Four games, four defeats.

Aston Villa’s start to the 2023/24 Women’s Super League season has been a far cry from the unified, clinical outfit that was the talk of the last campaign. They’ve looked disjointed at times and mistakes have been expertly punished by their opponents.

Interestingly, their performances against the top sides haven’t been too far off the levels shown last year. Against Manchester United in their opening game, they looked like the Villa of old.

Rachel Daly fired them in front at Villa Park, despite being a player down after Kirsty Hanson was given her marching orders. But, two late goals from Lucia Garcia and Rachel Williams earned the opponents a last-gasp win.

Against Arsenal at the Emirates, Carla Ward’s side were in front for most of the game following Mayumi Pacheco’s first-half goal. They were then cruelly undone by two stoppage time goals from Katie McCabe and Alessia Russo to fall to a third consecutive defeat.

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It is arguably the performances against Liverpool and Tottenham that sting the most. Villa barely laid a glove on the Merseyside outfit earlier this month and, despite being firmly in control with a lead against Spurs on Saturday, they crumbled in the second half and ultimately fell to a 4-2 defeat.

It’s difficult to pinpoint exactly what has gone wrong. It’s fair to say they’ve had a tough start in terms of opposition faced, with two of their first four games against top four teams.

It’s still largely the same squad as last year, there was no significant overhaul during the summer - just the additions of a handful of quality players. The pressure and expectation could be weighing them down, with many tipping them to better their fifth-placed finish last year.

Last term, they were somewhat of an unknown quantity. This year, their opposition knows what to expect.

Maybe it’s the fact the teams around them have improved significantly. Tottenham look a different force this season, Liverpool have improved drastically and the likes of Leicester and Brighton are doing well after being embroiled in a relegation scrap last term.

It’s probably a mix of all of those things. That, and the fact they’ve been without two of their most important players for much of the first four games.

Villa are in desperate need of a boost with the upcoming international break set to provide some respite. The return of Kirsty Hanson and Kenza Dali - both pivotal to the success last year - could be exactly what they need to turn things around.

Dali has been out with an injury sustained during the World Cup over the summer. Ward has indicated in recent weeks she should be back for the Chelsea game at the start of November.

Hanson, sent off in the second half against United in their opening game, has now served her three match suspension and will be available for selection against Emma Hayes’ side after the break.

Losing two of your most important players would have a negative impact on any team. It has certainly altered the dynamic of the forward line, with both Adriana Leon and Ebony Salmon needing to bed in probably a lot quicker than expected.

Daly’s link-up with Dali and Hanson was almost telepathic at times last season, it is understandable that it may take time to establish similar relationships with two new forward players. But time is not of the essence when the WSL has so few games and any poor run of form can prove to be costly over the course of an entire season.

When asked why it hasn’t quite clicked for Daly in these opening games, Ward was clear. “Her partner,” the manager said.

“Her and Dali were like clockwork last season. Kenza, Rach and Kirsty were unplayable as a three.

“That always plays a part, you know what it’s like with relationships. That hurts sometimes. But, Rach is a really honest player.

“She wants to be better all the time and she will look at that and she will make sure we come back stronger.”

That’s not to say Dali and Hanson's return will fix everything for Villa. But, it will certainly go a long way in helping restore some balance and hopefully relieve some of the pressure on the new signings to click right away.