Despite a couple of early losses, Aston Villa’s early form has shown a lot of promise for the season ahead. Encouraging signs against Tottenham Hotspur and Bournemouth came to fruition for brilliant victories against both Everton and Crewe Alexandra.
Much has been made of Dean Smith’s spending this summer, with an array of new signings arriving in B6. But if ever there was a sign of the cohesion he is building within the club it was Tuesday night’s hammering of Crewe.
Making ten changes for the League Cup tie at Gresty Road set up the potential for Villa to be embarrassed by lower league opposition; something that we have become familiar with over the last several years.
However, an emphatic 6-1 victory made a mockery of any fears of a slip-up and more importantly, gave evidence that Villa will most certainly not be ‘doing a Fulham’.
For me, the unity within the squad as a whole was massively evident. And that alone is a testament to the incredible work that Smith is doing at Villa. Everyone is clearly pulling in the same direction. It’s early days of course, but this is a squad which finally seems bereft of troublemakers, shirkers and egos.
Smith has spoken at length that the players he bought in were all character referenced and it wasn’t just a case of playing ability that settled the decision to spend money on them. It’s a philosophy that looks set to prosper.
If you’re on social media, you can’t fail to be aware of the relationships that are blossoming between the players off the pitch. Not least, John McGinn and Jack Grealish’s continuous bromance which is creating some genuinely funny moments. And Tyrone Mings is also displaying his importance to the dressing room spirit by being the centre of everything from pranks to new signing initiations.
It’s brilliant to see. These are not fake relationships just for show. There are genuine bonds being formed here. And that, in turn, raises performances on the pitch; after all, you don’t want to let your mates down. We are seeing this already with the burgeoning pairing of Mings and Bjorn Engels, already being dubbed as ‘Mingles’. And I’m so pleased to see it happening that don’t even care that we’re giving them that ridiculous moniker!
On top of that, Smith was savvy enough to bring in players of existing relationships. Obviously, the loan contingent from last season containing Mings, Kortney Hause and Anwar El Ghazi was already settled in. Engles, Marvelous Nakamba and Wesley all know each other from Club Brugge. Smith knows Jota and Ezri Konsa from their Brentford days. The links were already made before they even set foot through Bodymoor Heath.
The team that played at Crewe featured fringe players and a couple of debutants, usually a recipe for inconsistency. But for the most part, the play was fluid and there was a unity. There was no one out for themselves, trying to make an impression by doing too much.
Henri Lansbury, in particular, was unselfish in his play for Conor Hourihane’s first goal and that typified the whole performance of the team. For a player struggling to get game time, it would’ve been easy to take the shot on himself and put himself in the spotlight. He was in a decent position to do so. But his clever reverse pass ensured a goal for the team.
And that is the feeling you get throughout this squad. Everyone is working for each other. And working hard, at that.
The importance of that sort of dedication to each other has been demonstrated clearly by other clubs such as Bournemouth and Burnley. Teams who have built a solid foundation and became greater than the sum of their parts and found relative success by doing so. As a newly promoted club, it was imperative that Villa did the same.
Smith noted this week that it’s up to the players to keep him happy rather for him to keep the players happy. It’s brilliant to hear and it is, of course, how it should be. But it hasn’t been the case at Villa for years. We’ve pandered to players, handing out huge contracts just to get a name through the door. Finally, you get the impression that Smith has created an environment that players want to join and be part of, rather than just because they know they can get a huge pay packet and not have to work hard for it.
If he can continue to harvest this culture, then I really do believe that Villa can build something special over the next few years.