The Aston Villa Half-Term Report
By Rob Carter
As we firmly move into the second half of the 2022/23 season, it’s time to assess Aston Villa’s playing, coaching and management staff. Who has exceeded expectations? Who has underperformed? Who has been sent to the headmaster’s office? Find out as we take a deep dive into the season so far.
Widely regarded as one of the best keepers in the Premier League, Emi has lived up to his reputation (and more) during the first half of the season. As well as emerging victorious from the World Cup in Qatar with Argentina, earning the Golden Glove and a winner’s medal (plus an infamous photograph), a string of fine performances in the league have ensured that Emi is on the radar of Europe’s elite clubs. Technically excellent, a master of the dark arts, and a provider of confidence to the rest of the defence, it’s been a season to remember so far. Emi’s agent needs to have his phone confiscated by Headmaster Unai Emery.
And on the other hand… Brought to the club by Steven Gerrard as cover for Martinez, its fair to say that Olsen has not covered himself in glory thus far. Rated as Sweden’s best goalkeeper several years running, it does make you wonder how bad their back up keeper is. Poor performances have given rise to calls by some fans to terminate Olsen’s contract, owing largely to some high-profile mistakes and a lack of confidence with the ball at his feet. Many are pleased that Jed Steer is returning to fitness after returning from a loan spell at Luton. Olsen has been pretty woeful, despite the one clean sheet at Tottenham.
Stripped of the captaincy in controversial fashion by Gerrard before the season started, Mings has responded in the best possible way. Often titanic at the centre of the defence, Tyrone has been making fewer errors than previously seen, and gives Villa some much needed leadership on the pitch. Sometimes the casual nature of his defending reappears, but overall, he has been excellent. Unlucky not to go to Qatar.
The old Ezri is back! After a forgettable 2021/22 season, Konsa has cemented his place as Mings’s favoured partner at the heart of the defence. Calm and assured on the ball, and not afraid to put his head in where it hurts, Konsa has found his consistency again. A safe pair of hands. Will he keep Carlos out?
No grade can be given after only just two starts, the second of which saw Carlos go off with what appeared at the time to be a season ending injury. Nearing a return to full fitness, he will provide much needed competition to Mings & Konsa in the months ahead. Big things were expected, so it’s a big shame to lose the bulk of a season to injury.
Oh dear. Brought in as an ‘extra body’ by Gerrard, Bednarek has hardly set the world alight in his limited appearances so far. Slow and ponderous on the deck, it would be no surprise to see him shipped off back to Southampton (should they want him).
The Polish Cafu had an excellent World Cup despite playing in a relatively poor Polish side. The experience of coming up against the world’s best, including Mbappe and Messi, will hopefully stand him in good stead for the rest of the season. Still needs to work on his passing and crossing. Opposing defenders are likely to be less worried than those sitting in the front rows of the Trinity or Doug Ellis stands, with Matty’s crosses posing a serious health hazard to those nursing a Bovril.
Perhaps telling that Digne missed out on a spot in the France squad for Qatar. Despite his excellent free-kick against Manchester United at Villa Park in November, Digne has flattered to deceive. Often appearing slightly suspect defensively, we have not seen much evidence of him making runs into the opposing half either. Always seems like an injury waiting to happen, and perhaps the most likely of the squad to be bullied by the bigger boys and have his shorts pulled down and dinner money taken off him. The signing of Alex Moreno could spell trouble for the Frenchman.
Thrown into the lions’ den within the first ten minutes against an aggressive, high tempo Leeds side (coming off the bench to replace Digne), Moreno acquitted himself extremely well on his debut. Keen in the tackle, rapid, and technically excellent, the Spaniard looks to be a canny first signing by Unai Emery.
The Benjamin Button of the Premier League, Young has taken the book of expectations for a 37-year-old veteran, and had it shredded. Much like Roger Milla back in the day, maybe someone should check his birth certificate. Young has deputised at right and left back, helping out initially to cover injuries, but ultimately making the right back berth his own. Even chipped in with a point-saving goal at Forest. Fabulous work from Villa Park’s Head Boy.
Relegated to a bit-part player this season, Chambers has had limited game time, with only four starts so far. Will perhaps be tarnished by being part of the defence that surrendered so meekly to Stevenage. Still a valuable squad player but faces a fight to depose any of the more established centre backs.
Very much in the Bednarek mould of ‘panic signing.’ Awfully slow, decent left foot but has apparently been told he can find another club by Emery. Unlikely to be seen at the club again after the end of January.
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A much improved season so far from Dougie. Chipping in with 3 goals (most memorably his superb finish at Tottenham), he has found some consistency to his game, especially latterly as part of the double pivot with Boubacar Kamara. Noticeable that he has added a bit more steel to his game, putting his foot in when necessary, which we hadn’t seen much of previously. Subject of a £23m bid from Arsenal in the summer, many would have been happy to see him leave, but has come into his own in recent weeks, and at the age of 24 has plenty of years ahead of him to improve.
Somewhat controversially promoted to captain by Gerrard, has the role weighed too heavily on the Scotsman? McGinn himself has admitted recently that he has underperformed, and has faced a recent lay-off with a hamstring injury. Opinion seems to be divided among fans, but McGinn still has a role to play, particularly in a midfield firefight when the boots are flying.
Grade: C- (must do better).
With a solitary start against Stevenage in the FA Cup, Sanson’s days at the club seem numbered. When three successive managers don’t seem to rate you, it’s telling. Neat and tidy isn’t good enough in the cauldron of the Premier League. Au revoir mon ami.
Grade: MIA (Missing in Action).
Club record signing Buendia has been in and out of the side, but when on his game, has made notable contributions, chipping in with three goals. Technically excellent, he could perhaps provide more assists (only one so far), but still seems to retain crowd favourite status. The dictionary definition of ‘diminutive,’ Emi can be negated by sides with bigger midfielders but is still perhaps the most creative player at the club. A big second half of the season ahead.
No action so far for Marv, who seems destined to end up on the Villa scrapheap. In truth, has never really had a decent run of games at the club, despite a few encouraging individual performances.
Grade: MIA (Missing in Action).
Where to start? The Liverpool-vintage Coutinho would have been a welcome addition to the squad, but its not 2018 anymore. Zero goals and zero assists in 18 appearances tells its own story. Seems to no longer possess the will to dominate a game as he did in his pomp, perhaps seen most tellingly against League Two Stevenage when he did a fair impression of a speedboat without a driver.
Grade: D Sent to Headmaster Emery’s office for detention.
Oh Leon. Seems to either be crying on the pitch after missing another gilt-edged chance or smashing one into the top corner at the Holte End. Potentially one of the most baffling and frustrating players in recent memory. Marmite. On his day he’s unplayable, but when its not his day, he sometimes struggles to perform the most basic of functions (for example standing up).
Grade: C (for confusing).
Let’s not go into the nickname. Reminiscent of a slow-moving lorry which shouldn’t be in the middle lane on the motorway, the Belgian can be a somewhat annoying presence on the field. Recent opinion has been even more tarnished by his aberration against Stevenage (which to be fair was also at least partly Olsen’s fault). £13m seems a lot right now!
‘One of our own’ Ramsey remains the premium ball-carrier in the side. Wonderfully progressive at times, he looks to have a bright future at the club. Chipping in with goals and assists, and capable at a young age of putting his head/feet/anything else in where it hurts. First name on the team sheet for many.
Looks to be an absolute steal. Calm with the ball at his feet, and the most perceptive player at the club. Puts out fires like Red Adair. Some monstrous performances, notably against Tottenham and Leeds, have put Bouba firmly on the B6 map. Seems destined to be a big, big player at the club. Loved.
Seven goals so far despite only 11 starts (six league goals with eight league starts), Ings had flitted between being on the bench and starting, depending on the formation. He had been the best finisher at the club, but it didn’t stop Villa cashing in, accepting West Ham’s initial £12m offer, with £3m to come, if the Hammers escape the drop.
Four goals so far shows that Ollie just isn’t a natural goalscorer. He seems to have an uncanny knack of hitting the keeper on a one-on-one. His workrate though is second to none, and for that reason he is a certain starter when fit, but would he be more effective out wide?
Grade: C Sent to detention (finishing school)
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The wheels fell off very quickly for the Anfield legend, after a series of disappointing performances and results, culminating in the horror show at Fulham; easily one of the most abject performances from a Villa team in recent memory. The non-start at Bournemouth on the opening day did nothing to inspire confidence, and despite an encouraging result and performance against Manchester City at Villa Park in early September, and a dour win against Southampton, successive draws at Leeds and Forest, followed by the Fulham debacle, did it for Gerrard. An arrogant attitude with the press did not help. Few were sad to see him go. Gerrard’s best contribution to Villa was helping to get the Kamara and Carlos deals over the line, but he’ll ultimately be defined by his Coutinho misfire.
Austin ‘Nanny’ McPhee
Has dined out on the Ings goal v Newcastle last season for some time (it was a flick-on from a throw-in, Austin) and done precious little else…unless Douglas Luiz’s corner goals were his idea. The jury is very much out, but he has survived two manager sackings and was retained by Emery, so maybe we’re all missing something?
Stepping into the rubble of the Gerrard cataclysm, Danks somehow managed to engineer a 4-0 win at Villa Park against previous bogey side Brentford. Unfortunately, this was swiftly followed by a 4-0 hammering at Newcastle, somewhat cancelling out the result from the week before. Offered a new role under Emery, he has since departed to Middlesbrough. We will always have those first 15 minutes against Brentford. Danks for the memories!
The Spaniard has managed to pick through the ruins of Gerrard’s reign and hit the ground running. Memorable wins against Manchester United and Tottenham, and gritty wins against Brighton and Leeds have provided much needed points on the board, allowing Villa to look up towards the top half rather than down at the bottom three. An expert in the dark arts, perhaps the most impressive facet of Emery’s tenure so far has been his ability to close down a game when we’re ahead. An interesting end to the transfer window awaits, and the signs are good based on the acquisition of Moreno.