Dave Woodhall on Villa’s frantic approach to the start of the new season.
Someone I know knows someone who was talking to Villa coach Mark Robson after the game at Walsall last Saturday. “It’s going to be a busy week,” he was told and you can say that was an understatement. Four players signed, another given a new contract and two games played. We could do with the season starting to give us a bit of a rest.
Of the players bought, only Rudy Gestede was in the slightest buit known to anyone who doesn’t watch far too much TV. He came from Blackburn, he’s a 6′ 3″ forward and you can therefore tell who he’s intended to replace. Of the others arriving last week, Jordan Veretout came out of nowhere via Nantes, and is apparently very highly-rated. Jordan Ayew is a bit of a maverick, while utility man Jose Angel Crespo has already shown his knowledge of the traditions of Aston Villa by getting injured in his first pre-season friendly.
Both games that were played went along the same lines. Villa looked good going forward, should have won both, but let in late equalisers for which Nathan Baker, the recipient of that new contract, had to take most if not all of the blame. Villa’s defence is looking a problem, but with four weeks and presumably a goodly eight figure sum to play with, there’s plenty of opportunity for Tim Sherwood to get it right.
With the opening league fixture coming up it’s that time of the year when predictions are being made. Most media types are predicting troubled times ahead, but these seem mainly to be based on the adage that a team who avoids relegation by one place then loses their two best players are going to be in serious trouble next time round. That’s a fair comment, partiularly when one of those players was responsible for such a large chunk of your goals, but it’s also a lazy one.
Last season Villa had problems in a number of positions. During the summer they’ve sought to improve in most of them, and hopefully have done. Yes, Benteke did score fifteen goals in what was little more than half a season, but his replacement doesn’t have to be so prolific. If Villa’s re-shaped midfield can chip in with half a dozen each, which isn’t a difficult task, Benteke’s contribution will have been made up for almost entirely.
I don’t think Villa will emulate the feats of 1989 and 1995, when a relegation battle was followed by a title chase, but I do think they might surprise a few people this season. For me though, the main attraction is that I don’t know what the next nine months will bring, and that air of uncertainty has been missing for some time. To coin a phrae, anything can happen in the next ninety minutes.
I’d take a tenth place finish right now, and I think it’s well within the team’s grasp, but how they achieve it is the great mystery. In an ever-more predictable Premier League Sherwood deserves some credit for that alone.