Is Aston Villa getting worse or getting better? Recent results against West Ham, Burnley and Brighton suggest we may be getting worse. A single point against these three teams was surely only in the thoughts of the most pessimistic. Is it, therefore, a logical assumption that Aston Villa is getting worse? To be honest, I do not believe so. I think it is a combination of things that are impacting our results. However, the overriding factor is that we are finding our level in the Premier League. Last season we were relegation candidates. This season we are potentially pushing for a European place. Just exactly what our level is in the Premier League clearly depends on our capabilities. But more importantly, it depends on how we are relative to others around us.
We each have our own ideas of our capabilities as a squad and management team today. We can’t change the players and we are extremely unlikely to change our coaches. So what can this squad achieve and what level is this squad at? Are we at our level now or is Aston Villa getting worse or getting better? On our day, our first 11 is very good. We showed that against Arsenal, Liverpool, Baggies and a number of other teams already this season. But our problem is that lack of top 8 quality squad players when we venture outside of our first 11.
None of Watkins, Barkley, Grealish, McGinn, Konsa, Mings, Targett or Martinez has a replacement that can simply slot into the 1st 11. Highlighting this is by no means a dig at anyone at Aston Villa. After all, it is only about 18 months ago we needed to completely rebuild our squad following years of mismanagement. We have done extremely well to build the squad we have in such a short period of time. But we need to accept where we are in development and the bottom line is that we have a fair way still to go yet.
Strength In-Depth Getting Better
If our players need a rest or if they are a bit out of form Dean Smith needs to rotate the squad. Dean has started to do this a little recently but he simply does not have the strength in depth to do it effectively. Saturday night was a prime example. Our attacking threat of Watkins, Grealish, Barkley, McGinn and Traore were all playing below the standard we have come to expect.
What choices did Dean have to ‘change the game’? Very very few! ElGhazi and Trezeguet are not super sub-game changes. They are competent squad players to be used as a sub on 70 minutes. This in itself shows Aston Villa is getting better, last season they were both 1st 11 players. However, and more importantly, if Barkley and Grealish are off-tune we have nobody capable of filling in. Sanson may grow into the role to replace Barkley but that will take some time.
Summer Recruitment Required
Our next transfer window needs to address the lack of depth if Aston Villa wants to get better. We have now lost Matty Cash to a Hamstring injury. There is no official word on his return but looking at how long Barkley took to get back it will be at least 6 or 7 weeks. And even at that Barkley is still not firing on all cylinders. We are now left with Elmo as our first choice RB. I like Elmo, he has proven an excellent servant to the club. But he is not a first choice RB for a team with aspirations of European qualification.
Our lack of creative midfield is a big gap and we must either buy or replace Barkley and get another creative midfield in. We must be able to cope when players need a rest or have a bad day. Further, we could be playing midweek games which include European travel so the squad needs to be able to handle this. With Cash in the treatment room, the vulnerability of our defence is accentuated. If Targett picks up an injury, our first choice fullbacks will be Elmo and Taylor. That sounds more like our team from dark days under Xia/Bruce than the PL team with 12 clean sheets this season pushing for Europe. We also need to upgrade ElGhazi and Trez into a really good winger.
What Is Aston Villa’s Level?
Where exactly do we sit in the Premier League? This is where I get the chance to bring out my mini-league table. We ‘only’ got a draw this week so just 1 point. However, we have improved our points gained tally against 4 other teams: Palace, Saints, Leeds and Everton. So a valuable point won by Martinez on Saturday night. Gaining points against Saints and Palace is fairly meaningless as I believe we are going to finish ahead of them anyway. It doesn’t make any difference whether this is by 5 points or 25 points.
However, gaining points on Everton is very significant. My personal opinion is that Everton is best placed to finish in 7th place. Therefore scoring more points than them helps us to try and pip them to the Europa spot. That said, it is not quite the time to crack open the Champagne. We only gained one point against Everton and since the halfway stage both Everton and Villa have each gained a total of 4 points. So no points gain since game 19.
Contrary to my personal opinion, it is not just Everton of concern to our aspirations of getting into Europe. It is how we are comparing to the other teams in the mini-league. West Ham, Arsenal and Wolves each outscored us this week. Arsenal is a significant threat, in my opinion. They have lots of quality and understand how to finish high up the table. Also, we can’t ignore the dinosaur managing The Hammers. It just goes to show the value of having Karen at a club and the recent appointment of ex-porn star Eve Vorley as a director at West Ham, see pics below if you are unsure who these ladies are. Morale is key to getting the best from players, and The Hammers have clearly got this right.
It is still very early days in the mini-league but we really can’t afford to let teams pull away from us. It is important we gain some points over West Ham in the coming games. They were very good against The Blades this evening and Lingard looks to be fitting in nicely. That said, The Blades are a really poor side and they helped to make the game as easy as they possibly could for Karen’s and Eve’s boys. Although I don’t think we can finish as high as 7th, looking at the table it is very much on. We have games in hand over The Hammers and if we win our games in hand we could be 4th or 5th, depending on goal difference against Chelsea. At the time of writing, Chelsea are 2-0 up on Newcastle with 20 mins to go so I am assuming a Chelsea victory.
There are two extra midweek games this week in the Premier League. Of interest to us is that our rivals Everton host Man City. On paper this looks like another 3 points to Man City and an opportunity for Villa to overtake The Toffees in the mini-league. The other game is a game I am looking forward to. Fulham travel to Burnley. A very tough game for Fulham but one that I think they can nick 3 points from. I certainly hope they do as it will make the relegation fight very interesting.
I will post another Leader before the weekend and review our chances against Leicester and the other games impacting our mini-league.