Daniel Storey reviews the summer transfer business, looks at the challenges ahead and predicts where the club will end up as part of his season preview for all 20 Premier League clubs
For the first time in God knows how long, Aston Villa can practically boast two decent players for each position. The depth is arguably like nowhere else outside of the top six. Villa’s list of central midfielders alone: Douglas Luiz, Boubacar Kamara, John McGinn, Marvelous Nakamba, Jacob Ramsey, Morgan Sanson.
Read Daniel Storey’s previews for all 20 Premier League clubs here
The same goes for the rest of the team. We don’t exactly know Steve Gerrard’s core team, but he has two competent creators in Emi Buendia and Philippe Coutinho, two high-quality centre-forwards in Danny Ings and Ollie Watkins and three central defenders (Tyrone Mings, Diego Carlos and Ezri Konsa). ) all expecting to launch. Mings, who loses the captaincy to John McGinn, suggests he could be the unlucky member of this trio.
Not only does that create competition for spots, but it also allows Gerrard to be flexible with his formations if he chooses to. In Lucas Digne and Matty Cash, he has two players who could easily work as full-backs or full-backs.
Absent from European football, Villa should expect to finish well above 14th last season. The key will be to improve their home form. Villa won just six league games at Villa Park last season, fewer home wins than Crystal Palace, Brentford and Wolves. More away wins in the league than Manchester United – even the Manchester United – that’s something to be proud of.
Fortify Villa Park and they can close the seven point gap to last season’s top eight. The midfield will be tight again – the results in the games between these six or seven teams will be decisive.
There were three issues from last season that Gerrard had to work out and to be honest I’m not entirely convinced he will because they’ve tended to pursue them in 2021-22. The first was the conceding of early goals. Villa have conceded nine goals in the first 10 minutes of their league games, which is tied with Aston Villa as the highest tally in the league. At home, this often resulted in moans and groans and added pressure that they found difficult to deal with.
But even in leading, Villa was lax. They lost five league games last season after taking the lead, most notably at home to Wolves in October (2-0 lead) and on the final day against Manchester City (2-0 lead). That record of five defeats after progressing has only been equaled by Southampton, champions of the Premier League when it comes to squandering advantages. It has to get better if Gerrard is to make any progress.
Finally, there’s a slight suspicion that Gerrard occasionally falls into the same trap that happened to Frank Lampard at Chelsea. When Villa struggle to create chances from open play, the answer can often be to push more players forward, especially the full-backs. This resulted in Villa being exposed in the counterattack. The problem could be solved by Kamara, but Villa must be careful that he cannot be expected to stem the tide alone.
No club in the Premier League have done their job sooner – all three officially started their deals on July 1. It’s a sign that Villa has at least been pursuing a longer-term strategy, buying on a “who do we really want” basis rather than a “right, who can we buy?” Politics. It usually correlates with these signings being successful.
Kamara is a very smart move, especially on a free transfer. There’s no guarantee every Ligue 1 central midfielder will become N’Golo Kante (see Boubakary Soumaré’s first season at Leicester last year for details), but Kamara has been wanted by a multitude of clubs and he could well be the holding midfielder of Gerrard longed to be.
Diego Carlos has been equally celebrated and provides the competition Ezri Konsa and Tyrone Mings need. We don’t yet know which of the three will be on the bench more than the others, but there’s a good chance Mings will lose his first-team spot. This is a statement of intent about squad depth.
Coutinho is much more complicated. We wrote about Gerrard’s loyalty to Coutinho repeatedly in The Score last season, even when Buendia was in better form and creating more chances. Maybe it was just a tactic to convince Coutinho to sign permanently, but Villa fans should hope that this season’s team selection is one of meritocracy. Unless Buendia and Coutinho can both be placed in the same eleven, Gerrard faces a mighty difficult decision.
Finally, Villa raised almost £40million from the sale of three players (Matt Targett, Trezeguet and Carney Chukwuemeka) who would all have struggled for regular first-team minutes next season. Chukwuemeka’s departure is a disgrace but he was out of contract next summer and reportedly refused to renew that contract. Given the expenses, Villa really needed to generate some revenue from sales.
An interesting one. Given that the board have allowed Gerrard to invest heavily in this team (and that they paid so much compensation to get him out of Rangers), the assumption is they think they have the right man to turn to to advance the association in the long term. He has been in charge for eight months and has already spent £80m on new players, recruited two more free transfers and paid Coutinho handsomely.
But Gerrard hardly fired last season, even with the January investment. Between his appointment and the end of the season, Villa picked up 35 points from 27 games. There was no linear progression in this run; slow start didn’t turn into a permanent improvement. Gerrard’s side have nine points from their last eleven league games in 2021-22.
That’s not sustainable. Villa have targeted a level of investment for wages and transfer fees (although the sale of Jack Grealish mitigates much of that) suggesting they want to push into European football. If the same issues continue to dog Villa this season, it will eventually itch the decision makers or the supporters a little.
Started strong, fell away a little, reacted to get Gerrard out of any trouble and finished quite well. 9.
The Score is Daniel Storey’s weekly assessment of the performance of all 20 Premier League teams. Sign up here to receive the newsletter every Monday morning this season