A busy summer of activity came to a conclusion with the end of the transfer window and we are finally in a position to take stock of our new look squad. The general consensus is that the club has done well in shifting most of the dead wood and replacing it with proven Championship players. So, where do we seem at our strongest and where do the weaknesses lie?
I am slightly concerned by the goalkeeping department. Pierlugi Gollini is the current number one, but a less than convincing start has left me anxious. Talent has been shown and bad luck has also befallen him in a couple of games yet mistakes have also crept in. I do wish a more experienced number one had been sought. Relying on a relatively green twenty-one-year-old in this division, and in this position especially, may prove to be a mistake. I still can’t help but think that David Marshall would have been the perfect signing for us.
Nevertheless, an able back-up is present should Roberto Di Matteo feel the need to give Gollini a break. Mark Bunn is a good option to have in the squad and he proved his worth last season when called upon so I’m sure would do a decent job again if required. However, whether he has enough to force himself into the number one spot in a long term capacity is questionable.
On paper, the defence is much superior to last season’s. The removal of Joleon Lescott alone improves such matters.
However, I do think we are potentially light in numbers for the centre back role. I was sad to see Jores Okore leave, despite his horror showing in the League Cup at Luton Town. I think he had a part to play still and will grow into a fine player given a regular run of games.
Despite receiving a superb fee of £5 million for Ciaran Clark, we are really only left with three recognised centre backs in Tommy Elphick, James Chester and Nathan Baker. We have already seen that our captain loves a booking, picking up three in five games so far, so we can expect a couple of suspensions this season at least. It is a worry that our only other option in this position is Micah Richards. To me, a game is already lost if we need to resort to that option. Elphick and Chester seem to be forming a solid pairing, although an additional body will probably be needed come January. Fingers crossed they make it until then without injury.
We now have decent full back options. Aly Cissokho has started well and, to his credit, has made it difficult for Jordan Amavi to come into the side, which is something we hadn’t expected and is encouraging. Both are good options to have.
On the right hand side, Ritchie De Laet hopefully gives the squad a right back who is balanced in both attack and defence. While it’s hard to knock a guy who puts the effort in, we have hopefully seen the last of Alan Hutton, who has continually shown he is simply not good enough. Leandro Bacuna and Richards offer acceptable back-up and Hutton is potentially fourth choice now.
The midfield has continuously been a weak area over the last five years. We have consistently been over-run in the middle of the pitch for such a long time and guilty of adding pressure to an already fragile back line by failing to play even the simplest of passes.
Mile Jedinak is the key figure who gives us experience and leadership in what is otherwise a fairly young set-up and he will be vital to us.
Ashley Westwood is a player who divides opinion. I have to admit that I am of the view that his impact is somewhat limited yet, at this level, he is useful to have in the squad.
The athleticism of Aaron Tshibola should complement Jedinak’s muscle extremely well and this would be my preferred pairing.
Gary Gardner began the season as a starter but was disappointing, especially seeing as he finally had his chance to get his Villa career under way. It may already be a case of working his way back up the pecking order and it’s fair to say that I am still to be impressed by the local lad.
The deadline day signing of Albert Adomah gives us an out-and-out winger and it will be interesting to see whether he can continue the consistency which he developed at Middlesbrough last season. If so, Adomah will be vital in creating chances for our impressive-looking forward line and can hopefully contribute seven or eight goals himself.
The only issue I see with Adomah is that his presence does leave us slightly unbalanced as we don’t have another true winger for the opposite side. This may see the promising André Green get more playing time than he perhaps expected this season as he is the most natural choice for the other wide player. The Solihull-born youngster has been subbed into play in each league game so far, indicating that Di Matteo quite rightly rates him and is not afraid to use him.
However, preferred out wide so far has been Jack Grealish. Despite already reaping two goals this season, I can’t help but feel a more central role would suit him better. Nevertheless, it is great to see Grealish enjoying his football and a year at this level is looking like being a blessing in disguise for him. I’m excited about seeing him flourish and, for me, he has the potential to pick up various player of the season awards.
Perhaps one gripe on the outgoing side of things is that I do think Jordan Veretout could have had a decent season with us and would have been a useful squad member. I hope we find use for him after his loan this season.
Let’s not beat about the bush: we look awesome up front. Proven Championship quality is abundant and we have three players who have shown previously that they can notch twenty or so goals.
Rudy Gestede may be cumbersome in his approach but providing service for him is key. If we can, which Adomah in particular should help with, he is an aerial menace and will score goals. His importance in hold-up play this season already has been noted in his absence through injury.
We have overpaid for Jonathan Kodjia, but so what? Not at all the ‘world class’ striker that was promised, if he can replicate last season’s efforts in a struggling Bristol City team then we would perhaps view him as such! Kodjia is quick, skillful and, most importantly for me, very direct, which is something we have been lacking for a long time. I’m excited to see him in a Villa shirt running at opposition defences.
Ross McCormack is the third of a trio that knows how to finish. Perhaps working better in a two up front, the Scot is a clever player who will create just as many as he converts. He has been the scorer of some wonderful goals in the Championship for many a year now.
Other options include last season’s bright spark Jordan Ayew, who this season is barely flickering so far but undoubtedly has the quality for this level. His attitude does come into question. Gabby Agbonlahor is still on the books but, if the fact that he is behind even the clearly unfit Libor Kozák right now wasn’t enough of a clue as to his chances of playing, Tony Xia’s tweets regarding him confirm that we shouldn’t expect to see him in competitive action any time soon.
Dr.Tony Xia promised a spending spree and duly delivered. The players we have signed may lack the star quality that we could hope for if we were still a Premier League outfit but I think we have exercised our muscle as one of the biggest clubs in the league and picked out the best players available to us as a Championship club. We have installed some leaders and we have persuaded several players to drop back down to the Championship from Premier League level.
The outgoings have been just as important. Whilst we may view Idrissa Gueye, Jores Okore and Adama Traoré as players we wouldn’t have minded keeping, the fact that we won’t have to endure the likes of Brad Guzan and Joleon Lescott more than make up for their departures
A top six finish ensuring a play-off place should now be our minimum objective. Despite a slow start and a couple of potential weaknesses that could be addressed in January if needed, there really can be no excuses. Come May, I’m sure we will have some fantastic memories of the season and at least have enjoyed watching Aston Villa again.