As we rapidly approach the close of the transfer window, I still feel pretty confident that Aston Villa can assemble one of the league’s best starting XIs week-in, week-out. When both are healthy, Rudy Gestede and Ross McCormack might well be the league’s best strike partnership, Jack Grealish is already showing flashes of what we want from him, and on paper, the defence should be a lot better.
I also feel pretty confident about something else, though: That Villa have one of the worst benches in the division.
Granted, the Gestede and Aaron Tshibola absences yesterday at Ashton Gate didn’t really help, but the bench was… pretty terrible. In more ways than one.
André Green is a fine player, sure, but when you’re thinking about an “impact sub,” he really doesn’t fit the bill, nor does Alan Hutton, nor Gary Gardner or even Jordan Amavi. Nathan Baker and Libor Kozák, who has done nothing in two recent substitute appearances, rounded out the outfield selection.
Now, this isn’t to say that Gardner can’t be useful of the bench to Villa — bringing him on for Jordan Ayew in the 55th and switching to a 4-3-3 may well have saved the result yesterday — but for the rest of that crew, they both (1) aren’t very good, and (2) really offer nothing the starting XI didn’t.
And even with Gestede returns, it’ll only add one other option — likely Leandro Bacuna, though his assist yesterday could see him edge out Ayew — to that already-weak bench. So, you have… two guys you can bring on to change your tactics. When you get three changes.
So far this season, Aston Villa have entered halftime with 11 points. They’ve dropped a majority of those coming out of the break.
That’s become sadly evident when opponents can make changes to their tactics — see how Huddersfield Town utilized Nahki Wells to alter that match, one Villa needed to win — and start overrunning the Claret and Blues during the last half hour of matches.
But where there have been issues with holding leads, it’s not remiss to think that the same issues won’t present themselves when Villa trail: If Roberto Di Matteo’s side found itself down 1-0 at the half, what changes would he have been able to make to alter the attack?
It’s why, despite perhaps having three or four of the most talented attacking players in the league, Villa need to make an attacking signing or two before the window closes. RDM knows this, and that’s why we’re getting a new player (that’s not Abel Hernández) in sometime today.
It's real. We kept trying whole summer but still didn't work. We're going2other option and expect announce tomorrow https://t.co/wOqbAApqrr— Dr. Tony Xia (@Dr_TonyXia) August 27, 2016
But while an attacker is a nice first step, it’s far from what needs to be the end to this transfer window. Another one would be quite nice, perhaps a winger, while centre back is suddenly becoming a position of need — the fourth-choice player at the position is… Micah Richards? Please, no.
It’s trivial, but I always buy some random player with pace to bring off the bench in the 65th minute of a FIFA match. To be fair, Villa could stand to do the same thing.
And really, it’s not just about substitutions. Villa still have a plethora of three-match weeks on the horizon, and the other thing we’ve seen is that unchanged or mostly-unchanged XIs are going to struggle in the second or third matches of those windows — see Huddersfield and Derby. There need to be other options for when McCormack is dead after 180 minutes of football or after Grealish has taken one tackle too many and needs a few days off.
Fingers crossed that today’s announcement is a solid step forward. But I can’t get the lingering thought out of my head that Villa won’t go up, not because they don’t have the best 11 players in the league, but because they don’t have the best 18 players in the league.
Let’s fix that while we still can.