Signings are a massive luxury. Most teams aren’t in the position to splurge in the same manner that Aston Villa under Dr. Xia are.
But can an influx of signings be a bad idea? We Villa fans will know that all too well - having dealt with two summers worth of them. Under Sherwood, Villa got nowhere and under Di Matteo, Villa got somewhere worthless. Steve Bruce and Steve Round are looking to change that, but should they look within the team first?
My answer - yes. This is not a scenario that has paid any dividends at all for Aston Villa. The summer splurges of seasons past tells me to beware a winter spend. Ask yourself, what problem have Aston Villa actually solved with their spending over the past two years.
Yes, Kodjia is a good goalscorer, yes Idrissa Gueye was a world-beater. It matters not, Aston Villa aren’t, and didn’t, succeed because they bought one good player.
Sometimes, you need to set up a team with the tools you have, rather than hit and hope. A long term scouting programme that could allow Villa to build a talented team in the summer instead of panic buying would also work.
Let’s see how we can fix Villa, right now:
Villa need to start playing some defensive football. That’s a must, right now. Aston Villa under Bruce are a team that can score, but concede often - in Villa’s last six games, they have scored four goals while conceding five. That doesn’t work out to wins in the long run.
Playing with a back three immediately fixes a bunch of issues for Aston Villa. While their centre-back corps is pretty shallow, Villa can make use of three centralised defenders. Let’s see how:
Nathan Baker and James Chester can be slotted alongside a roaming Tommy Elphick who will press and mark rampaging forwards. This solves Elphick’s dependancy issues as it simplifies his game - he won’t be relied on as a last gasp method where he is limited. Baker and Chester can do their job of stopping anything that comes at them, while Elphick can hassle strikers and clearly up long balls. Under duress, Elphick can fall back slightly to assist Chester and Baker. Micah Richards weakness as a centre-back was not only that he was awful, but he was too engaged in pressing opponents and playing the ball. Playing with Baker and Chester behind him can actually allow him to do this - meaning Micah Richards can be of use to Villa once more. Kevin Toner also offers a defensive option - meaning Aston Villa have two bench players ready to appear should Baker suffer another injury.
It’s not just in the centre where the changes are made - Alan Hutton and Jordan Amavi have proven useless at defensive tasks. A back three allows them to push up the wings to serve both defensive duties and attacking duties. Amavi, and Hutton, are a lot better at going forward than cleaning up their mess - allow them to do that, because they are liabilities at the back. Albert Adomah or Leandro Bacuna can be effective here if Hutton isn’t doing his job - this means Villa actually have depth.
Ideally, Aston Villa would have kept Pierluigi Gollini here to act as a sweeper-keeper. He is nimble enough to respond to balls just outside the box and a back three offers him far more security than in the past. Oh well.
With six spots on the team taken up, Villa have five left. It’s with these spots that Villa can actually experiment.
Mile Jedinak is a limited player and I’d use him as an anchor man, someone who can hold the entire team in shape. He’d help Elphick out at the back while supporting his midfield and occasionally spraying a long ball ahead of him.
Aaron Tshibola can serve as a box-to-box midfielder and create a connection between Villa’s heavy defensive corps. His pace, energy and technique make him ideal for this and I’d look to see goals from this position. Gary Gardner can probably serve in this role, but that would have to be assessed against his opponents on the day.
Villa’s problem thus far has been a weak midfield. That’s not been the fault of messrs Westwood, Gardner and Jedinak - they have just been limited by their options. I’d argue that this formation should work with two midfielders since there are so many options in defense - and Hutton & Amavi will be playing pretty high up.
However, if Villa are being swamped in midfield by a side, as they are too often - I’d ask that Ashley Westwood and Gary Gardner slot in as a third midfielder with a simple task - they press and pass, nothing more, nothing less. They chase balls down, hurry midfielders and cause a bit of a hassle. If Villa are being overrun, I’d have to ask that Jack Grealish step in as another midfielder. He’s got underrated defensive abilities and he can press and tackle effectively - same with Ross McCormack.
This is all based on Villa playing a back three with a two man midfield supplemented out wide with wing-backs.
Villa have options here and a lot of choices. Andre Green, Keinan Davis, Jack Grealish, Albert Adomah, Leandro Bacuna, Ross McCormack and Gabby Agbonlahor can keep this fresh and fit - meaning Villa are never without a striking option.
Villa haven’t been using Ross McCormack right - he’s expected to do it all. Even though he’s missed sitters in the past, this role doesn’t rely on him even being in the position. McCormack is our great decoy here. Ross is going to play deep and draw defenders and midfielders towards him - he’s a deep player anyway with a good long shot. This is going to create a lot of space for surging wingers and wing backs. Grealish and Albert Adomah are going to excel here out wide, before cutting in to create a dangerous situation.
Ideally - Ross and Tshibola catch up to provide Grealish and Adomah with options, but that shouldn’t matter if McCormack’s role works. Villa’s heavy defense gives them the option of a high-line, meaning they can provide a entire team of options in the attacking third before falling back.
Grealish and Adomah should be Villa’s main output of goals and assists here and they can be interchanged with pretty much everyone on the above list for different scenarios. If Villa are protecting a lead, I’d ask that Gabby replace Ross McCormack to press the back-line late on. If Villa are struggling out wide, they can pair strikers up in the middle.
This is all entirely hypothetical, of course, and Aston Villa do need to improve areas of the pitch - but options clearly exist here and even more so when Kodjia and Ayew return.
Villa are good enough to compete at this level, believe it or not. Defensive football in theory should work well for Villa who need to convert losses into draws and draws into wins. You shouldn’t concede with solid defence and all matches should at minimum finish at 0-0. Even then, that’s a point more than Villa are getting away from home now...