As the final whistle went at Wembley in May, Villa fans were faced with the realisation that it would another year of Championship football. As the following weeks unfolded, things were an awful lot worse than first feared.
Reports of a huge fallout between Tony Xia and Keith Wyness, HMRC tax bills and haemorrhaging cash at a frightening rate saw administration as a real possibility.
Fast forward a couple of months and Villa find themselves unbeaten with seven points from nine and a win in the first round of the League Cup. New owners in the guises of Nassef Sawiris and Wes Edens have come in quickly to seemingly rescue Villa from the perilous position they appeared to be heading and made a statement in keeping both James Chester and Jack Grealish.
On the face of things everything is great. Or at least you’d think it was.
Amongst all the unfolding chapters of this summer, Steve Bruce has received a whole variety of comments from sceptics. Full support or believing he must go. The debate has divided many and it continues to dominate many of the sites, phone ins and conversations in and around the ground.
Bruce took over from the ill-fated spell of Roberto Di Matteo and guided Villa to a mid-table finish. He was quick to push the comment of needing a full summer and season and also stressed that failure to get promoted would all but spell the end of his management of his ‘biggest club to date’ and the job he had ‘been waiting for’.
The season finished with the aforementioned playoff defeat to Fulham after a fourth placed finish in the league. Players of the likes of John Terry and Robert Snodgrass left and the uncertainty set in straight away.
Win ratio appears to the latest buzz words doing the rounds and as lovely as it looks winning more games than not, there has to be an end product. The remit was promotion and it wasn’t achieved.
Also it should be remembered that this ‘win ratio’ which is currently 45.95% (the highest for some considerable time) comes in the second tier of football with the most expensive squad assembled and available to use. Granted, not all of the players were signed by Bruce but the likes of Kodjia, Hogan and McCormack were nonetheless squad players worth over £30million combined. In fact the cost of the Villa squad in 2017-18 based on transfer fees and other values were to the tune of £68.7million. This was the highest in the division ahead of Hull City and Middlesbrough respectively and Wolves with their Portuguese imports and comfortable success in winning the division were actually only at £41.4million (mainly due to the loan to buy options). Fulham (£37.4million) and Cardiff City (£18.6million). Pretty sobering.
Paul Lambert was consistently criticised for his win ratio with arguably one of our worst ever teams and having next to nothing to spend, whilst others were allowed to leave. He was the one that brought Christian Benteke in remember and looking back it could be argued that he did well to keep Villa up in the top flight.
However, the issue with Paul Lambert was his defensive formation and style, which is the main reason for the fallout between fans currently with Steve Bruce.
Yesterday for instance was yet another example of fielding players in the wrong positions and subsequently displaying a lack of balance, fluency and formation. Axel Tuanzebe, most recognised as a centre-back played at right back when we have four potential right-backs in the squad and he played a defensive midfielder back at centre-half again in Mile Jedinak.
In a division where squad depth is huge as the number of games increase, what does it say for the likes of Tommy Elphick and James Bree?
On the flip side it could be argued that Brighton, Huddersfield and Bournemouth all went up with ‘lesser squads’ but they were well organised and played on the front foot.
With Ipswich going down to ten men so early yesterday it was a fantastic opportunity to capitalise yet we continued playing a relatively defensive formation with one man up front in Jonathan Kodjia. When he scored yesterday, he was the only player in the box and had four defenders around him. Just as well he delivered!
Yesterday wasn’t the only example. Wigan the previous week was set for a draw but for the last gasp winner from Birkir Bjarnason and Hull City away, we were deep and pretty poor, particularly for the first 45 minutes.
This leads to my next point in getting the most from the players for the full 90 minutes. Despite the near promotion last season there were too many games where the players didn’t perform consistently for the 90 minutes or even whole fixtures which ultimately cost us.
The loan window could make a real difference and with it closing on 31st August, deals need to happen quickly. A regular left-back, a right-winger and a striker are all musts but that brings up two questions in itself.
Firstly, with Bruce already opting to play people out of position, how will the loans impact upon the current squad and how will they be affected themselves?
Also the continued option of one man up front. Bringing in someone like Tammy Abraham who is still being linked with us could be a great opportunity for two up top and help to nullify Kodjia being isolated at times. But would Bruce play the two or push Kodjia wide?
Villa welcome Brentford to Villa Park on Wednesday, who have played some fantastic football against us in previous fixtures. Also we see Dean Smith lead his squad again. He has been tipped to be the fans favourite for some time should Bruce go and he has repeatedly managed to achieve fantastic league positions with next to no money and his squad constantly changing as players depart for pastures new. A nod to the squad figures again for last season sees Brentford at £16.4million.
The loans need to come in and they need to add strength and positivity. My only other concern is the more we hear ‘We are working on one or two things.” If they don’t happen will the excuse be that it’s hard to get the players in or that the parent clubs wanted to keep them as surely we should be showing the intent to get them in as quick as possible if these targets are indeed available.
Being brutally honest, the squad as it stands isn’t deep or strong enough to push for automatic promotion and I would love more than anyone to be proved wrong. The leadership of John Terry for one is a monumental loss for the rest of the team as much as in terms of losing an experienced centre-back who reads the game so well.
Only time will tell what Bruce achieves and what the owners think and do. Keeping Bruce was probably the right short term decision as a rapid takeover and lack of knowledge of the squad and staff. However their success as businessmen will have come with complex and sometimes cutthroat decisions to achieve their goals and ambitions. For what it’s worth I really like Bruce as a person and it’s clear the players respect him too but he needs to make some big decisions of his own and quickly to achieve his own goals that we share with him.