‘Are Henri Lansbury and Conor Hourihane, the new Steve McMahon and Steve Hodge of the Villa midfield?’
Last Season’s Money
‘Money can’t me love’ goes the Beatles song, and after last season, Villa owner Tony Xia will know a thing or two about that. Certainly ‘money can’t buy me promotion’ has a similar ring to it.
An unprecedented amount at Championship level was spent on rebuilding Villa into what was hoped to be a promotion-winning squad, yet they didn’t even finish in the top half of the division. Hopefully last season’s outlay on players will yet provide the foundations for success, but in a season where there can be no more excuses for coming up short is this Villa squad – give or take a few tweaks – good enough?
With the Villa board suggesting it will be a cautious summer transfer window this time round, the bulk of next season’s squad is in place. So how can Villa improve to jump from 13th to hopefully automatic promotion, which surely should be the initial aim?
In MOMS opinion, the potential for improvement this season in spite of similar resources is huge. Below we look at what can fuel improvement and fire the team up as a real promotion candidate next season.
It certainly appears that every part of the club suffered from at least a little complacency last season.
The Villa board thought they were destined for promotion having spent heavily on bringing in all the supposed right ingredients for the promotion recipe – leaders, Premier League quality players, goal scorers, proven Championship stock and also the right manager(s). The problem was though, they failed to cook them at the right temperate.
The expectation of the Villa players for promotion was also apparent. Many thought it was nailed-on judging by what some of them said earlier in the season.
Several players also took a step down from the Premier League with the pretext they were expecting to only be spending a single season in the Championship. Also, looking around the dressing room, they must have thought they were in one of the best squads in the division.
Did these feelings lead to a lack of application and work ethic?
Next season, the board and player’s mindsets need to focus. There is only one goal and vision – PROMOTION.
The real spark for the promotion charge must come from the manager. MOMS sees a squad of players good enough to be moulded into a promotion-winning team. In a league with questionable quality, it’s up to Steve Bruce to set up a team to play to win and not be conservative.
Can Bruce do it? In his career, he’s largely managed underdog teams and set them up accordingly. With Villa a big club scalp at this level, Villa cannot afford to play within themselves, they must take games to their opponents to beat them and attempt to beat them good.
Bruce must play a more effective and progressive style, that garners more than a single corner and shot on-target a game. Such stats at this level, were embarrassing last season.
There has to be more ambition on the field. If there isn’t, then Tony Xia’s patience will be tested once again in the first quarter of the season. Also, question marks over Villa CEO Keith Wyness’s judgement will appear.
In conclusion though, if Bruce cuts loose and gets Villa attacking effectively, then promotion should be forthcoming.
It’s been a long time since it felt that Villa were truly ready going into the start of a season. Last season there was several late buys in the overhaul of the team, which meant it was hard for Villa to have a cohesive team to hit the ground running. When the season prior kicked off under Tim Sherwood, with an influx of players new to the English game, it felt like Villa could have done with at least three more weeks of preseason.
For a change, it would be good to get any extra players in place early and get them playing together properly in preseason. Lets get that first XI bedded down asap.
Remove the Stench of Failure
When something bad keeps repeating itself, people start to wonder why it keeps happening. In the case of Villa, look around the dressing room, the same old faces keep serving up failure.
It’s no coincidence that Villa never progress, while the likes of Gabby Agbonlahor, Leandro Bacuna, and Alan Hutton stick around. Excuses are constantly found to keep playing them or reintroduce them, but in the end, the result is always the same.
We’ll improve by finally ditching the faces of failure. It’s time to move on.
In terms of the owner, Tony Xia, it’s hard to fault the scale of his spending in trying to reboot Villa, but the club’s CEO Keith Wyness will be under increased scrutiny over the due diligence into some of Villa’s signings and being guilty of over-spending in this division.
Yes, in terms of buying players, it’s a tricky conundrum when other club’s know, a) you have a new owner with some available Yen and, b) the club is desperate for promotion.
Still, fundamental errors were made in recruitment last season.
MOMS is just a common sense Villa blog and we had the red alert light flashing when the inexperienced likes of Pierluigi Gollini and Aaron Tshibola were bought in as part of a mooted ‘new spine’ to the team. Some of Villa’s overspending can clearly be seen as a gamble, when it comes to the likes of Tshibola and Scott Hogan’s past injury records.
Also, MOMS questioned the amount spent on Ross McCormack at the time, but hey, it’s not our money.
Being more astute in the transfer market and not attributing a player’s price tag to their potential would be a good step in the right direction. Wasted money now, may compromise the club in the future.
Improved Full-back Forward Play
Having watched several decades of Aston Villa full-backs, MOMS is hard-pressed to remember a more ineffective threat than Villa’s current full-back play when it’s in the opponent’s final third. Yes, that includes when Olof Mellberg would fill in as a right-back.
There’s huge room for instant improvement here.
Are Henri Lansbury and Conor Hourihane, the new Steve McMahon and Steve Hodge of the Villa midfield? Better players at other clubs, than they are at Villa?
Do they both have the Lampard and Gerrard England syndrome now they are at Villa? Good when they were the main men in a team, but don’t quite click and complement each other when playing together.
In terms of getting the club promoted, Villa need the core of their midfield to be more dynamic like Stuart Gray and Andy Gray (Mk II) were, when they were added to the midfield of Graham Taylor’s Villa promotion team.
Then there’s Birkir Bjarnason and Jack Grealish, surely they’ll have more influence on Villa’s results in this upcoming season, after being just cameo performers in the last one.
If Bruce gets the midfield dynamic right, then that’s half the battle in getting this team challenging the top spots in the league.
‘We’ll improve by finally ditching the faces of failure. It’s time to move on.’
Villa paid top dollar for three strikers last season, but only one really chipped in with the goals. Villa need potentially a pair of goalscorers though to really step up next season.
For progress on last season, Villa need either Scott Hogan or Ross McCormack (if he sticks around) to finally come good.
Will Ross McCormack take advantage of any second chances? It’s a hard one to call, since we don’t know if he’s sorted out his personal issues yet.
The safer bet is surely Scott Hogan, but his improvement depends strongly on the last two points of an improved midfield and better attacking full-back play. The ex-Brentford striker needs the service and for Villa to exhibit better movement higher up the field.
Surely Villa don’t have to splash the cash on another striker. A decent young loanee from a Premier League team could provide some extra spark without much financial outlay.
Overall, while it’s not hard for Villa to improve on last season, the potential to advance their claim on promotion is considerable, without much more of a financial outlay. All we need now is Bruce and co to tap into it.
Follow MOMS on Twitter for coverage of Villa’s preseason at @oldmansaid