Dean Smith has defended Ross Barkley amid criticism over his recent form for Aston Villa, insisting that critical comments are a “long way off the mark” and believing that “his numbers have been good in terms of output”.

In quotes reported by the Express and Star, the manager said:

It’s a long way off the mark to say things aren’t working out for Ross. His numbers have been really good in terms of his output on the pitch.

We have to remember he’s been out for six or seven weeks with a hamstring injury and then had to play games to recapture that fitness because we haven’t been able to train.

But he’s certainly getting back to where we want him to be. I just needed to change the game at that time.

The 27-year-old has scored four goals and provided one assist in 17 games since joining Villa on a season-long loan, but he has been a shadow of his best self over the last two months. Barkley has scored only one goal and hasn’t supplied an assist in his last eight Premier League games since returning from a hamstring injury which kept him out between mid-November and early January. [Transfermarkt]

The England international has been substituted in seven of those eight outings and hasn’t responded well at times, kicking a water bottle carrier in Villa’s 1-0 win over Arsenal this month and sulking in Sunday’s defeat to Leicester City, so Barkley doesn’t seem happy right now.

Nevertheless, his manager is standing by him and could give him more opportunities to turn things around before considering a replacement.

READ ASTON VILLA VERDICT

Barkley has been back for nearly two months, but he still doesn’t look fully fit and it is affecting his form.

There have been calls for Smith to rest him, but the Villa boss has so far resisted, so he may start against Leeds United on Saturday. Hopefully then he can belatedly repay his manager’s continued faith.