Aston Villa are about to begin their second season back in the Premier League following an epic relegation battle last season. Villa secured survival on the final day with a 1-1 draw against West Ham United.
Villa will be hoping this season is not such a close run thing as it was last season. Villa had a season to remember in the Carabao Cup last year by reaching the final, only to be beaten by Manchester City, but maybe the league needs a priority in the opening months to avoid a scary May run in.
Villa will be hoping for better performance in the FA Cup this season as they got knocked out in the Third Round in a repeat of the 17/18 Championship Play-off Final against Fulham. A club with such pedigree in the FA Cup should be doing a lot better than this and hopefully, this season can be better.
The first two friendlies came at Villa’s Wales training camp as Bristol City came to visit. The first match saw a 1-0 victory for the Championship side, thanks to winger Jamie Paterson, while the second was a 1-0 victory for Villa, with Ally Samatta scoring for the first time since the Carabao Cup Final.
Three days later, Villa welcomed newly-promoted Wycombe Wanderers to their Bodymoor Heath training ground for a game full lots of goals. Winger Anwar El Ghazi hit a brace, with Samatta continuing his recovery with another goal. Trezeguet and Ezri Konsa came up with Villa’s other two goals in a 5-2 win. Fred Onyedinma and Scott Kashket netted for the visitors.
Villa finalised their pre-season preparation with a victory over Mikel Arteta’s Arsenal. Villa’s 2018/19 Young Player of the Year Jacob Ramsey scored a brace and Douglas Luiz netted in a 3-2 victory for Villa at the Emirates.
Villa have shaken up their recruitment teams behind the scenes this summer, and that has produced three major arrivals.
Sporting Director Jesus Pitarch, otherwise known as Suso, was replaced by Copenhagen’s Johan Lange upon the end of the 2019/20 season, but he took his time to bring any players in. Villa failed to make a single senior signing until the arrival of Matty Cash from Nottingham Forest on 3 September.
Cash, an explosive attacking right-back, was a major target for Aston Villa due to dwindling options in his position. Frederic Guilbert, who has since been linked with a move away, is predominantly a defensive player while Ahmed Elmohammady is 33 and entering the final year of his contract. The younger Cash is quicker and just as dangerous down the right flank, making him the ideal replacement.
The second signing was Ollie Watkins. The Brentford hitman was a long-time target for Dean Smith as he seeks to finally replace Tammy Abraham. Throughout last season, Villa lacked a clinical striker to lift the goalscoring burden off Jack Grealish’s shoulders. Villa fielded five senior strikers last season and they scored just six league goals between them (five for Wesley, one for Ally Samatta). Villa needed a striker to come in and be a ruthless goalscorer, which Watkins will hopefully become.
Attention then turned to a new goalkeeper, with Emiliano Martinez arriving for Arsenal for £20million after being denied long-term first-team football at the Emirates.
Lyon winger Bertrand Traore is tipped to be next through the door.
The most impressive part of the window, however, isn’t what’s come in, it’s what has stayed in Aston. Villa have managed to fend off Manchester United to keep star man and captain Jack Grealish while Manchester City have backed off Douglas Luiz. There has been no interest at all in Tyrone Mings or John McGinn, meaning Villa are finally displaying a capability of keeping their star men in Birmingham.
Who is Aston Villa's key player?
While Villa do have a smattering of good players in their squad, there should be no question who the key player is.
Jack Grealish is Aston Villa’s talisman from the last three seasons and did more than anyone else to keep the club in the Premier League last season. Grealish’s eight goals and six assists equated to no less than 34% of Villa’s goals last season coming from their skipper. When Grealish is in poor form, the entire squad comes down with him. Last season, the Villans were as close to a one-man team as you could get and Villa will still be relying on the England international again.
Being the glue that holds the team together is a tough role to fill, but Grealish has proven capable time and time again that he is comfortable with the role. The arrival of Watkins should ease the load in terms of goal scoring, but it will still be down to Grealish to create chances from midfield.
Given the transfer business that has been conducted by Villa and given how they performed last season, I can see it being another season of consolidation for Villa.
Wesley needs to hit the ground running when he returns from injury in the next week or so and Watkins needs to work well in the system to make sure that Villa aren't dragged into a relegation battle again. Defensive frailties are still present despite the addition of Cash. I can see Villa being safe this season but they won't really kick on too much.