Villa’s pre-season programme ended on Saturday. Dave Woodhall reflects on a summer of investment.
And so Villa’s pre-season ended. It was the usual mix of somewhere new in Europe, somewhere new in the States, a couple of chances to tick off new English grounds and Walsall. For a change we won all the games played and there were more things to enjoy than to worry about.
If this was one of those irritating ‘x number of things we learned’ lists then I’d probably start off with Jota looking like he could be as much the bargain of the summer as John McGinn was last year. He’s talented, unpredictable and has an eye for the sort of thing that can unlock defences. What a buy he was, and credit to whoever scouted Jota and was able to tear him away from his previous club. From what we’ve seen so far they must be of an extremely high standard to let a player of this quality leave.
In the brief period of the match with Leipzig on Saturday Trezeguet looks to be made of similar stuff and I’ve always said (honest!) that Conor Hourihane will look better against better opposition.
Tom Heaton seems to be the commanding figure in goal that we’ve been missing for years and Bjorn Engels has slotted alongside Tyrone Mings with ease.
Naturally, there are also a few areas of concern. For a start, Wesley Moraes appears to be a provider rather than a naturally goalscorer and that’s one area where the heavy spending of the summer needs to continue. As it is, Villa’s goals seem likely to be coming more from midfield than from the front-runners.
Equally, it would be wildly optimistic to expect the McGinn and Grealish partnership to be as unplayable in the Premier League as it was at a lower level last season so more options were need there – which is where Jota and Trezeguet are going to come in.
And the defence hasn’t gelled completely yet, which again is understandable given the huge turnaround in players that we’ve seen since the end of May.
Leipzig were a massive step up in quality from the rest of the opposition faced until then, but Villa looked impressive and a two-goal win wasn’t at all flattering. With substitutions at a minimum there was a fair indication of the line-up that Villa will be starting with on Saturday at Spurs. Any team that gets promoted are going to have to be able to hit the ground running and there could have been fewer stiffer tests on the opening day than travelling to the home of the (Not Been) Champions (For Nearly Sixty Years) League finalists.
To be realistic, anything we can get from this game will be a massive boost, in the same way that all we can realistically hope for is a season without any real struggle, and safety assured with a few weeks to go.
Then again, I look at what’s happened to the Villa in the past six months, see the club spirit that’s been built up by Dean Smith and John Terry (who must take a massive amount of credit for the way years of complacency has been swept away since he first arrived as a player), the careful way players have been signed and I wonder when, exactly, the progress will ever stop.