‘This could be the most important season in a generation at Villa Park.’
By Paul Abdale
THERE’S an interesting fact going round.
We haven’t conceded a goal while John Terry has been on the pitch.
We also haven’t scored a goal while he’s been on the pitch, not in a 90-minute match against league opposition.
Not against Shrewsbury, Walsall or Watford.
But that’s not Terry’s fault.
And it’s not the fault of Chris Samba, Glenn Whelan or Ahmed Elmohamady.
New players, old players, new season, old season, the approach appears to be the same.
Solid at the back, robust in midfield but laboured in attack.
We’re at the point where all the preparation should have been done, all the tinkering finished and the team should be ready to prove why they’re the bookmakers’ favourites for promotion.
We tick nearly every box for the bookies.
Big club.. yes
Big players.. yes
Experienced boss.. yes
Are we the finished article? Absolutely not. But are we in better shape than we were at this stage last year? Absolutely yes. But is it enough to win a minimum of 25 games?
‘The only fear for us is ourselves.’
So far this summer the recruitment has been spot on – it actually feels like it has a purpose.
It may resemble something out of a Tony Pulis wet dream – solid, unspectacular, dependable – but that’s exactly what we need.
Reality has bitten and Bruce has had to clamber over an obstacle bigger than a faulty gate – Financial Fair Play. And bizarrely it’s been a blessing so far.
Good players brought in for small fees in good areas. And a ruthless culling of players deemed not good enough. A rare outbreak of common sense.
Bruce has wheeled and dealed in a way that will have left a certain neighbouring manager feeling envious. All he needs to do now is roll down his car window and say, “Aston Villa.. triffic.”
Whelan, Samba, Elmohamady and Terry.
Players who will hopefully stop our capitulations. Spiky attitudes in a dressing room which various managers have described as “too nice”.
Not enough home truths, not enough horrible bast*rds demanding performances from team-mates.
You don’t have to like Terry, you don’t have to respect him or admire him. But I doubt anyone has ever called him nice.
We don’t need a legend, but we do need a straight-talking leader.
Samba has arguably been our best player so far this pre-season. A player who earned a contract through hard work. Something of a rarity in B6.
‘Financial Fair Play – bizarrely it’s been a blessing so far’
Whelan, a dogged performer who can put his foot in and pass.
And Elmohamady, a winger who delivers the ball early. A delight for players like Hogan who, as we saw in Germany, will thrive on quick service if he gets a chance.
Good value, relatively short contracts, experience and, most importantly, players who can manage a game.
Players who can stop 2-0 leads turning into 2-2 draws.
Players who can stop the heads dropping when we concede.
Players who can stand firm if we need to dig out a point.
But… not players who can win a game. And that’s still the elephant in the room with this side.
Apart from giving us that ridiculous-looking trophy, the tournament in Germany gave us a glimpse of something we haven’t seen for a while – clinical attacking play.
Quick balls down the outside of the defenders, early crosses and Hogan looked every inch the striker he was at Brentford.
But that’s all it was, a glimpse, a tease almost. This is what we can do, but not what we will do.
We go into the season with no Kodjia, no Adomah and now no Grealish.
The player who scored our goals and the players who provided them. The most fruitful assist/scorer partnership in the division last season.
When it came to finding the net, Kodjia scored 40 per cent of our goals. Added to the strikes from Adomah and Grealish and we’re now without 57 per cent of last season’s dreadful league total of 47.
We defended as a team but attacked as individuals. And now we don’t even have those individuals.
In the absence of those three, the next highest scorers were James Chester and Ross McCormack – both with three. Good luck with that.
We need a solution and quickly because this season offers us a massive opportunity. In all honesty, who exactly have we got to worry about?
Of the three relegated sides, only Boro look like being contenders.
Sunderland look an even bigger shambles than we were after the drop and Hull have suffered a number of heavy departures.
While Fulham and Wednesday will be in the mix, this is the most open Championship for years.
Despite the shortage in attack, for the bookies and the neutrals, WE are the stand-out team.
There a few sides we should be wary of, but none to fear.
The only fear for us is ourselves.
This could be the most important season in a generation at Villa Park.
Over to you Brucie, no pressure.
Make sure you follow Paul on Twitter here – @paulabdale
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