Good Bad and Ugly of 2021-2022 Season
By Phil Shaw
I trust everyone has fully digested the final day of the season, which had a comeback like acid reflux. It’s now time for a bumper Good, Bad and Ugly to try to draw a line under it all like a nice after dinner mint.
2021/22 has unfortunately been a season where Aston Villa fans have had to survive on fleeting moments of happiness.
The Danny Ings overhead kick, the long-awaited win at Old Trafford, the Coutinho debut, Gerrard’s first match in charge, and the demolition jobs against Southampton at home and Leeds away.
Those are probably the highlights of a season, that never got off the ground, but we will come to that later.
The promised land of the top ten, seemed an achievable target at times, yet Villa could never string the points together, to make it happen.
Despite a feeling of complete apathy towards the season, there was the potential for complete disaster at times.
Under Dean Smith and Steven Gerrard, there were long winless streaks, that had the potential to suck the Club into the black hole of a relegation battle.
With the resources at both managers’ disposal, this should never have been a conversation topic, yet it frequently was thrown out as an unlikely yet possible apocalyptic scenario.
With the season over, Villa were miles off relegation, but also miles off an acceptable league position.
There is hope on the horizon with eye-catching new signings like Boubacar Kamara and Diego Carlos in the door before the transfer window even opened, but as a whole, the season just gone, was far from good.
Villan of the Season – Matty Cash
There isn’t really any other choice. Even during the lowest points of the season, Cash’s attitude, as much as anything else, gave the fans something to clutch onto.
There are still concerns over his positional play while marking the back post, and his occasionally wild final ball, yet going forward, and in the tackle, Cash has always given the required level of effort.
It’s not a case of sharpening the knives and laying into the players, it’s more a case of pointing out how little it took to torpedo Aston Villa’s season.
It had all begun so well, capturing Emi Buendia from under Arsenal’s nose, welcoming Ashley Young home and rumours of longtime footballing hipster favourite Leon Bailey signing.
Villa fans and maybe everyone else got lulled into a false sense of security.
Of course the iceberg was right ahead for the good ship Villa, as the exit of Jack Grealish to Manchester City, derailed the whole preseason.
From the endless Twitter meltdowns, to the very public training camp, where Grealish went through the motions, the exit was nailed on by the silence from both camps.
In reality, Aston Villa, came out of the deal, financially the winner, yet psychologically, damaged.
Manchester City, swooped in and bought the poster boy of the club, that arguably they didn’t need, then there was the sense of betrayal from the player for leaving, it was a mortal wound to Dean Smith’s team.
With hindsight, it’s clear the club weren’t as prepared for the blow as they should have been.
Despite the public address from Christian Purslow, Villa may have replaced Grealish in ‘the aggregate’ with Buendia, Bailey and Danny Ings, but they’d lost more than a player.
They’d lost momentum and, more importantly, time to prepare. This became exacerbated by the COVID-19 postponements of preseason friendlies.
There hasn’t been as bad a preseason since the relegation campaign of 2015.
While that Villa team, was a half-baked cake, this one was still on the beach when they travelled to Watford on opening day.
That first day defeat, again by a three to two margin, was more prophetic for the rest of the season than anyone knew at the time.
Fans, players, and staff were all guilty of the same thing, a shrug of the shoulders and just writing it off.
Yet, Villa just looked like damaged goods for the first few weeks of the season. They had a fragility that led to conceding multiple goals in short spaces of time.
Despite an overarching ‘it’ll be OK’ attitude at management level, players have severely underperformed on the pitch.
The riches of attacking options, only getting going when games were already lost, and veering from deadly to wasteful on a weekly basis.
Pick your worst match of the season, and it’s certain one of these three core difficulties will be the defining memory.
You can look back at all the previous GBU columns, there’s no denying it has been a poor season.
It’s too easy to say there’s a mentality issue at Villa, but it was blatantly obvious last season
During 2021-22, Aston Villa were often just a doormat to the rest of the league.
The way to beat them, was literally to just be a bit ugly.
I’ve lost count of the points thrown away this season because the other team bullied Aston Villa, mentally or physically.
Brentford, at Villa Park, way back in August, simply shut the game down and Villa had no answer.
Villa were unable to dictate a game all season and often came across like training ground opponents at home (they only won six out of their 19 league games at Villa Park).
Too soft, too naive, unwilling to confront blatant gamesmanship from the opposition, and terrified to question the abysmal refereeing served up all season.
This came to a head against Arsenal. The game that more closely resembled a scripted pantomime than competitive sport.
Any home victory, came from short bursts of excellence, rather than concerted play. Even the best win, against Southampton, was determined by quick goals either side of half-time.
It’s the main thing that needs to be addressed over the Summer months, and some squad decisions will be ugly.
Villa have to face facts, if players in the squad haven’t improved in dealing with setbacks in three seasons, then they aren’t going to.
The target of ‘best of the rest’ or higher, requires total commitment and even then, it may be unrealistic.
This preseason will be the time to twist, as the emerging sovereign wealth of Newcastle United will distort the middle ground of the League.
If Villa don’t gamble now, they may never drop the ugly mid-table mentality.
Follow Phil on Twitter here – @prsgame