Hard to believe a new season is upon us once again, but here it is. And I’m guessing no one quite knows what to make of Villa’s undefeated summer. I know I don’t. But let’s try anyway.

The biggest thing that stands out has been the relatively modest additions to the side. Kamara and Carlos will be good signings, but atm, there’s nothing transformative about them. Kamara may very well make the side better as he gets settled, but nothing else has changed around or in front of him.

Carlos on the back line, another solid move, and being hard to beat is a foundation. But again, he’s not going to transform the side by himself.

So, coming off the Rennes match, we’re still saying and hearing the same things about the same players and also the system.

Me, I don’t think there’s much question that Ings’ arrival unsettled Ollie. Don’t think there’s any problem between them, just that strikers are strikers and they all want to be the main man. And there doesn’t seem to have been any real rhyme or reason signing Ings other than that he’s a name player who has a good goal-scoring record. You can easily say, “Can’t have enough good strikers,” and you wouldn’t be wrong. But they can’t necessarily all play at the same time.

That the two haven’t developed any real chemistry seems fairly obvious by now. But is that down to them or the system?

While not a true holdup man, Ollie seemed much more comfortable in the 4-2-3-1. Undoubtedly he benefited in his first season from Grealish pulling teams all over the place, and Villa still don’t have a replacement. But the formation also put more around him, and his contributions off the ball were more meaningful.

Now, with Ings and Coutinho, you might think “that’s a very dangerous line” and it doesn’t sound wrong. But neither Phil nor Ings seem to have the speed or legs to provide constant pressure high up the pitch as a three. They’re generally easily bypassed when Villa are without the ball. Ings definitely works hard, but it’s not enough. I don’t think it’s been a coincidence that in the rotations we’ve seen, Buendia and other changes have sparked higher pressure and more recoveries. A passive three-man positional or resting press doesn’t seem to work well for us.

As I’ve said, I can see Bailey making a challenge for that right-hand spot. And if young Archer stays, which looks very possible, I think he’d make a better partner for Ollie in a 4-3-1-2.

Finally, I’m not at all convinced by Coutinho. And again, I think there’s some fault of the system behind that. He’s looked frustrated and isolated on more than one occasion in the middle without the ball, and he’s failed to really put his stamp on a game for quite a while. When he drifts back to get it deeper, he gains a little more influence. But I don’t think the players around him are helping much, either.

Apart from maybe the striker spot, this is where most of the grumbling is. Yes, we got a six. But nothing else has changed. McGinn got the armband, but that left a lot of scratching our heads given doubts about the player himself. Ramsey, Luiz, and Sanson round out the mix, with a couple youngsters getting acculturated.

Villa seem keen on Luiz. Villa seem keen on McGinn. Sanson seems to always be fighting an uphill battle. Jacob Ramsey keeps holding a spot, though his contributions wax and wane.

In short, this is where we seem to lose out. I was watching the Charity Shield, and given Klopp asks about the same of his players in their system as Gerrard does, was paying attention to them off the ball. The difference? They create more pressure with the front three, who can still be quickly bypassed, but the second three are a different proposition. The wide midfielders get out to the fullbacks and wingers more quickly. They’re a bit quicker and more tenacious, and more sure of their assignments and cover.

McGinn will work and scrap and fight all day. But he doesn’t have great makeup speed. Ramsey drifts in and out and seems more interested in going forward than really pressuring the ball effectively. Luiz likes being forward, too, and we know he’s not a great ball-winner either. Villa also don’t seem to be able to get numbers around the ball to hunt in packs, as it were. When they do, they’re still pretty half-hearted (apart from McGinn). And to be fair to SJM, while we criticize a lot, his overall numbers aren’t bad. I just think for him to be most effective, he needs to be more central with less wide responsibility defensively.

Kamara will be fine positionally, providing an outlet, taking care of the ball, etc. We’ll see how aggressive he ends up being.

Sanson seems quicker than McGinn and Luiz, and more aggressive than Ramsey or Luiz. But he just doesn’t get enough looks for us to know what his game really is.

Teams really like to go down our right side. Some of this will be their personnel, but I think it has more to do with us. The lack of speed means there’s room, and with Cash expected to bomb forward, well, I’d attack us there, too. The reason I like the the double-pivot in the middle is that it asks less of the midfielders getting wide, and instead sort of concedes that space, while gumming up the middle and cutbacks more. Whatever combination of Mings, Carlos, Konsa or Chambers, we’re good enough in the air to deal with crosses generally. That’s why we managed a lot of clean sheets under Smith, to my mind.

The double-pivot also keeps another body more central, which I think would benefit Coutinho, and our ability to challenge higher up the pitch more frequently. When Phil is bypassed, there’s a lot of room in the middle and it’s easy to play into 6s or wide players. They can make overlapping runs with fullbacks, play one-twos, or distribute/run into the channels.

Neither Cash nor Digne is strong like a Shaw or Walker, so they aren’t really going to muscle anyone. They do get up and back quickly and have the legs to keep doing it, but those two wide midfielders generally allow for overloads, one-twos and cutbacks. Opponents don’t necessarily have to resort to crosses.

In the middle, we’re good enough.

Again, the issue for me is that we don’t win it higher up, and find ourselves pretty open from making token efforts at it. We also don’t have the central support, meaning Coutinho is fairly isolated and easy to mark. Buendia covers more ground, is clever on the ball, plays the one-touch, is aggressive if not imposing, and plays nice through-balls. He sees runners quickly. I think we’re better with him in.

And then when we do get it back, it’s disjointed in transition because of the lack of pace. The 4-3-1-2 is an attempt to address this, but again, it doesn’t support much pressure up high, and given our personnel, it really pulls Ings and Watkins away from the areas they should be in, with Ings not really being a ball-carrier as an outlet. While Phil gets to play a little deeper, it’s still sort of a dead zone for us.

This is where Bailey gets his chance, seems to me. He’s fast and skillful, but also willing and able to get wide and put in the work off the ball in the middle third.

At the same time, a 4-2-3-1 would allow us to play both Bailey and Traoré, and I’m not sure we’re giving that much up going the other way. Traoré might find his game with someone like Bailey threatening on the other flank. He might just be a useful decoy or outlet.

Despite hearing that Beale was largely responsible for the narrow 4-3-3, we’ve not seen much indication Gerrard is going to scrap it. While it was successful in the SPL, I think there are just too many players in the EPL with the quality to exploit it, and it just doesn’t seem to play to our strengths. It almost seems to play to our weaknesses, instead. Shoehorning Ings into the side along with Phil is costing us, in my opinion. Archer may be young and raw, but he’d offer more running, get behind defenders, and seems to have an innate knack for finishing.

So, we’ll watch for more movement in the market, and hope that the effective if uninspiring preseason indicates a side that will be harder to beat. More draws isn’t bad by any means. You’d like to think we could score more than one or two, and maybe we will when everyone’s firing. United was a good fightback, but their big swap-out had to have helped us. That said, our subs indicated greater depth, and we know how important that will be. I think you’ll routinely see four or five subs a match from virtually everyone. That’s a lot of fresh legs to bring on, and maybe Gerrard is thinking he has two starting sides, one with Phil and the other with Buendia running the show.
So roll on Bournemouth and the games that count. We don’t necessarily look like we have a fast start in us even though the fixtures favor it. But you never know.

Over to you.

Comments 70

  1. Another excellent write up John. Tactically, i could not agree more with your analysis, I am with you on Jacob Ramsey and Phillipe Coutinho.
    Buendia is better off the ball and sees runners quickly, like you just explained.
    I am a fan of John McGinn. He needs to start ahead of Ramsey. SJM, if he plays further up the pitch, could prove lethal for us.
    Kamara and Sanson should take the other two positions, though i think the gaffer would prefer Luiz over Sanson.
    Ollie Watkins fluffs his lines one too many times in front of goal. Ings and Archer, imo, are better alternatives. Watkins reminds me of Gonzalo Higuain; misses fairly easy chances and tends to score the harder ones.

  2. Nice summary JC
    Are we better ? for me yes I think we have improved and become more competitive at the back and in holding midfield

    Looks like Touré hasn’t done enough to convivence SG and Freddie has fail to get any Villa manager on side … Chuck is of course a shame but attitude is just as important as ability
    Hoping to see a little movement out of the club AEG clearly not in the plans either .. as mentioned another midfielder and attacker coming in would be of great help for the season as long as they of at least the same quality as SG’s main buys so far
    Looking forwards to the season

    Well done the ladies

  3. Runtings

    Sg will know what he wants, a 8 and a st. But can’t do it all in one window. He will only want decent too

    Try and shift house, guilbert, nakamba, el ghazi, troure, Davis. Squad far too bloated with crap

  4. A really superb write-up JC, which summarised everything that most of us feel, with very insightful analysis of the players and system.
    I am pleased to see that Archer is getting his chance to prove himself, helped probably by the huge support from the majority of fans.
    WE need to have a squad at least as big as we have now, especially with the use of five subs. The injury toll will be a lot higher with more players involved, taking more risks, always trying to impress managers.
    Bournemouth, if they have the injuries, etc they claim, should almost be like a practise match!

  5. Great write up as per usual Jc,can’t disagree with much of it
    Not really expecting too much this season,would go as far as think Gérard will be gone by new year,
    Kamara is only addition to our weakest part of team yet we have spent a fortune on defenders and a reserve keeper which in all honesty wasn’t that bad in previous 2 seasons
    I don’t get all the hype of beundi think it’s all huff and not enough goal return but at least he is involved unlike traore who in his first season gave us goals and assists
    Heroes saying Gérard can’t get his players all in one window this is his second,we were linked with numerous midfielders including 2 spurs signed,
    Gérard treatment of mings is hard to understand, Luis hasn’t signed a new contract yet still playing ,so many red flags for me with management

  6. paul

    yeah man completly need a squad but id have tim over nakamba, archer over david.

    kessler over guilbert

    feeney over house

    get rid of the bang average dross on big wages blocking the youth

  7. Heroes, Tim before Naka, me too.

    In a 4-2-3-1, Kamara and Tim has promise. Tim is only going to get better the more he’s exposed to the EPL.

    Dunno who SG is going to pair in the centre of our defence. Obviously Carlos is one. The other for me is Tyro. I’m not ready to see him benched yet.

  8. Welp, you’ll probably have seen the news, but Chuk’s off to Chelsea for £20m.

    Pretty good business given we could’ve lost him for peanuts. Seeing Villa offered him a big contract, but he turned it down.

  9. Read an article on another site pinpointing our weaknessmain one was our 2 attacking full backs and how we cover them,or how in particular cash deals with wingers expecting his pace to get him out of danger,when in friendly v United the overlap from United took out half our team

  10. The overlaps down our right/ left side i think will be countered by starting with Sanson/Luiz as a number eight on the right side of the midfield, and SJM on the left.
    Gerrard now has a full preseason behind him, and probably the squad he wants. No excuses going forward.
    Chuck has left, we have a got a hefty fee for an unproven talent. Hopefully Gerrard could give more youngsters a chance going forward, especially with the five sub role taking effect this term.

  11. 20mill for chuck is insanely good business.

    what a result for our academy and further proof we really are run well now. nswe, purslow take a bow.

    chuck, such a shame but much like dan crawley remeber him? was determined to go to the bright lights.

    its a massive ballsey move for chuck but makes 0 sense to me.

    enjoy your loan spells at vitesse armen

  12. Well, having read the various reports on Carney’s move to Chelsea, it appears to be a very good move by Tuchel, and he has signed several top young talents to replace players he will lose/coming to the end of contracts.
    He is looking at replacing two of his midfielders, defenders and goalkeepers. Chelsea’s new owners are doing the same as Villa’s, buying up the world’s young talent.
    Tuchel appears to have said that Carney is ready for Chelsea first team squad, and will get game time.
    Will be interesting to see how much of this young talent will succeed!

  13. west spam signing onouh for 33mill! man we really need that 8 at least!

    even leeds have spent the phillips money well.

    saints have bought very well, under the radar.

    forest have done a villa and re built.

    man its tough

  14. PP… under Abramovich, Chelsea always bought up the best of the youngsters and loaned them out to see which diamonds could be polished. The set up down there hasn’t changed, it’s all still in place with the only difference being that the owner has changed. The very best made their 1st team squad, the very good were sold for big profits.

    I’m pretty sure that they will try and loan out Chuk and follow that process. I watched him closely last season when on the pitch and came to the conclusion that he’s not yet ready at EPL level. He has great skill but his style is slow and not up to pace. That side of his game needs work and will take some time. I think Tuchel will be more interested in him a bit later in his development.

  15. The gulf in quality between the Villa and Cherries squads is massive. But as we know, there are no easy games in the EPL and Bournemouth will fight like wild dogs to bridge that gap.

    Our boys had better be prepared for a scrap because I’m expecting nothing less than a Villa win. Anything else will be a disaster. Not looking for an easy win, just a win will do. Time to deliver.

  16. H&V,

    It is really tough. That’s why I’m tempering my expectations. There are so many factors in play.

    The big thing I see is a stable platform. One thing to make a run, but consolidating and staying up there is the real trick.

    I think NSWE are giving us that, but no one stands still. Some clubs were ahead of us and improving (consolidating), others right around us.

    There will always be the handful that will just never have the money, but smart business and a practical approach can keep them competitive (ie, taking points off you and staying alive).

  17. I am very interested in what’s going on behind the scenes. I mean, no secret we want to move some players. So I guess that could be holding things up.

    Then again, maybe there was no other business to be done, which I would find maybe a bit curious. SG planted his flag with Phil, got two other needs addressed.

    So, either the assessment is that we’re strong enough for top half, NSWE are hedging and awaiting results, or we simply can’t add without pruning.

    If it’s the latter, wondering what’s holding up loan moves at least (again) for the players deemed surplus. I know we want to be smart about our business, but sometimes you need to just take a loss, get it over with and move forward.

  18. robbo

    really is a odd move. on the cards and no shock but surly for his development better at villa?

    he said himself he sg was his idol etc etc, is getting mins, offered a massive contract but nope!

    cant win em all

  19. Super write up thanks JC. Puts things in perspective very nicely.

    I do fear that we tend to see decent signings that other teams have made and assume that all those teams will therefore inevitably advance.
    I find it hard believe that the quality of Premier league football is improving every year so as long as the overall standard is similar, some teams will have improved and some regressed.
    It seems to me that a number of things ‘should’ be better at Villa Park this year so we should have improved against the average.
    Also, Dean Smith underperformed (or why get rid of thim) so we should have done better last year anyway!
    If we’re not ‘at least’ top half then Gerrard will have failed. I don’t for one minute believe he’ll fail against that particular yardstick.

  20. r0bb0,

    Signings, you never know, obvs. Some teams really do get better, some just change faces.

    My guess is that the overall quality of the league can/does grow, top to bottom, but naturally there’s an upper limit.

    So did the teams between us and our goals actually improve more than Villa? Will the teams around and below us be harder to beat? Does it all stay relatively the same? We’ll definitely about to find out.

  21. john

    it will be fairly the same

    top 6 will be the top 6

    and you can pretty much chuck a hanker chief over the middle order again. west ham will be up there, foxes if they dont loose too many. i highly doubt toon are done. palace with eze and oliase fit are a danger. think wolves punched last season.

    its just who ever can be that bit more consistent. if we can finally show some more steele and turn some defeats into draws and not chuck away leads we may challenge top 10 ish

  22. The official site confirming that Chuk has completed his transfer to Chelsea today. It must be the shortest communique I’ve seen on there.

  23. The local rag reporting that House, AEG, Traore and Freddie are up for sale. Don’t think there is anything in that statement that we didn’t already know.

  24. Our 25 man squad for the coming season is taking shape. Basically those players that made the trip to Oz. Room maybe for an extra midfielder of the type SG wants pending shifting the unwanted players.

  25. plug yeah deffo

    if we can shift those deadwood, introduce archer and hopefully tim and kessler and get a 8 and maybe a forward it will be a class window.

    remains to be see what we decide to do with tim and kessler….another loan or stick around?

  26. the massive issue for me is partnerships and blend and what the hell formation to get the best out of everyone sg will use.

    i dont see a european push until a physical athleic type as a 8 & st is got in

  27. Still worried our squad is way off

    Our strikers are utterly useless

    Our center midfield is still small and not technically great

    We still lack pace apart from Bailey

    We are still 2 or 3 top players away

    Simply not good enough so far this window

  28. we need to become a 90min team too.

    the one thing i want to see is a proper sg team….shit house, dont give up and mentailty.

    under smith we was a 45 min side. last season at watford summed it up. couldnt cope with a newly promoted side tempo and aggression and before you know it we was 3 zip down. and we came out the 2nd half and dominated when the game was up.

    agaisnt bournemouth we have to be prepared for them. match them up first then slowly take control of the game

  29. Well the “new” squad numbers did a great deal to inspire us! No real changes, apart from Ings to no 9. Sanson retains his 8, Bailey stays 31 and Digne 27.
    See Bidace has joined Cardiff on loan.
    Today is good and bad memories, signing day for O’neill as manager, McCormack , and Ron Vlaar.

    We also now discover that Carney has been a Chelsea fan since his youth, and the new owner thinks he is going to be part of the club’s future!

  30. Listening to SG’s presser this morning and on the topic of Chuk he says he wishes him well for the future. Class.

    Listening to Chuk’s presser on signing and it’s all me, me, me. No fucking class whatsoever.

  31. Whilst I’m having a whinge, does anyone know why the Witton Lane stand is still called the Doug Ellis stand? Did Herbert put something in the conditions of sale to Lerner on the matter and is it in-perpetuity? I’m still dogged by this outrageous piece of self indulgence.

  32. Great news about Cam Archer. Hope he gets a cameo tomorrow with a goal or assist to celebrate.

    Heroes, Forest are really pushing the boat out. Like we did, I think they’ve had to as they had a team of loans. Time will tell whether they do a Fulham or Villa.

  33. PLUG

    Yeah tbf they had a lot of loans and went up unexpectedly really. a proper championship squad. not one of those that have dropped from the prem for a bit. fait play to em, think theyll surprise a few. like forest.

    what a summer for archer, backed to compete for a start and a new deal. hes scoring tomorrow

  34. Not long now,can’t say I am overly excited about new season,still lacking a midfielder for me,don’t like the way gerard wants to play,worried about Watkins and ings neither looking the part yes Watkins has scored goals in previous seasons but looks so short of confidence, he will probably score a hat trick today

  35. Mcginn and Luiz apparently going to start with Kamara

    Those two have been in our our midfield since our first season promoted

    Simply isn’t good enough

    Those two in our midfield have been overrun anf outclassed more times than not

    Luckily Kamara is a fantastic player and Carlos to.

    Also Watkins starting just isn’t good enough.. He simply doesn’t take his chances

    We also don’t have enough creative options

    We need a striker, forward and number 8 DESPERATELY

  36. Another worrying thing

    We have absolutely no options of the bench for a game changer apart from 1 player

    We have strikers but we don’t create much so they are pointless

    It’s going to be Bailey and Countino starting

    So that only leaves buendia of the bench to create things

    Simply not good enough options for a club who apparently want European football

    We need more

  37. We need another quick player like Bailey because with Countino and buendia there is no pace in behind always coming to the ball

    I’d like to see archer start

    Best finisher at the club by far

  38. H&V, I love your optimism about the club, the player signings, the youth players coming through etc, but then you seem to struggle to suggest that we’ll do any better than under Dean Smith. . . .”we may challenge top ten-ish”
    I know you’ve said that we’d ideally sign a number 8 and maybe a striker, but it’s not as if our existing squad have become too old for their roles. Remember we had the youngest team in the whole league so if anything, the players who were here under Dean Smith should be improving.
    I know other teams have bought players, but I refuse to believe that we’re going to see an overall leap in quality of the whole league this year, it just doesn’t work like that.
    I don’t want to put words in your mouth, but although you’re not keen on voicing any negativity, (which isn’t an awful trait in a ‘supporter’), clearly something doesn’t feel right to you. Is your main concern that we have the wrong manager and he won’t use the improved resources in the best way?

  39. Robbo

    Nah man I’ve said loads my concern. Its the balance and physicality. Especially in the final 3rd. I don’t see any real partnerships. All too nice, pretty but no physicality.

    Sg will fix it, but only been there less then a year and needs to shift the deadwood. He saw it straight away with the number 6 issue and more bite at CB with Carlos. But yeah as it stands to go from 14th too 8th ish I don’t see it.

    Still in that middle pack of toon, Saints, palace, Brighton

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