Cr*ppy New Year
Villa were lucky enough to experience a small Christmas miracle over the festive period, by actually picking up wins despite some of the most atrocious performances of the season. This luck rapidly ran out against Leeds and Cardiff.
It’s still abundantly clear that this club hasn’t improved as much as we all thought and hoped with the change of management. Steve Bruce has given the home fans more to cheer, but in terms of the larger rebuild, after spending over £50m in the summer, Villa seemingly have taken one step forward and two steps back.
Time Is Of The Essence
They say that ‘Rome wasn’t built in a day’ and Xia’s ill fated trip to the Italian capital, in his Ford Mondeo, has proven that periods of trial and error and obstacles are inevitable. For Aston Villa’s season there are two major obstacles that jump to mind. A far from satisfactory team and an ever dwindling amount of time to get the job done.
With the season reaching it’s halfway point Villa are still well outside the playoff spots. The ticking of the clock is now deafening for this campaign. Many of us stated that to be in with a chance at going back up, Villa would ideally need to be in and around the top six at the turn of the year. We are certainly behind schedule.
January has what should be a number of winnable games for Villa (in the league at least) but the problem is that Villa aren’t playing like a team that could win anything at the moment.
The opportunity to reinforce the squad is one that will rapidly dissipate if Villa don’t make haste. That may seem a strange idea just a few days after the transfer window opened but the fact is if Villa don’t fill the gaping holes in the team before our next league games, then any new arrivals are likely to be playing Championship football again next year, or be winging there way to clubs in higher positions once again.
With the FA Cup this weekend, Xia and co has a little more time, but must ensure that quality new recruits arrive ASAP. The longer we dwell in the Championship the larger the financial gap becomes to the top division and Villa must at the bare minimum put themselves in a strong position to sneak a play-off place.
What We Want vs What We Need
Villa need serious improvements in personnel, obviously. The problem is that the list is so long it becomes difficult to prioritise exactly what we need.
First things first, we all know it, we need to buy a midfield. A minimum of two centre midfielders in my opinion. Villa don’t simply have a bad midfield at the moment, we don’t have one. The lack of influence that Westwood and Gardner had on the game against the physical Cardiff midfield was a final warning shot for Villa’s recruitment team.
As it stands, our lamentable group of forwards are even getting the nod in midfield ahead of those who are supposed to be midfielders by profession. When Gabby is a better option that you in midfield, it’s time to move on.
I regularly hear (and say) that we need a creative midfielder, someone Merson-esque. The worrying fact is that this team couldn’t currently support such a luxury player (see Grealish). ‘Creativity’ must come from the midfield supporting the forwards. Too often our furthest player forward is left completely isolated and has to hold up play until his team mates catch up, and opposition defences regroup. First comes structure, then flair can be added.
Classic Villa teams didn’t dominate midfield possession but when the team attacked it did so together and as a result Villa scored often and shared the goal scoring burden. That must be replicated.
The goalkeeping department is in need of an upgrade, but it seems that Bruce’s answer is to loan in another relatively inexperienced keeper (that’s a topic for another day). With his mind potentially made up in that regard, where’s next? Many would say securing a new right-back. I’m obviously keen to upgrade on Alan Hutton.
That said, the defence is not an area of the squad that has been holding us back as much as some other misfiring elements and this one, while important, could potentially be held off until more pressing matters are dealt with.
A Clear Goal
Star man Jonathan Kodjia has departed for AFCON duty and to say the options in his position are thin would be the understatement of the year. Thin is not a word that could be used for Gabby or McCormack at the moment. As much as many are clambering for Hepburn Murphy to continue his first team development, he is yet to show any signs that he is ready or able to become the main man any time soon.
Jordan Ayew has also disappeared to the AFCON. His flair flattered to deceive last term but the guy just doesn’t have the brains to become a real asset. Tony, put one of those Chinese cheques aside for a striker please.
After a bright start the realities of being a modern Villa boss should now be clear to Bruce. The ‘new manager bounce’ is over, and this had led to some awful performances. Sunday’s loss at Cardiff, a team we beat 3-1 back in November, can be seen as a huge backwards step. Villa must take advantage of the transfer window ruthlessly (incomings and outgoings) and finally change our trajectory consistently instead of stopping and starting week on week.
That said there can be no messing about this window, Villa must get it right this time. Spending £50 million on strikers is pointless if we can’t build a team. A good window and a run of wins in Jan and Villa could finally put themselves in the picture. Anything else and both Villa’s season and Bruce’s rolling contract could come grinding to a halt.
By the end of this window there won’t be any excuses for our refreshingly straight-talking boss to hide behind. Make it count Brucey.
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