The United match followed what has sadly become a very predictable script. But, Villa have managed to slay a couple dragons this season, so I don’t expect that particular footage to keep repeating itself forever. A decent effort, some controversial calls and non-calls, a couple of moments that cost us. I’m not going to dwell.

What encourages me most is that these were the sorts of games where Villans used to be expecting the side to ship 4-6 goals. Losing matches to City, Liverpool, and United by 2-1 or 2-0 scorelines isn’t the end of the world right now. Yeah, United got 3, but that’s what happens when you go 4-2-4 looking for a goal and they bring on Cavani.

As Dean Smith plays out these final matches, it’s clear he’s taking a long look at what he’s got and basically auditioning the squad in advance of the summer. I’m not expecting him to unearth any surprises, as I’m pretty sure they know what they’ve got. But, you keep faith with your players by giving them every chance to finish what they started. And there’ll be some big decisions to make. It’s a tricky moment. Stalwarts and ever-presents may becomes substitutes in three months.

The Youth
Young players like Carney and Jaden might get some minutes in these final games, a bit of encouragement, a bit of a test, something to maybe whet their appetites for the cases they’ll make in the summer. Was talking to a friend this weekend, and I said, “If we had a Phil Foden, they’d certainly know and he’d be playing.”

In other words, what Deano’s been telling us is that’s not where they’re at right now. Given what he spent on Ollie and Matty, investing in Ezri and Targett…Like I’ve said, I think he understands potential and has an eye for a player. There’s skill, yes, but there’s also physicality, mental toughness, and reading of the game. I’ve only watched highlights, admittedly, but the level of competition in the FA Youth Cup games, etc., well…I’m sure training with our first team is light years different, never mind what it’s like at deeper squads. You wouldn’t see these players being introduced even at Arsenal or Spurs yet, either. I know.

We hear other clubs might be circling, but I don’t think Chukwuemeka is stepping into a CL contender’s starting lineup. And neither is Philogene-Bidace. This end of the market is pocket money for established organizations, and it’s just a numbers game. You can throw around £300k-£1m on bets at will. Carney doesn’t turn 18 until October. Louie Barry turns 18 in June. Jaden turned 19 in February.

These players are just entering their windows. They’ll now have one to three years to impress enough in training or they’ll move on. Maybe they make the bench more often. Maybe they go out on loan. We’ll find out over the summer. We have to remember Villa are a club taking a Ross Barkley on loan while Mason Mount has become a fixture. That’s the gulf in depth and pipeline. You look at our loanees right now, and none of them are tearing up trees.

For the senior side, there are a number of really big decisions, but not so much at the back.

Done and dusted. Backup is the question.

Cash, Konsa, Mings, and Targett are all good enough and all nailed on. We’ve got backups and competition to bring in, yes. But those are your starters. Hause stays, Engels goes.

Guilbert? He comes back and challenges. Most likely to be a backup, which he may not prefer to starting in France, so it could be a brief challenge. Kesler will get a look. Left back, more weakness in depth. I don’t see money being spent on contracts for Elmohamady, never mind Taylor. They’re apparently very good influences on the squad, though, and have been model professionals. Elmo might get an extension, but it’s time to bring in backup at both FB positions.

McGinn. Luiz. Nakamba. Sanson. Barkley. Ramsey. Hourihane. I’m going to leave out Ghazi, Trez and Jack here, given 4-3-3 or 4-2-3-1. This is the crucial bit. You have to ask yourself: If we’re gunning for Europe, and we see the options of clubs above us…?

Luiz: The player who did as much as anyone to keep us up in Restart. Struggled after Covid. When he was fully fit and integrated, he read the game very well and did an awful lot. The question mark is maybe physicality and pace. But look at the Kanté’s of the world. Luiz doesn’t have to be a tank, just quick and decisive. He’s got the nasty streak. My guess is that some rest coupled with a proper preseason and we’ll be singing his praises again if he stays. If City take him back, then all the critics need to be quiet.

Nakamba: He’s filled in admirably at times. Clearly second choice and I can’t argue. He’s still a bit timid, and I don’t know that he really has the mentality to own his space, shut things down, and turn defense into attack.

Sanson: We just don’t know. Have to assume he’ll be a reasonable squad player. Hard to say how he influences summer decisions.

Barkley: Well, he’s just not been the same since injury and Covid. £40m? We’ll spend that elsewhere. Have to trust the staff here if he stays. But it won’t be for £40m. Give me Buendia for that.

Ramsey: He’s a decent player, but he hasn’t changed anything when he’s come on. Obviously a tough position and situation for his introduction. He’ll get another year to prove himself, but I’m guessing he loses out long term if Villa bring in a CAM, and I’m guessing we will.

Hourihane: Great servant, will be leaving with loads of gratitude.

McGinn: The toughest call of all. He has the heart and spirit. Gives his all every 90. He has the range of passing and vision. Can score worldies. But. He’s been very erratic. His decision-making comes into question. As does his touch. Me, I’m most concerned about his pace. And the other bits. Not sure he’s Top Six standard. But I’d like to be wrong. Maybe the summer helps him. From injury to Restart and this unprecedented season, it’s very hard to know. But you have to love him. I know I’d want him with me in a fight or a night at the improv.

Grealish, Watkins, El Ghazi, Trezeguet, Traoré, Wesley, Davis. Because formation.

Grealish: Nothing to be said. Just keep him.

Watkins: Fantastic first season in the PL. Runs all day long, key to high pressure, comes back to defend. Doesn’t get down, right mentality. Has size and pace. Just needs more around him and thinner woodwork. Could easily be our next 20-goal man.

El Ghazi: Seems to have all the attributes. Questions about his decision-making, game sense, and defensive side, and at 26…? I see him as as depth. He has produced, and is much better when Jack’s around. Rumors of interest overseas. If so, we make a profit and bring in a player who addresses his deficits. Or he addresses them in the summer. But the clock’s almost out.

Trezeguet: Tireless workhorse. Gives everything. Always seems to pop up in threatening spots. Who knows how long he’ll be out, or what he’ll be like when he returns. So, this is future depth, let’s say. Otherwise, I’d say he goes.

Traoré: Gifted. Rather one-footed, from what we’ve seen. On the lazy side and a bit lightweight when defending. He goes to the bench and provides depth and change of pace. He can do things. If he gets competition, and I expect he will, I’d think he’ll be off after another season. At 26, a make-or-break year for him. We’ll see what he’s made of.

Wesley: Who knows. Big and strong, showed good vision and intelligence, but raw and naive. He’ll be here, no idea how much he’ll be able to contribute. He won’t replace Ollie, just can’t cover enough ground. Gives a formation option, though, and might well surprise coming off the bench in a 4-4-2. My guess is that we’ll look to recoup some of the £22m at some point.

Davis: The man without a position. Strong, good feet, great attitude. But he doesn’t have blistering pace, has had trouble with injuries, doesn’t cover a lot of ground, and has had trouble converting. One of the players you really root for, though. At 23, I see him out on loan or being sold. He might thrive in a different setup at the Championship level.

Barry: Worth a mention because what we haven’t had in ages is a small, nimble poacher with pace. He seems to tick those boxes. He’s been very carefully left out for a reason. He’s probably the biggest ‘mystery’ of all for me.

So, that’s what I see. We need a #10. We need a dominant, ball-controlling central midfielder. Or two. We need a right-side complement to Jack. Smith could move Jack to the middle, yes. Then we’ll need a left forward to replace him. Where you see the differences between Villa and clubs like Liverpool, Chelsea or West Ham are where I expect to see the money spent.

Oh, and in case anyone was wondering, the ruthlessness shown with the women’s team staff ought to reassure about Compass’s tolerance.

Over to you.

Comments 38

  1. So many questions JC. I don’t have the answers. I would love a private half hour with Deano to discuss this topic. Wouldn’t we all?

    The areas you mention, I’m sure Deano is not far from similar thinking. Me? It’s the engine room first, second and third. We need 4 highly mobile ball players in there. At least 1 who can thread a needle. Another who can run all day with pace, like Kante. And another who bites in the tackle and breaks up play, like Roy Keane used to. The fourth one is Jack. So we need 3 exceptional midfielders or potentially exceptional midfielders, plus an out and out winger who can fly, cross and shoot. Job done!

    I think Engels will depart and so will Conor, who goes with my best wishes, his goal against small heath at the Holte End detonated the ground. Perhaps Tom Heaton too as he’s too good to hold as back up. And Kalinic. Keep Jed. Out of contract players will also be released.

  2. Fab overview JC

    I think our defence is one of the best around and think the player most danger in the back 5 is mings due to mistake at times and Hause may just be the man that takes that slot as she had a few outstanding performance before his injury imo , so improving our defence would take it to a very high level indeed
    Apart from Jack we can improve on all other midfield and forward players though some of them will get better than they are now
    I feel the our midfield and attack needs to be much better next season and the club need to improve the quality in these areas if possible to attract it

    For me we are not at the level to be blooding kids in the prem yet and should have them out on loan in 99 percent of cases .. we are still trying to get our senior boys to be dominant in this division and they are improving so for me putting senior pros on the bench for kids to play doesn’t make sense
    Hopefully we will be a much more pottant side next season with the right 3 or 4 buys that will propel us to the next level

  3. yep this is going to be the interesting bit now. Massive summer to see if we can catch up with the top 8 and always how he sees jacks role. Did think Watkins out wide but never going to happen. Seeing as we need a 10 though will surly make him think of jacks future position.

    specialist number 6. and 2 class players rw and 10 or lw to complement jack and ollie.

  4. see foxes again making a superb signing. 30 mill cm. there recruitment is a joke. everton will spend again, leeds will push on. Tell you what its tough just to stand still in this league. My aim for next season is prob same again! To get near the top 6 will take silly money and spot on coaching and recruitment. hell of a gap to bridge

  5. Heroes, I think Dougie would be mad to head back to Citeh, even if Pep wanted him. At his current stage of development, he won’t get much playing time in that squad. His development will be more assured where he is.

  6. Thanks JC, The one I see as a bit of a ? is Sanson, We got him early in Jan and even let Conor go. He was apparently one for this summer but became available. I can’t say I have seen anything yet about him that says upgrade, more like treading water. I hope I am wrong but it seemed an odd time to buy back up. He 100% does not seem like a Smith target. Smith said he can play 3-4 positions, again not the answer to any questions I have got of the team.

    I am hoping for at least two Wingers/forwards if one an play 10 like Jack then great if not a real ten.

    As for the kids we have many attacking mids including Chuk (who will make it) The one that intrigues me most is Arjan Raikhy from what I have seen he looks like the Asian Debruyne, an unflustered attacking mid that gets stuck in and plays through balls for Carney et al for fun and can shoot from range effectively. when Carney got his hat-trick Raikhy also got 9 out of ten for his performance, one to watch.

  7. Plug- On the fitness front, Smith said that are purposely looking for players that have the ability to run all day at a high speed, Watkins and Cash being prime examples. While training helps, training better athletes helps more, that’s what I was hinting at with utd. As for Leeds, Bielsa is well known for his mad fitness regimes and has burnt many a team out. He really does look for certain types of player that must be fit above all else then he drills them in how he plays.

    Looking at our current crop of kids I think we are looking at this aspect more and more.

    The owners have splashed big at BMH and considering that back when Bruce was here some of the players including Jack did not lift weights etc you’d think we will see better results from a more intense approach.

  8. oh and compared to last season where Smith admitted we could not last 90 mins we have improved a lot, we were winning games in the final minutes in the 1st half of the season pre- covid. The change in Luis who had a break and then had the pre-season he never got last season was the biggest difference in his apparent miraculous form last season, and learning English.

  9. I agree Runtings, letting young players out on loan is the way to go. It ‘S difficult to bring young players into a senior side even if that side isn’t a world beater. Chelsea loan players out a lot. It would be a make or break decision for these kids to toss them into the deep end of a Championship or league one team. Major League Soccer in North America is a good league and doesn’t get a look in for loan outs. It’s definitely worth a look.

  10. That’s a handy summary of where we’re at thanks JC. One other youth player I’d like to put a word in for is Brad Young. He seems to be under the radar, but I think he has the same goals and minutes per goal ratio as Louie Barry and from what Ive seen of him seems a real team player.

    Ramsey hasn’t taken games by the scruff of the neck but I remember fans saying that Jack wasn’t going to make it as he didn’t shine in his early first team games. If the management see something in him then I’m certainly happy to wait.

  11. Mark

    agree about sanson.

    Said before seems a strange one. just adding to our mid players who are all samey. Needed a specialst 6 or 10. he may turn out to be decent though and put mcguinn on the bench

  12. H&V after every loss no matter the circumstances there is a flurry of crap about is he good enough to take us forward etc. That’s the price for having a great start to the season and getting Covid in the camp plus losing Jack. Never is it the level the squad is at minus a player that would get in any side in the world, any side! The next step is about to take the pressure off of Jack I’d think then what will they have to throw at Smith?

  13. people always moan especially with 3 wins out of 14 but I don’t think anyone wants him sacked! We have improved year on year.

    Next step is going to be the toughest yet for me to break the top 8 and keep mid table.

    big game tonight if we want 10th

  14. And cheers, runtings.

    The presser Dean gave that MK linked to is worth a watch. With the kids, Smith saying they have to earn a spot, isn’t just going to hand out debuts, etc., senior players have all worked very hard to be where they’re at. Basically, he sees making the matchday squad as acknowledgment enough of their work. They could end up being thrown in of necessity at any point from there.

  15. r0bb0,

    Yeah, it did take Jack a while. People were calling him a luxury, etc. It wasn’t until that spleen injury, some of the bad press, that he really knuckled down, came back and grew up to hit his potential and control games. He knew he had the talent, but he didn’t yet realize how hard you have to work. Maturity, plus I think he spent that time also thinking about not being able to play again, hit home how much he wanted it.

    So, Ramsey…It’s tough. The minutes he’s had will be invaluable, should help him approach the summer the right way. Definitely got talent, right attitude, and he probably would’ve had more freedom and confidence to make an impact with Jack in the squad.

  16. That reminds me, Harry Johnson has been absent for several weeks. Don’t know if he’s got another alter ego or if he got banned from his new home.

  17. But yeah, social media is brutal, and fans are very emotional. Lots of knee-jerk reactions, lots of frustration they want to vent. Sitting back and being patient is hard, can easily be confused with accepting a “lack of ambition.” But sometimes that’s just reality. You can try adding a second coat before the first one’s dried, but it doesn’t work well.

    Which goes to how I try to approach things. A lot of folks will stir things up, play into that for clicks and attention. Don’t think it does anyone any good. I might be a bit boring with my steady-as-it-goes position this season, but looking back, I think I’ve put together a pretty good track record without contributing to the wild swings, and try to frame expectations in a way that’s fair to supporters, Smith, the players.

    For me, I just try to suss out the simplest explanations from looking at patterns, listening to the manager, the bits and bobs that come from players. And I’ve just never thought from listening to Dean that he’s in over his head or doesn’t understand what the best clubs and managers are doing.

    For example, listening to him, you’re pretty much guaranteed to know he isn’t going to go 4-4-2 to start. Isn’t going to play Davis over Ollie. Folks will disagree, but as long as the club are progressing the big picture, it’s hard to argue.

    Dean made a point about how clubs like United are 20 years ahead of Villa in spending PL money, for another example. City and Chelsea just had massive infusions of money that took a while to pay off. Spurs and Arsenal show it’s not easy. Leicester, Everton…even Southampton. For all the “pretty football,” Brighton are never quite safe. Liverpool looking invincible then off the pace and beatable the next season.

  18. JC- That break gave Jack the chance to pile on some muscle so by the time he returned he was super jack, stronger and faster, not sure if he had an eye enhanced or not.

  19. jbd…Interesting. I don’t go on there, but I wouldn’t be surprised if he got banned again.

    I’ll have another word, see if he can’t rein it in a bit (was never the opinions, just the volume of repetition). Smith out, Trez worst ever, Ghazi worst ever, terrible side…Once or twice a day saying the exact same thing is probably enough. 🙂

  20. MK,

    Yeah, he work up, got a whole new attitude, and did all the work you point out.

    Wasn’t it you that had a connection to the trainer he works with?

  21. JC- Yep friend of a friends son, called Ollie, he’s the head strength and conditioning coach, was a Villa Youth player and was living with Jack at one point in a house share. Haven’t seen them for over a year as the Sauna’s shut.

Leave a Reply