With the transfer window finally closed, it’s fair to say the majority of Aston Villa fans are pretty satisfied with the work the club’s new regime has done to fix the mess they inherited this past summer.
Around £50 million was spent on nine new signings, including five players who have already experienced promotion from the Championship, while much of the deadwood that contributed to last season’s historically awful campaign has also been shipped out.
Some initially doubted whether Twitter-friendly owner Tony Xia had the money to back such a dramatic rebuild, but after outspending 11 Premier League teams and even Real Madrid in a refreshingly open manner, there can’t really be any questions about his dedication to right Randy Lerner’s wrongs.
We're done this window. Nothing can be perfect as we tried2 more. But we achieved our early plan!Great work by the whole new team! #UTV— Dr. Tony Xia (@Dr_TonyXia) August 31, 2016
However, as much as the mood around B6 has been lifted over the past two months, not all of Villa’s problems could have been solved in one summer. Roberto Di Matteo’s squad is certainly in a much healthier state than when he arrived in June, but there’s still a slight feeling that a few more reinforcements were needed. The Championship’s 46-game schedule is notoriously brutal, and while those eight extra matches might not seem like a lot more on paper, things inevitably take their toll over the course of the season as injuries and suspensions start piling up.
Simply looking at the starting XI, the prospects for promotion look fairly promising, but there are also some areas where the lack of depth at Di Matteo’s disposal could become a real issue going forward.
At centre-back, Tommy Elphick and James Chester make up a strong partnership, but having only the mistake-prone Micah Richards and oft-injured Nathan Baker as cover could well backfire horrendously. There’d be less concern if Kevin Toner hadn’t left on loan to Walsall, but the coaching staff apparently felt comfortable letting him make the move to the Banks’s Stadium until early January.
In central midfield, meanwhile, the arrivals of Aaron Tshibola and Mile Jedinak give Di Matteo enough options for now, but it’s worth noting that Ashley Westwood is the only player there who hasn’t dealt with injuries over the past 12 months. 19-year-old Rory Hale has impressed with the development squad enough to suggest that he could make the step up the senior side if problems arise, but that obviously wouldn’t be an ideal scenario for a club with genuine promotion ambitions.
Further up the pitch, Jonathan Kodjia and Albert Adomah coming on board this week has helped significantly ease concerns about the team’s attack after seeing Libor Kozak struggle off the bench over the last two games, but what happens in mid-January when the African Cup of Nations comes around is anyone’s guess. Along with Rudy Gestede and Jordan Ayew, the aforementioned new boys could both potentially miss up to five league matches while away at the tournament, leaving Di Matteo worryingly light on numbers up front for a crucial three-week period of the season.
Xia’s tweet addressing the subject suggests that the club are already planning ahead, but whether a couple of loan signings will be enough to make up for the loss of four key players remains to be seen.
Ultimately, though, given the quality and experience brought into the club over the summer, there’s no reason why Villa shouldn’t be targeting an immediate return to the top-flight. The Championship’s compressed schedule may offer its challenges, but the claret and blues now have a core group of players who know full well what it takes to escape the second tier, as well as a manager who has previously guided a relegated club straight back up in West Bromwich Albion six years ago.
Judging by the first six games of the season, Di Matteo still has a lot of work to do to get his side playing to their full potential, but with Xia’s millions bringing in two of the division’s top four scorers from last term, they clearly have the necessary pieces to compete with all the main promotion favourites.
If the team gels as they should and a few of the club’s highly-rated youngsters like Andre Green and Rushian Hepburn-Murphy start to step up, Villa should hopefully be back where they belong this time next year.