Luke Beardsworth was afforded the opportunity to pen a column in the Birmingham Mail this year. His headline lays out his basic thesis: Aston Villa are grossly unprepared for season-defining opening fixtures. Alright then. My gut instinct is to disagree, but it's certainly something I'll read. Maybe there's a rational argument to be had here. We begin (the column is in bold, my remarks are in normal text):
Despite a 4-0 defeat in the FA Cup final to close the season, Aston Villa fans walked away from the forgettable 2014/15 season with a little optimism.
Rationally, sure I had some optimism. But after that loss? Coming on the heels of 6-1 and 0-1 to Southampton and Burnley, and with Christian Benteke likely leaving, I sure as heck didn't feel optimistic.
The win over a Liverpool in disarray at Wembley created a really positive feeling around the club. That relegation was merely offered a tidy wink rather than any serious flirtation helped matters.
Here's where I start running into problems. We didn't seriously flirt with relegation? We ended the season three points above the drop! That's not a tidy wink at relegation, that's taking relegation our for dinner, buying it a few drinks, and moseying back to the flat only to be stopped short of consummation by an untimely cell phone call.
The only reason you'd have to deny the severity of Aston Villa's struggle last year is if you wanted to make things seem rosy and then take us out at the knees. And if you're already reading that into this writing, congrats, you've hit the nail on the head!
It's sometimes easy to forget that Villa finished 17th last season. Since then, Fabian Delph, Christian Benteke and Ron Vlaar have all left the club. That's the captain and the top scorer.
Folks, I present to you literally the only Villa fan who finds it easy to forget that Aston Villa were one win away from relegation in 17th. How could we forget that we finished 17th when places like PaddyPower won't let us.
Also Delph (captain), Benteke (top scorer), and Vlaar (....?) have left. Okay. If only we'd signed some new players.
Villa were notoriously goal shy last season under Paul Lambert but only 12 Premier League goals remain in the squad from last season.
You know what doesn't remain from last season? PAUL LAMBERT. "Villa were pretty bad under Paul Lambert, so wow they're gonna suck under not-Paul-Lambert."
Sometimes things become clichéd with good reason and it's true that you need your signings in place early to build momentum ahead of the season. We can safely assume that this is, in fact, not the final Villa squad.
Is that true? Villa had most of their pieces in place in time for the season to start last year and then they built momentum by charging into 2nd place on the strength of a gritty defensive win at Anfield. And how much good did that momentum do? Enough good for 17th place.
But that's easy to forget.
But even if the signings made are superb, will they have time to bed in?
Well, they're all professional footballers. Shouldn't be too hard. Sure chemistry may take a while, but in terms of quality, I imagine they won't come to Villa and become giant holes of suck.
A strong start is important to either avoid relegation or get away from the battle entirely (depending on what Villa's goals are for this coming season).
A strong start is important to avoiding relegation, huh? Do you mean a strong start like W, D, W, W? Like last year's strong start? The one that almost led to relegation had it not been for a team who performed radically better under their new manager and even then still almost got relegated?
To be fair, without that strong start Villa would have been relegated, it's true. But the interesting thing is that points aren't weighted based on when you win them. A mediocre start followed by a strong midseason and a mediocre finish would probably secure safety, too.
A strong performance can leave Aston Villa in position to challenge in the top half. Perform below par and they'll be in the struggling pack with only higher quality teams to play.
I won't argue this. Villa do have an easy opening schedule. So yes, there is a chance to really capitalize on a strong start here. "But what about the chemistry?!" you ask. And yeah, Villa may have pretty fresh signings for those opening matches. Thankfully, we aren't in a world where Villa have a different transfer window from everyone else. All of those teams will have their own, fresh, not "bedded in" players too.
Leicester just lost their captain (which, if it's good enough to doom Villa should doom the Foxes, too), West Brom have only bought one player and are sure to bring in more, Palace also have some more business to conduct and Sunderland are just a tire fire.
None of the problems that Villa have are unique to Villa, so why are we pretending like they are? Probably because you can't engender fear any other way.
Even if some of the signings made - and given Villa's recent overseas signing record this seems unlikely - are of the highest quality then there is still a huge question of Benteke's goals to replace.
This is the line that set me off in the first place. (Nevermind the fact that the dashed clause should come after "quality" for this to make sense.) If we want to judge Villa's overseas signing record we have to come to terms with a few things. First: the only signings we can judge right now were under Paul Lambert. Most of those were with a different CEO. Tim Sherwood IS NOT PAUL LAMBERT.
Also, with Christian Benteke and Jores Okore aside (big successes, both!) Villa's overseas signings have been remarkably cheap. That's not what we're seeing now. Villa are spending again. They're getting players with oodles of talent rather than players who might be good and who will definitely be acceptable depth.
To lambaste Sherwood's signings (and cast doubts on ones he has yet to make) because of work done under Lambert is dumb. The only purpose it can serve is as a tool for fear mongering, because it certainly doesn't advance rational discussion.
Emmanuel Adebayor may go through his usual early purple patch if he is brought in, but history will show he can scarcely be relied upon consistently. Even if his signing goes through, you could argue that this remains a weakened squad.
We haven't even signed Adebayor yet! You are condemning a player before he even joins the club! What are you, a Liverpool fan?!
ADEBAYOR IS NOT THE ONLY STRIKING OPTION ASTON VILLA WILL CONSIDER. THERE WILL BE OTHER GOALS TO BE HAD.
But at the moment the bottom line is this: For all the positivity around Villa Park last season, Sherwood took 16 points from 13 league games. If Villa regress too far from that point then relegation is going to be a genuine concern.
16 points from 13 matches with a team that he didn't build. 16 points from 13 matches with a team who wouldn't be able to find a score if you dropped them into a music library. 16 points from 13 matches coming in and saving the club using a piecemeal team held together by spit, duct tape, Fabian Delph's sweat and Christian Benteke's heart.
This. Is not. That. Team.
With Delph and Benteke now moved on to what they consider to be pastures greener, there's a long way to go before Villa can even looking like standing still, never mind moving forward. That could make for a long and nervous season at Villa Park.
And as always, yes, it COULD make for a long and nervous season at Villa Park. But we've got no reason to believe that. This team has improved drastically at left back. The midfield is slowly becoming what Tim Sherwood wants it to be, and a goalscorer has yet to be found (unless you count Libor Kozak who was pretty great before his leg was broken). Aston Villa wildly underachieved last season, and Sherwood's massive improvement over Lambert's record proved that. They may have gotten a little worse overall, but if they play how they should this is a team who will be fine.
If they can get some more goals and bring in a few more players (they will) then there is a chance that they will be better than fine. Losing two players sucks, but it does not spell doom. Stop trying to make people fear the worst.