0 win at Manchester United thanks to Kortney Hause's late goal.

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

The obvious explanation for Villa's woes is that they're missing Jack Grealish - the £100million England star who joined Manchester City in the summer - but that would be too simplistic.

The current problems clearly run some way deeper than the loss of just one player, even one who scored seven goals and set up another 12 in all competitions last season.

Villa wasted no time in reinvesting the Grealish windfall on players they believed would compensate creatively for his departure.

£33million on Emiliano Buendia, £30m on Leon Bailey and £25m on Danny Ings was an outlay designed to replace Grealish's goals but Villa aren't creating enough chances, let alone taking them.

Emiliano Buendia rues a missed chance during Villa's 3-1 loss at Arsenal last month

Emiliano Buendia rues a missed chance during Villa's 3-1 loss at Arsenal last month

Leon Bailey has struggled with injury issues and fitness, performing beneath his best ability

Leon Bailey has struggled with injury issues and fitness, performing beneath his best ability

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

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

For example, only Leeds, Newcastle and Norwich have created fewer 'big chances' than Villa's measly total of 13 so far this season. Only five have carved out fewer shots overall than Villa's 115.

According to Opta, they have produced just one 'fast break' this season, which suggests they aren't very good on the counter-attack.

The players signed at some cost to replace Manchester City's Jack Grealish over the summer have yet to spark into life

The players signed at some cost to replace Manchester City's Jack Grealish over the summer have yet to spark into life

Equally, they rank fourth-worst for winning back possession in the final third, so they don't really press high up the field either. It helps explain why chances have been at a premium.

Bailey, the one figure who might be good at doing those last two things with his blistering pace, has been hampered by injury knocks and doesn't appear to have the fitness to complete a full 90 minutes at present.

Buendia, so excellent for Norwich in the Championship, arrived as Villa's club record signing but has just one goal and one assist from nine games so far.

Held back by an annoying hip issue at the start of the season, the Argentine hasn't quite emerged as the central creative force Villa hoped he would.

It presents a problem because Smith wanted to base his forward line around Buendia, either playing the No 10 role or one of the wide positions, but the spark has been lacking.

He was also left upset that he was the sacrificial lamb subbed off after Ezri Konsa was shown a red card on Sunday, initially heading straight down the tunnel before returning to the bench.

The hope is that Buendia and Bailey, plus Ings, who has scored three goals so far, will develop into a fully functioning front 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

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

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

Villa fixtures 

Friday Southampton (A)

November 20 Brighton (H)

November 27 Crystal Palace (A)

December 1 Manchester City (H)

December 5 Leicester City (H)

December 11 Liverpool (A)

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

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

They've averaged 1.9 goals against so far this season, with only Norwich and Newcastle more leaky. Those teams are bottom and second bottom respectively.

The 3-1 defeat at Arsenal was a good case in point. The Gunners not only scored their opening goal from an unmarked header at a corner but they repeatedly cut through Villa's defence, which offered them acres of space.

Emile Smith Rowe's goal, the third for Arsenal, saw the Villa defence woefully out of position as he raced through to score via a deflection off Mings.

Losing the vast defensive nous of coach John Terry, who departed in the summer to seek out a permanent manager role somewhere, can't have helped.

Villa's midfield has also looked weak in all of those recent losses. It's far too easily bypassed or driven through, with opponents gaining the upper hand from the first whistle.

Villa endured a terrible afternoon when they chucked away a two goal lead against Wolves

Villa endured a terrible afternoon when they chucked away a two goal lead against Wolves

When Jacob Ramsey added to Villa's injuries concerns 15 minutes into the West Ham match, the only option was 36-year-old Ashley Young being played out of position.

Declan Rice and Tomas Soucek were able to lord it over Young, John McGinn and Marvelous Nakamba for the rest of the contest.

It all adds up to problems all over the field for Smith to address ahead of Friday night's trip to Southampton. The fact other managers are being considered won't help his mood.

Four consecutive losses can represent just a blip but if that run continues it will amount to a crisis situation Smith won't recover from.

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