Dr. Tony was back at it on Twitter yesterday, and in the process, dropped a helpful hint about Villa’s squad for the upcoming season:
One thing we and SB made the agreement is to trim the squad to 19-20 and pick 5-6 youngsters to train with the 1st squad this season. https://t.co/D41oy9ywjH— Dr. Tony Xia (@Dr_TonyXia) July 21, 2017
More youth development is great — Villa have some truly interesting players set to come through the pipeline — but the “19-20” senior squad list is what really stuck out to me. In a Championship campaign, where you’re guaranteed 48 first-team matches and take international break, fixture congestion hurts you, well before you factor in the effect of injuries. Regardless of the plan’s merit, though, what would a 20-man senior list at Villa look like?
Let’s start by taking a look at Villa’s current senior setup, in which I include any player who’s appeared at least 10 times at Championship level or better. By that count, there are currently 32 players at Aston Villa…
Goalkeepers (3): Mark Bunn, Sam Johnstone, Jed Steer
Defenders (12): Jordan Amavi, Nathan Baker, James Bree, James Chester, Aly Cissokho, Ritchie De Laet, Tommy Elphick, Alan Hutton, Micah Richards, Christopher Samba, Neil Taylor, John Terry
Midfielders/Wingers (13): Albert Adomah, Leandro Bacuna, Birkir Bjarnason, Ahmed Elmohamady, Gary Gardner, Jack Grealish, André Green, Conor Hourihane, Mile Jedinak, Henri Lansbury, Aaron Tshibola, Jordan Veretout, Glenn Whelan
Strikers (4): Gabriel Agbonlahor, Scott Hogan, Jonathan Kodjia, Ross McCormack
Now, we trim.
- First, we make an assumption that Green and Bree, the two youngest names on this list (18 and 19, respectively) are counted as two of the five or six “youngsters.” I don’t like doing this, especially with Bree, who was bought six months ago as a senior player, but as you’ll see down the road, it’s hard to cut to the number with these guys in the count. We’re left with 30.
- The most imminent transfer away from Villa, it seems, might be Cissokho’s, who is the perfect “he’s still got a contract here?” guy. The left back appears to be off to Turkish side Yeni Malatyaspor shortly. We’re left with 29.
- Veretout is likely out the door shortly, with Fiorentina the probable destination in a move that’ll see Villa recoup a lot of his initial transfer fee. We’re left with 28.
- Elphick wants to leave Villa, and with Terry and Samba coming on this summer, he’s fifth-choice for a centre back spot at best — probably more like sixth-best if you consider Jedinak a possible option at the position. He may make the cross-town switch to Birmingham City. We’re left with 27.
- Gary Gardner seems out of sorts at Villa — who would you play him ahead of in midfield? — and didn’t travel with the club to Germany. We assume he goes, and we’re left with 26.
- Now we leave rumours behind for wild speculation and inference. Let’s start with Steer, the goalkeeper who’s never gotten a serious run. Letting him leave, be it on loan or permanently, makes sense for Villa, who have Matija Šarkić if they need a backup in an emergency. We’re left with 25.
- Similar to Gardner, Tshibola doesn’t really have minutes to play for Villa this year, so I’d expect to see the club find a landing spot for him, preferably on loan. Say he goes, so we’re left with 24.
- For the sake of this discussion, we will agree that Amavi will leave the club this window, for whichever Champions League suitor comes in for him. The club have already tried to move him once, to Sevilla, so it makes sense his departure was counted on in the “19-20” count. We’re left with 23.
- Richards is a trainwreck, but who wants him? Will Villa pay him to be part of a new “bomb squad?” Regardless, let’s say they get him out of the squad. We’re left with 22.
That’s about as far as I can get with realistic transfers. But let’s keep going forward if we can.
- With the Elmohamady signing this week, Villa now have four players capable of playing right back. Let’s assume one of them — Leandro Bacuna or Alan Hutton, for the argument — doesn’t return. We’re left with 21.
- The same thing could happen up top if Bruce commits to a one-striker formation, where Agbonlahor is the obvious choice. We’ll say it happens, so we’re left with 20, our final target.
Bam, done and dusted. That’s not too hard, right? Just need to move a fullback and striker — none of which are serious contenders for a move right now — then see every single move that’s been rumoured go through, and find new homes for players well outside of the Villa setup right now.
It seems likely Villa will have a tough time getting the squad to the low point the owner wants it at. And that ain’t really a bad thing, given the stress that accompanies a Championship season.