After a year where the club bought Ross McCormack, Jonathan Kodjia and Scott Hogan, it remains odd to consider that Aston Villa have one of the worst attacks in the league. The Claret and Blues have just 46 goals from 45 league matches, fourth-lowest in the Championship — and if Birmingham City go down, lowest of any club to survive — despite 19 goals from Kodjia, the only consistent scorer in the squad this year.
McCormack? He didn’t work, providing just three goals in 20 appearances before falling out with Steve Bruce. Hogan? Just the one goal since his arrival, 12 matches into his Villa career. Henri Lansbury and Conor Hourihane, who were brought in to help from midfield? One goal between the two of them, despite a combined 33 appearances.
Aside from Albert Adomah, who’s setup 10 goals and scored a trio of his own, Villa have just one consistent attacking performer in the team: Kodjia.
Unfortunately, he’s broken his ankle and will likely miss the start of next season.
We already should have realized that Villa needed more in the way of attacking options heading into next season — I wouldn’t feel comfortable with McCormack, Hogan or even Rushian Hepburn-Murphy as the No. 2 option at striker to start 2017 with. But with Kodjia’s injury, it further underscores the need to find another reliable goalscoring threat if promotion is to be a serious consideration for next season.
If you want further proof, just look at the sides already going up. Brighton & Hove Albion have four 10-plus-goal scorers, led by Glenn Murray (22) and Anthony Knockaert (15, plus eight assists). We can see a similar, if less top-heavy, goalscoring approach working at Newcastle United, where Dwight Gayle’s 22 and Matt Ritchie’s 12 pace the Magpies.
For the play-off sides, Reading have Yann Kermorgant’s 17-goal season, but also a nine-goal, nine-assist campaign from Garath McCleary. Both Elias Kachunga (12) and Nahki Wells (10) are in double figures for Huddersfield Town; Sheffield Wednesday have the same tallies from Fernando Forestieri and Steven Fletcher, respectively. Fulham have three players in double digits, with two more at at least eight.
Kodjia is already as good as Murray, Knockaert or Gayle — the type of player who’s involvement is good enough to pace a promotion push. But Villa don’t have their Ritchie or McCleary, the type of player who helps push that over the edge.
Some of this, undoubtedly, is tactical; Bruce hasn’t let the team play fluid attacking football, and right now, when Hogan’s on the pitch, Villa aren’t playing to his strengths in the first place. He scored 14 goals this season at Brentford before moving, so it isn’t as if he doesn’t have goals in him. Lansbury and Hourihane each had six goals this term before moving to Villa — it seems unlikely they’re suddenly not good enough to provide goals from midfield, something that’s been lacking at Villa Park for years. And for Hourihane especially, who notched 11 assists at Barnsley, that involvement has dried up too, with just three helpers since moving to Villa.
But some of it is probably personnel-driven, too. Adomah has been Villa’s second-best attacking player this term, and as such, the Claret and Blues need him on the pitch whenever possible. Yet that leads to the same problem the club had with Marc Albrighton — no consistent left-wing option has presented himself this season, leaving Villa to play a subpar player in the XI. In fact, the closest thing might be the wildly inconsistent Jack Grealish, who’s tallied four goals and two assists, all in matches he started (which he’s done 20 times). The club need a better option at left wing, need a second striker, and could probably use with an upgrade at whatever the hell Bruce has Leandro Bacuna doing.
If Villa don’t act, though, both of these realities are going to continue to haunt them in 2017/18. A tactical plan that revolves around one player is never going to be effective enough; yet a squad that still doesn’t have solid balance is never going to be effective enough, either.
Perhaps all that makes Kodjia’s injury a blessing in disguise. Because if it forces Bruce to change his squad’s composition, and the tactics he employs, it’ll be a boost to the club next season. But Villa need more going forward than they have right now — lest we avoid another futile start to the season.