Lets recap the season so far…
There’s been a batch of unconvincing performances to kick off the 2018/19 season, where even Villa’s initial two league wins lent on the side of good fortune (Wigan had several good chances to win at Villa Park at 2-2). Then came the failure to beat the current winless bottom two in the Championship table – Ipswich and Reading. The former, despite playing for 50 minutes against 10-men. After that came the woeful cup performance against Burton and then a shocker of a display against Sheffield United, that saw Villa 4-0 down after 49 minutes.
This start in isolation, perhaps wouldn’t cause too much concern, but the problem is we’ve seen it all before. We were looking for progress, a sign that Villa were taking this promotion malarky seriously.
The unconvincing performances in general are par the course with Bruce, which are often forgiven if the result is right. Burton brought back memories of Peterborough last season in the FA Cup, where a weaken team went through the motions as if it was preseason. There’s been similarly puzzling selections, Jedinak at centre-back has cost Villa points again this season. Bruce also attempted to show Albert Adomah the door once again, while Elphick was frozen out and loaned out before a replacement could be drafted in.
Are Villa playing as a team with any fluency? Well, there’s been periods, like in the first hour or so of both the Brentford and Reading games. Yet, there was ultimately little end product, mainly due to a lone striker who the majority of the time isn’t operating on the same wavelength as the rest of his side or is isolated by them. Either his teammates are playing too deep or he is coming out wide or deep to get the ball, with no one filling in the hole up front he’s left.
The fact that Bruce was heralding the first half of the Brentford game as the best Villa had played under him was a cause for concern. These are not the standards of a team seeking automatic promotion. Having only one recognised tried and tested centre-back in your squad also isn’t the way forward to reach that goal.
So, are there really any reasons to be cheerful as Villa fans?
A lot at Villa Park behind the scenes was in limbo until a new CEO was appointed, so the appointment of Christian Purslow at least means the club can hopefully move forward now.
We’ll talk about Purslow in more detail elsewhere, but as most will know the private equity investor by trade is well-heeled in terms of football, having been the Liverpool chief executive for just over a year (an eventful time that ended up in court), while he also brokered some major commercial deals while at Chelsea for three years until last year, as their managing director.
Some supporters have asked the question, will he simply be a Tom Fox Mk II? Well, with the new owners not looking to mess around this season and fans becoming increasingly impatient, it will be a testing season to find out the mettle of the man.
Majority owners, Edens and Sawiris said in a statement: “We are tremendously excited to bring someone of Christian’s calibre and experience into the club. This is an important step on our journey to return Aston Villa back to the elite of English football.”
The Cavalry is Coming
Tammy Abraham and Yannick Bolasie (tbc) will be ready for their first games in Villa shirts after the international break. Now, I’m hoping this will provide Villa with a bit of cutting edge and unpredictability in the final third.
It’s been said, that Bolasie doesn’t even know what he’s going to do sometimes, which could be the type of attacking spirit we need to throw opposition teams off.
Will Bruce go two up top with Abraham and Kodjia? They have played together before at Bristol City. This could see Villa reverting to a 3-5-2 that Bruce has trialed before. Maybe it’s a solution to the lack of two proper centre-backs for a back four?
Also, it’s hard to see Villa going straight out 4-4-2 with two new very attacking wide men, that are limited defensively and Grealish in a more traditional central midfielder role. It would leave John McGinn with too much to do in the middle and leave Villa open to be overrun.
Bruce now has plenty of attacking pieces to put together, but that hasn’t been his strong suit so far at the club.
Fans Waking Up
There’s a certain section of fans that have made do with what’s been happening at the club – despite it’s failure to get promoted in two seasons and it alarmingly lurching towards administration.
Being 90 minutes away from promotion was seen as acceptable by some. Whether you get to the play-off final or finish 10th or 20th in the Championship, for a club like Aston Villa, it’s failure with a capital ‘F’.
There seems to be more urgency in the fanbase now for promotion and the waking up to the fact that Steve Bruce isn’t exactly inspiring supporters with the confidence that he can achieve that (see above).
The local press articles guaranteeing promotion under Bruce last season, seem miles away now from the reality of the situation of the Villa’s manager ability. If he is to complete the promotion mission, a mass improvement is needed and most fans realise that now.
The International Break
A lot of the time teams prefer the next game to come asap after an embarrassing defeat, mainly to give them a chance to put it right. Bruce in his post-Sheffield United interview bemoaned the fact that a lot of his players would be away on international duty (you expect this when you buy internationals). The issue at the moment isn’t necessarily the players, but how they are being set up to play.
Bruce now has a fortnight to reflect. To have a hard look and take stock of what he’s been doing up to now. He needs to improve, because it could be his last international break as the Villa boss, if he doesn’t.
I only mention this because I’m desperate for a fifth reason, but to those of you who this matters… no matter how bad Villa are, the Blues always seem to trump us in the ‘being cr*p’ department.
Even at our lowest ebb, when we got a transfer embargo, they got one that lasted longer. And so it goes on…
Currently Garry Monk’s men are winless in 20th spot. That said, they have only lost two of their six games, so could be due an upturn in fortunes.
More disturbing is the fact that West Brom and Derby (when did they suddenly start winning under Lampard?!) are above Villa in terms of Midlands bragging rights (two novice managers too).
The end game though is promotion and with Villa five points off the top two automatic places within just six games, they’ll be no excuses for failure hence forth.