This is the second part of our series where we analyse a few of the top teams in the Championship. We’ll ask the same questions of each one, taking an in-depth look at each side from transfers to tactics, form to chances.
Next up, a sleeping giant, lumbering from a painful relegation in 2016, Aston Villa hoped to bounce straight back up. Despite a lot of money spent, it’s hardly been a tale of success for the biggest club in the Midlands.
In the spirit of the series, let’s take a look at Villa…
How solid is the squad? Is there enough depth?
Villa have dipped heavily into the transfer market over the last couple of years and their playing squad, on paper at least, looks solid enough. There’s a lot of Premier League and International experience amongst the squad, not to mention a few players who have overseas experience at the top level.
Compared to much of their competition, the Villa squad should be deep enough and have the quality to challenge come the end of the season.
Does the manager have enough experience?
There are few people in English football with anywhere near the experience of Steve Bruce. As a player, he featured in over 900 professional matches. He was awarded the Manchester United captaincy by Alex Ferguson and whilst at United led the team to Premier League, FA Cup, League Cup and the Cup Winners Cup (now abolished in favour of a wider Europa League) glory.
As a manager, he has been in charge of 9 clubs and has been promoted to the Premier League 4 times.
With nearly 20 years and over 800 matches as a manager, including automatic and play-off promotion success, nobody can doubt whether or not Steve Bruce has the experience to guide any of his teams to the Premier League.
The Club’s transfer business
The John Terry to Villa deal was possibly one of the biggest shocks of the summer window, for me. At 36 and with millions in the bank, Terry could have retired in style or even headed off to America or China for a last big pay cheque. Instead, Steve Bruce managed to persuade him to drop a division and lead the Villa team to promotion.
Alongside that, Bruce has added 7 new faces to the squad for the upcoming campaign, with 3 of those being loanees.
The new arrivals have a mixture of backgrounds – they’ve added Premier League experience with John Terry, Glenn Whelan, Ahmed Elmohamady, Josh Onomah, Robert Snodgrass and Christopher Samba. With the exception of Onomah they all have plenty of years and games under their belt, leaving us to assume Bruce has opted for experience over youth as a transfer policy this season.
In terms of departures, the most notable names are Carlos Sanchez and Jerome Vertout who have joined Fiorentina for a combined £8.5 million. Nathan Baker and Leandro Bacuna have also departed to Bristol City and Reading respectively, leaving Villa with a £13.5 million transfer profit this window.
How do they play – more defensive or more attacking football?
A typical Bruce team is dogged and determined, without being particularly technical or pacey. In terms of additions to the squad, he clearly hasn’t opted for speed as a primary concern, but he has added some serious steel to the spine of the team – perhaps that’s a sign of what to expect from this Villa team.
With Australia Captain Mile Jedinak, the vastly experienced Glenn Whelan and the Iceland international Birkir Bjarnason, they have a very determined and robust midfield.
The main concern for Villa fans will be the lack of goals from their strikers – most of the Villa goals this year have come from midfield and in order for them to make a serious push for promotion, the strikers will need to start finding some sort of form.
As it stands, they have scored 7 and conceded 9, suggesting they need to improve both ends of the pitch if they want to head back up to the Premier League this year.
Will they play better at home or in the away games?
With Villa park averaging around 32,000 gates during the Championship season, there’s plenty of support for them. They’ve yet to register an away win this year and haven’t lost at home, so the early indications are that Villa Park will be vital for them if they want to keep pace with the league leaders.
Unfortunately for Villa, you just can’t rely on good home form, so those defensive frailties will have to be addressed on their travels otherwise they better get used to another season of mid-table mediocrity.
What they can get from the next 6 – 10 fixtures?
With the exception of a tricky tie against Middlesbrough, the next few weeks look OK for Villa – they have a chance to steal a match on their near rivals if they pick up a few wins. Games against Barnsley, Burton, Bolton and Forest offer a real chance for them to pick up points.
With a derby games against Wolves and Birmingham City next month, there are at least a couple of banana skins on the horizon, but having not lost in the last 3 matches Villa fans will look to those games with confidence. Whether they have the quality to win them is another matter altogether.
We’ve said on the site plenty of times, the Championship is a notoriously difficult league to win and even to get promoted is a big ask. I’m not suggesting it’s impossible for this Villa side to be promoted, but it’s certainly going to take a big improvement in results.