Good, Bad and Ugly Season Opener
With Aston Villa’s fortunes more good and less ugly nowadays, MOMS podcast contributor Phil Shaw resurrects ‘The Good, Bad & Ugly’, an old favourite MOMS column that started over eight years ago on the site…
By Phil Shaw
The 2021-22 Season is up and running and after an eventful but disruptive period, it’s time to preview things with The Good, Bad and Ugly…
After a couple of weeks of turmoil, it was Good to see the Villaverse get back to worrying about things on the pitch.
The good thing this season is fans have a new thing to argue over – what formation will Dean Smith play? Because whisper it quietly, for the first time, he might have a few options off the bench.
Starting at the back, Emiliano Martinez picks himself, but is it now a back four or five, with the signing of Villa Park favourite Axel Tuanzebe on a third loan spell? After the chastening opener against Watford, nothing should be off the table.
The midfield, so often a conundrum that Alan Turing couldn’t have solved last season, has now got a couple of extra parts in Bailey and Buendia. Bailey looked like a direct live threat against Watford in his cameo, but Buendia struggled to get on the same wavelength as the other forwards.
Other moving parts are the returning gold medallist Douglas Luiz, Marvellous Nakamba, a hopefully fit Morgan Sanson and a John McGinn, who without Grealish, may just stumble into a position that suits everyone.
All this means Dean Smith will need a whiteboard or two to work out a midfield that has been disjointed for three seasons now.
Up front, of course, used to be easy. Ollie Watkins…
Now there’s Danny Ings, proven, clinical and deadly. So, what formation will Villa play?
Go full Mike Bassett and reinvent the 4-4-2? Or some, as yet undiscovered, formation that ends with two £30 million plus strikers on the pitch?
What a time to be alive! Actual footballing discussions, rather than made up expected stats.
Villan of the Week — Ashley Young
There’s a heading I haven’t written in a decade.
There’s also a reason he wasn’t mentioned above. From watching the preseason friendlies, Ashley Young looks to have slotted in nicely.
His attitude on the pitch, getting involved in defending teammates against Salernitana, being vocal across the pitch and showing more than impressive levels of fitness have made me almost forget he played for anyone else.
Where will he play for Villa will be the question? Fullback, wide left, in his old position wide of a front 3?
If Watford is anything to go by, he will be challenging an out of sorts Matt Targett very shortly.
Aston Villa are going into this season undercooked. A combination of the Euros, Jack Grealish leaving and isolation delaying his replacements, have all led to a squad a week or two behind.
This is far from ideal, as a fully prepped Villa team should again be looking to bulldoze their way through a kind fixture list. Watford, Newcastle and Brentford, represented a chance to lay down a marker.
Unfortunately, with the disruption, Villa were miles off the pace in the first half against Watford, and the game was lost before they could get going.
Poor results in the next few games will have media and fans falling back on the emotional crutch of Grealish at a time when Villa need to be kicking on.
Unnecessary pressure on Dean Smith at this crucial point could be the end of the road, as another bottom half finish would be seen as a sign of failure this time around.
Was it really only April of this year, four months ago, that the footballing world, media, press, and fans alike, united against a greater enemy in the form of the Super League?
Going by the state of the footballing media since the Euros ended, it must have all been a dream.
Fresh from correctly devoting hours of airtime to Gary Neville and Jamie Carragher attacking the moves the six ‘Super League’ English Clubs were making, Sky Sports and the other main media sources have had their collective heads patted by those teams and are now back to being the pets they were.
The narrative and coverage around Manchester City’s capture of Jack Grealish and chase of Harry Kane has been enough to turn the stomach. There seems no issue with players being harvested off clubs at ridiculous transfer fees and wages to maintain the status quo, something which the Super League wanted to ring fence and cement in.
You have The Athletic, that sells subscriptions off the back of a supposed proper journalism approach, being reduced to nothing more than a tabloid red top, with their Manchester City writer Sam Lee taking potshots at Villa fans on social media and using WWE Gifs to ingratiate himself with the City subscribers rather than offering the serious journalism that was promised.
Talksport, have wheeled out ex-pros like Danny Mills, who once baited Villa fans saying Grealish wasn’t good enough for England before saying he’s a quality player as soon as news broke of Manchester City’s bid.
The Ugly examples go on and on.
The problem with all this discourse, is the race for likes, followers, clicks and engagement.
Whatever way the wind blows, football media, like a discarded plastic flag, blows in the same direction.
Everyone hates the Super League, quick flood the channels with anti-Super League material. Everyone loves Jack Grealish now, all writers to the pump to discuss his fashion sense, how he fits in Pep’s side and any number of other aspects. You get the point.
The reporting you want is the simple kind. There was a £100 million release clause, it was met, and he chose to leave.
Social Media, is a powerful but dangerous tool, that many abuse for personal gain. A few thousand followers and a tweet is all it takes to tip some people over the edge, whether, giving false hope to sections of a fan base or directing their anger towards individuals, the results can turn ugly.
When journalism, and specifically football journalism, plays the same games that individuals and clout chasing influencers use to gain engagement, it loses all the credibility it gained during the fight against the Super League.
The next time a reporter or ITK account says something you agree or disagree with, take a step back, check their track record and remember the principle of Occam’s Razor and look for the simplest answer, you won’t be far wrong.