Aside from the issue at goalkeeper, which was eventually resolved in the easiest way with a Sam Johnstone return to Villa Park, Steve Bruce entered this summer with few, if any, significant holes in his squad — a trip through Aston Villa’s squad would’ve returned plenty of players capable of starting at any other club in the Championship, even some who wouldn’t make Villa’s first-choice XI.
Jonathan Kodjia, Scott Hogan, Albert Adomah. Conor Hourihane, Henri Lansbury, Mile Jedinak. James Chester, Nathan Baker, Neil Taylor.
At just about every spot on the field last season, Villa could put a highly coveted player out there. Hourihane and Adomah were the best and third-best assist getters last year. Only Leeds’ Chris Wood scored more goals than Kodjia among returning players. Chester may well be the best centre half in the division.
No, Aston Villa didn’t enter this summer with a need for a huge personnel overhaul. They entered it with a need to improve their depth — and that’s something the recent summer signings most certainly offer.
Start with the most obvious signing: Glenn Whelan, who fits a need better than any player who’s shown up to Bodymoor Heath in an eternity. Last year, Mile Jedinak played 33 times for Aston Villa — the Claret and Blues won 15 of those matches and drew another nine, good for 54 points. In the 13 matches Jedinak didn’t play, Villa managed just a single win and five draws. Eight points. You want to talk about where promotion was lost? It was squarely lost when Jedinak wasn’t on the pitch.
In fact, after the defensive midfielder’s arrival, Villa failed to win without him; the 3-0 win over Rotherham United (a) might as well have been over a League One opponent the way the Millers played last year and (b) proved to be one of the few great moments of last season.
But no matter how many goals Kodjia knocked in, Villa were never good enough, and often never close to being good enough, if the strong Australian wasn’t on the pitch. That’s where Whelan makes a hell of a lot of sense.
The Republic of Ireland man isn’t going to be among the goals, and he probably isn’t going to do the things that are sexy. But he’ll be able to put in shifts when Jedinak is off the pitch, and, who knows, could be part of a killer two-defensive midfielder setup when Villa are protecting late leads. (Please though, Steve, don’t play Jedi and Whelan together.) Once the goalkeeper slot was filled, a proper second defensive midfielder was the biggest need. Fulfilled.
What does Ahmed Elmohamady offer Villa? In a word: flexibility. Right back has long been a problem spot for the Claret and Blues, and at the very least, Elmo offers one more option for Bruce to choose from when trying to find something that works. He’ll also be valuable as a winger, his more natural position, to serve as a backup to Albert Adomah, something Villa really didn’t have.
And Chris Samba? Aside from how good he’s looked this preseason, Villa needed to add centre half depth — did you really feel great about anyone past Baker and Chester on that depth chart? Hopefully Samba’s addition, alongside John Terry’s, erases any temptation to try the Micah Richards Experiment™ again, because I’m not sure if any of us can take seeing even 45 more minutes of that trainwreck.
Aside from Terry, whose signing is noteworthy more because of the specific player acquired than his current calibre, Villa haven’t made sexy signings this summer, there’s no doubting that. Most teams chasing promotion wouldn’t be in for Elmo or Samba, probably not Whelan, either.
But Villa have gone for these guys because they fill specific roles in the squad. Especially considering Villa are in a tough spot with Financial Fair Play regulations, I’d say it’s been a pretty successful summer window so far.
Now Bruce just has to make this talented squad count on the table.