Dean Smith & Co. took their first bows this week, and along with Christian Purslow, seemed to quite easily make a good impression all round. Well, Purslow seems a bit tightly wound, but you know what I mean. When he talked about Villa’s FFP woes being completely resolved? He made a pretty good impression.

So what else did we take away? Richard O’Kelley seems likable and no nonsense. John Terry made all the right noises. And Smith? Smith managed to not say a whole lot other than promotion remains the goal. Together, the crew gave the current squad plaudits, said the tools were in place, fitness was good, and they were looking forward to getting everyone back. Smith himself came across as affable and intense. I don’t think I’d want to make him angry.

We also heard about being disciplined, organized, and knowing what to do with and without the ball. We’ve had insight into Smith’s ways at Brentford. We’ve been introduced to “Head Coach.” I got the impression there’s a lot of coaching going to be done. I also got the impression that Smith & Co. were all quite pleased to take it on. It was a good rollout.

So, the supporters are once again allowing themselves cautious optimism. In Purslow and Pitarch, there are two men who know firsthand how big-time clubs are run. In Dean Smith, we have a man who produces good football and manages not to sound terribly continental about it.

Me, I’m thinking he’ll be a good fit. I think the players will like the opportunity to realize their potential, and I think they’ll be fairly treated. He’s young enough and confident. He’s kept things ticking over with lots of disruption and brought players along. He knows how Scott Hogan scores and managed to create the conditions for him to do it. I’ve no idea how Smith intends to address the make-up of the squad, and he may well face some early tests to his man-management skills. As usual, the safe thing to assume is that he’ll not make radical changes from the off.

However, given the size of the squad, there are choices to be made. I’m sure Smith will want to see over some period who takes things on board and can execute. He’ll already have his ideas about what Villa side he wouldn’t have wanted to face, how he wouldn’t have wanted us to play.

Will we be playing to knock in crosses? Wasn’t really Smith’s MO at Brentford. I’ve heard talk of two deeper-lying midfielders, and also creating a dynamic, interflowing central three. If we’re going to learn to hold on to it, press, win it back, and play in tight triangles, which of Adomah, Bjarnason, Bolasie, El-Ghazi, Grealish, Hourihane, Lansbury, McGinn, Whelan and maybe Jedinak is he going to want to see out there first? One assumes getting the best of Grealish and McGinn will be top of mind.

At the back, will Tuanzebe come in at CB? Will Bree get a look in? Where does Hutton go? Elmo and Taylor? Could Smith even imagine playing a 3-5-2 before the end of January?

And then of course up front, Abraham, Hogan, and Kodjia are all going to be wanting a place. I wouldn’t be at all surprised to see Hogan sooner rather than later, and I wouldn’t be at all surprised if it’s Kodjia who makes way. If nothing else, Hogan does much more off the ball than Kodjia, and if Villa are going to up the pressure, it has to happen all over the pitch.

There’s also the old three games in a week after the break for Smith to navigate. That’s good, insofar as he’ll see them a lot early and has an excuse to rotate. It’s not so good given most everyone has been away playing. And of course, the league remains relatively tight, but Villa are still three games off the pace. We’ve done the numbers before. It’s not a time to lose any more ground. But with change like this, you might well take a couple of lumps.

But there’s time to make up what gap does exist, and if you were to pick a Championship side that has the potential to be much better, you’d think Villa are probably top of the list. NSWE have given themselves enough time for it to happen.

Will we see the new manager bounce? A team unbound? No idea. But I like our chances over the course of the season. While it might take a month or two to really fall into place, if it does, we could go on quite a tear. Really don’t know what to expect. But I’ve also not thought for a while that beside the right man at the helm, Villa have everything else in place to excel.

It’s been interesting so far, and it’s about to get a lot more so.

Over to you.

Comments 64

  1. Great post John – that should put the cat among the pigeons!!
    Without lighting any fires I agree that the side needs coaching to get the strikers a) in the right positions and, b) in the state of mind that scores from those positions. As JL has stated they are professional players and should be able to score in the right circumstances.

    I like the idea of McGinn, Bjarnason and Hourihane in midfield alongside Grealish and El Ghazi in a 3-5-2 with Hogan and Abraham up front.

    Then there is the quandary of defence – Elmo, Tuanzebe and Hutton seems the right balance to me. Adomah as a stop-gap if a defensive midfielder is needed .

    I am not offended by criticism 🙂

  2. Thanks JC, exciting times at last after two and a bit seasons of unrecognisable nearly stuff 🙂

    Clive- Hopefully the teams accuracy will improve once they are working together to shut down and not doing so much aimless running to no avail. At least when they get a chance their legs won’t be like lead.

    JC- Smith has said he is going to ask Hogan why it hadn’t worked out for him (bit of diplomacy I feel) but its not decided who will play that position yet (good man management). As I recall our best period under Bruce employed a higher press with Hogan up top running his gonads off but at least the rest joined in somewhat rather than back off, that may be the key to getting over the defensive deficiencies short term, we will need to keep the ball.

    As for coaching, straight off O’kelly accessed our problems as timing, not knowing when or where to run/pass is my guess. Even Abraham that initially said he was disappointed as he’d come to learn from Bruce has come out and said there was something missing he couldn’t put his finger on…

    Its very likely smith and Okelly have watched all our games by now, maybe even before they arrived so they will have seen plenty to work on. Hopefully they see it as not to big a problem to fix fairly quickly and that gap can be closed. Shame the next three games come so quickly though as the dreaded tough run is upon us after that for 2 months, if we are in the running after that then we have a great chance.

  3. Forgot to add that although promotion is the stated short term aim I feel if achieved would be to early for us as a club but obviously not financially. It might end up that we come back down and develop with the parachute payments available as we should have 1st time. If so I’m fine with that to achieve the long term stability/aim.

  4. MK,

    “As for coaching, straight off O’kelly accessed our problems as timing, not knowing when or where to run/pass is my guess.”

    I think that’s it. Team movement with and without the ball. Patterns of play: less thinking, faster legs.

  5. Clive,

    From listening to Brentford fans, I wouldn’t be surprised to see something like that (in midfield). Was hearing about players being brought along to understand a role and the role in the system. Might well be, and I did see this from Bruce, tbf, in the last game, maybe two, having the two in front of the back four, so McGinn and either of Hourihane and Bjarnason, I would think if that were true.

    El-Ghazi seemed much more interested in coming inside than staying wide and crossing, which I would also think will be of interest.

    Mainly, I think I’m expecting us to go more through the middle, use the wide outlets as space and marking indicate, but have the ball come back inside more often from there. So I would think it’s very much how the mid- and forward six move together.

    As I replay things in my mind, seems like we were very zonal. I’ll be curious to see if we’re more man-to-man without the ball.

  6. As for the two in front of the back four? It felt as much like a defensive move as an attacking one, and another attempt to get as many names in the side as possible on the attacking side. It appeared to not promote either particularly, maybe as they were unsure of their roles. Here’s hoping that confusion is about to be history. Smiths not known for wingers but I think elghazi will suit that being able to play both sides and central.

    I’m also hearing JT rates ohare highly, for the life of me I can’t understand why anyone wouldn’t.

  7. Clive: “I am not offended by criticism”

    When – and I emphasise *when* – comments are made as a criticism that have any bearing at all on what is being said then no-one should be offended as it’s another person taking a different view.

    But when someone takes a poke without understanding what is being said, or refuses to look at the other person’s p.o.v., then some come back from the recipient is to be expected.

    I have noticed too many times that there are people on this blog who just are so one-minded that they cannot – or don’t’ want to – see another angle…

    …or even give some credit when *some* credit is due (I’m speaking of towards Bruce in this case) then it’s a damn poor show in my view.

    There has been such a closed attitude towards Bruce on this blog (apart from one or two very irregular comments) that I’m just sick of it all. And such an attitude is proof that the male-brain is working 100% on AVL! 🙂

    It is *totally* obvious that a better planned development at VP should have been the solution 2 years ago, but it didn’t happen. It is *not* Bruce’s fault that didn’t happen because he’s clearly not that way equipped and was hired to do an ad hoc job as I read it. Yes Paul, I know that Smith is also tasked with getting promotion… it’s kinda obvious isn’t it Paul?

    But I’m not going to pursue the Bruce subject further. Just to state that this blog has reverted i.m.o. to a similar one-sided tenor to other blogs – there’s little difference now. Sad days…

    Hence little point in my saying anything here if there’s never an attempt at

  8. JL
    You also miss out that when people argue the opposing view, you do what you accuse others of.
    I haven’t got a problem with it, just saying

  9. John

    I guess you could argue and people in the media do that short term bruce was brought in for promotion and was 90mins anyway for achieving that.

    Would we take being in the prem under bruce and the drs stewardship or now under the new management?

  10. IanG- I really don’t get the saintly image of Bruce beyond he’s an ok chap.

    So what exactly are you supposed to say if you don’t rate the Job someone has done? or even that it could have been done much better? All very well having sympathy for Bruce and the situation he was in at the club but he is a professional football manager with a reputation, I’m sure The club didn’t hire him on the grounds he’s an ok chap. The new owners took a look and said no thanks are they cruel too? or doing whats needed?

    Quite honestly I feel he has done as much damage while here has he did good in the end. He was offered the job of a life time and took it because he thought he could do it, Blaming the hirer for the outcome is a bit daft. He could of said in fairness Tony it can’t be done, he didn’t he took it on, no shame in failing but it was the accumulation of his own decisions that did for him, thats managing.

    He steadied it temporarily but he’s left little structure and argued with the supporters many times. Other managers in the same period have built sides to both gain promotion and built a foundation often without the funds he’s had, I don’t suppose their remit was Don’t get us promotion was it?

  11. Andrew – Give me the current coaching staff and current owners in the Championship any day over the previous establishment in the PL. The future is now infinitely better.

  12. IanG: “You also miss out that when people argue the opposing view, you do what you accuse others “

    I see you’ve stopped short of calling me a “hypocrite”?

    What you say is not true at all, and you don’t gain credit for saying what you have.

    If you’re referring to the time I objected to you and Iaa talking of the money Bruce took away with him, I didn’t misunderstand at all. *Whatever* Iana and then you meant by it it was an unnecessary aside that people around the world would have read as cynical when something positive might have been said about Bruce.

    Bruce did nothing other than do his best according to how he knew to do it, whether we liked his approach or not.

  13. Andrew,

    I take your point but I’ll repeat what I said above: “Bruce did nothing other than do his best according to how he knew to do it, whether we liked his approach or not.”

    It’s not his fault that he was brought in to the club because the chairman didn’t understand the bigger picture.

    Apart from which it’s as JC said, the club is in a better state than it was when he came. He’s probably made the jobeasier for Dean Smith, particularly as the Board can now see the other way didn’t (nor is likely to) work. For them it’s probably like coming into daylight after a night out.

  14. JL- I don’t mean to speak for others but when has anyone said different? We knew Bruces limitations when he came here and they have proved to be pretty accurate. How you see it as a slight to Bruce I don’t Know. I will say its been a hard watch personally and a frustrating one but I’m sure he wouldn’t appreciate being painted as a victim either.

  15. Pleased to see that the sale of Wembley has collapsed. The noses have just had their trough taken away. Attempting to sell the stadium for less than it cost to build never mind the value of the land it stands on, is just scandalous.

  16. Stab at a smith team, here goes

    …………………………Nyland (or anyone)



    Bolasie……………….Grealish……………….ElGhazi/ Albert

    Tammy/Hogan/ Kodjia

  17. Jl
    Yes we are in a better place now but got absolutely nothing to do with Bruce quite the opposite, he spent over 30m in this league forget about what players he sold none of them where his buys
    Look at squad no keeper, left back or centre hangs yes he was building a brutal squad,
    100 plus games and even commentators could see we had no pattern,style or anything else
    Saint Bruce is gone fat fraud is gone the future is bright for a change as a villa fan

  18. love the fact that Dean Smith has a blank canvas. He’s inherited a team with no shape or system & the only player who should be an automatic pick is Chester. (Not inc McGinn as I feel he will be fighting with grealish for a shirt.)
    Can wait to see the pieces and the shape Smith chooses

  19. Nice to see that Dean is working on the basis that it is a new start for everyone, including Micah Richards, who will now start competing for a place along with James Collins, who is close to full fitness. Bruce may be a blessing in disguise for many players, and they will now get the opportunity to show their true worth. I am sure that over this next three games we are going to see a lot of players actually fighting for their places and showing what they can do, and the only ones that do not have a chance of featuring this season, are those that are out on loan.

    I am sure that our new coaching trio between them will turn our squad into the most formidable in the Championship, when there is just so much talent to call on, including our under 23’s.

    Bruce may well have inadvertently helped the club put together a group of players that CAN NOW BE moulded into a squad fit for the Premiership with a few additions along the way. He also may have helped many of our loaned out players to gain experience that will make them far better players for 2019/20.

    On the reports, I can see James Collins and Richards possibly playing a part before Xmas.

  20. Hi MK

    We might now have a manager that all Villa fans will be routing for, pretty much every previous appointment from MON has split the fanbase in some way, granted the madding crowd cheered for Lambert and in the thick of finishing 6th three times we forgave the bloated and aging squad under MON.

    But reading other Villa pages and on Facebook, there is a new found optimism that Smith has earned this opportunity and could prove to be the piece of the jigsaw that Villa have long being missing. Perhaps immediately after relegation no manager was suitable but we may have had to wait until Villa was stable in the championship before we could get the kind of manager that has a philosophy to build a club and to establish a Villa Way.

    I’m re-charged by the new mgmt team and ownership, raging i’m not able to go to many games as the atmosphere at the Swansea game will be fantastic.

  21. JL – You keep saying its all in the past now, but I haven’t heard you say one thing about Dean Smith, the new setup, your hopes and fears for the new start. Which is very unlike you (in my opinion). Would love to hear your thoughts (and maybe an article) about the Villa style of play as a historian.

  22. Dor- It all seems very unified although I have seen the odd Bruce die-hard here and there preaching caution, no surprise really. I would of kept Remi considering the mess and the management moving to Mervyn King etc (seems so long ago).

    Good things come to he who waits I suppose but a more savvy boss than Tony could of moved for the manager wolves now have and many others. Now we have new owners we are seeing some vision at last and the chance the football might improve. I really like Smith it feels right, he speaks sense and deserves his shot, in short I’m made up.

  23. IanG- What a start for Smith a full house, Just need some green shoots to go with it, Swansea are no mugs but then again their not world-beaters, Looking like a Draw but I hope the crowd and DS can get a win to start the week.

  24. Only the name remains the same. As for the past history, it’s best to just to forget about. Not much to reminisce about. It was about as much fun as boiled potatoes and navy beans everyday. Laura (my better half told me to pick another club. Not a fan.

  25. Hi all, happy Friday!!
    Well I’m feeling the excitement on here along with my own with Mr Smith & his team now at the helm. I’ve always been a “sit on the fence” kind when it comes to a new manager hoping that they’ll be our new messiah. With Bruce waited & waited for him to convince me he was the man, we had a few matches (wolves, Bristol city) where it looked like he might be the one but it never ce to fruition. Even during some good runs of wins there was a lot of tight matches some we won & could have lost & some we lost which we could have won but for me the fluency we should expect with the squad we have never happened. Finally when I had too many splinters up my arse I jumped off the fence on the Bruce out side. Now with DS in charge I’m back on the fence again. I’m really optimistic that he could be the messiah this time, if we thrash a few teams in the next few games I’ll,
    like all villa fans, will love it but it’s consistency that I’m waiting to see & if by January we are playing the way we all know we can I’ll be jumping down on the “he’s the messiah” side of the fence hopefully with not too many splinters.
    Thanks as always JC for another great leader.

  26. Like you Costa, I’m very optimistic about the future and can’t wait till the Swansea game. Sell out gate, VP packed to the rafters, raucous fans, hostile atmosphere and hopefully a win. The ground will detonate if we do so.

  27. Aye, another apt leader. Thanks, JC.
    Amusing comments on here, nothing wrong with a bit of humour, good for the organs.
    I think Smithy will do a great job for Villa. He’s got Jesus watchin out for him. I’m looking forward to some exciting matches.
    Didn’t Smithy once bring out the best in Hogan? expect a bit more Hogan, strike side.
    JL was probably there in another life. I’m not sure what or who he might have been, but definitely Villa.
    Aussie vs Tonga tomorrow.

  28. All I have heard today is DS is going to pick a captain for each game, makes a lot of sense and stops that can’t sub the captain malarkey while passing around the responsibility. Chester still club Captain though.

    More excited about this game than the play off final which came with a sense of dread. Hopefully Doug can swing things from the other side .

  29. Been thinking about what having a style will mean for us, at the moment we have an awful lot of players in midfield vying for a place, we also have some very good forwards vying potentially for One place.

    What I am hoping is that rather than finding “the team” and forget the rest until we get injuries, or change for change sake (rotation due to fatigue). That we have a huge group of talented players that fit, instead of putting Jack and Mcginn in, play one, sub them in, or rest one for a game.

    If the Players know the system then the long season shouldn’t be a problem with so many potential 1st team starters. Ok the Defence is an exception at least at LB and CB but there is no need to play tired or off form players if they can come back in later refreshed but up to Speed with the system.

  30. Villalore,

    I appreciate and thank you for your suggestion but right now I’m sick as a parrot about how Bruce has been treated though I agree that the Dean Smith era promises much.

    One more month to see what could be done and they couldn’t even give Bruce that.

    Anyway, am looking forward to what today might bring.

  31. Having supported Bruce and believing that he ‘could’ get us back to the premiership, like JL I would have liked to see him given a little longer.
    I’m in the car now on the way up the M5 with a real sense of nervous excitement for the start of this new era, reminiscent of when MON joined us.
    Villa Park today will remind the footballing world that we really are too big for the Championship.
    Im trying not to get carried away because Dean Smith has had hardly any time training with the full squad and this is the biggest job he’s taken on, with a huge weight of expectation and exposure and nobody knows how he’ll cope with it.
    He knows that defence is our weakness so I imagine (until Christmas at least) he’ll work on the assumption that attack is the best form of defence. . . . it could be exciting.

  32. Can’t for the life of me think what another month would of achieved with Bruce in charge. With the international break to work with the owners were almost forced to act after cabbage gate and the run of results.

    For me Bruce was a direction we should never have gone down and in the end did not do enough to warrant more time.

    I’ve heard of people ripping up their season tickets because he was sacked but I have seen many more return because of it.

    He had time money players and backing from both club and fans , he just wasn’t good enough in the end.

  33. Mark. You defended Di Matteo for far longer than I shall defend Bruce despite him having the worst record of any Villa manager (playing 10 games or more) in living memory so just humour me and JL for a little eh?
    Much of the criticism of Bruce has been over his playing style and the assumption that we couldn’t succeed that way . . . . I’m just looking at the table and I give you . . . . Tony Pulis.
    Anyway . . . . unless provoked, I am happy not to mention Bruce again (or Di Matteo for that matter) because he is now in the past and there is a genuine feeling of anticipation and excitement back at the club which I fully share.

  34. Well, we see a full VP. The fans have voted with their feet. I share that feeling of excitement too.
    For me, the salt was losing its saltiness. That is why the owners had to move. Steve Bruce tried. Who knows if he would have succeeded? We’ll never know.
    We’re currently 15th and are about to play a team capable of beating us. A win is badly needed imo.

  35. Iana, I can understand why the owners moved when they did and it does give DS that extra bit of time to make a difference.
    I do hope the cabbage had nothing to do with it as that would set a horrible precedent. They’d need to shut greengrocers within a 5 mile radius of half the clubs in the league!

  36. Robbo- Ha Ha mate is that like you’ve both humour me? 🙂 I genuinely cant understand the thinking so don’t get all emotional on me I’m not having a pop.

    If you want to liken it to RDM then you had better mention he only had those games not 100+, I think RDM would have taken that wouldn’t you? unfortunately we are as unbalanced now as we were then except its now the defence and multiple players for one or two positions.

    History says we didn’t succeed that way did we? a classic wrong style for the squad inherited if I ever saw it. He hasn’t got a record of long term success at clubs either as in things unravel, shame but there it is. I do think Garde, RDM, Timbo, Mcleish etc were treated far worse, he had his chance, Might be saying the same about Smith soon but lets hope not eh.

  37. Mark, based on results and his demeanour , I think if we’d stuck with Di Matteo, Bruce’s first job would have been to get us promotion from league 1
    Like you, I can ish we’d stuck longer with Remi Garde though. I also agree about the balance (imbalance) of the current side and you wonder what went on within the club to allow it to happen. Much of the blame has to lie with Steve Bruce.
    Anxious to see what tunes A new manager can play with all those high quality midfield and attacking players though!

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