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Assessing Aston Villa’s squad ahead of the 18/19 season

Villa have a job on to make this squad competitive, but there’s room for hope and optimism amid financial concerns.

Aston Villa v Fulham - Sky Bet Championship Play Off Final Photo by Clive Mason/Getty Images

Pete, or @SetPieces on Twitter has pondered the idea of Villa’s squad, here’s what he thinks it will look like.

What could Villa look like for the 2018-2019 season? (Updated)

Alex Carson’s post regarding Aston Villa’s Financial Fair Play Problem got me thinking about what further cuts Villa will need to make in order not to ruin themselves financially. So, I went about finding the estimated wages for Villa’s 2018 - 2019 squad as it stands at the moment.

Please note that these figures are estimates. So, I want acknowledge that there might be some inaccuracies. Please don’t get too tied down on the numbers. With that said, here’s what Villa needs to do to save even more money and it needs to be more than than the rumored £40m because additional funds are needed to bring in some reinforcements:

  1. Keep Villa’s 2 star players Chester and Grealish. Tell every club interested in James & Jack to go f**k off. Selling these players would send a message to fans that there is zero ambition moving in to next season and quite frankly, Villa need some players to carry this squad on their backs. Maybe there is room for them to play hardball?
  2. Do not sign any player that’s out of contract, and yes that includes the Scottish Cafu - Alan Hutton. Based on what I found, Villa could save an additional £3m. It seems that there is a movement on social media to retain the services of Hutton and I’ll admit there’s an argument to keep him, especially since Villa didn’t achieve promotion. However, Villa have several other right back options on the books right now: Ahmed Elmohamady, Ritchie De Laet, James Bree. Also, I think it’s time to give Bree more first team minutes over a player who’s 33 and turns 34 during the season.
  3. Sell Kodjia and stick with the depth at striker. Assuming Villa could get around £9m (slightly above his current value listed on Transfermrkt) then it’s estimated that Villa would make a £7.6m profit. This does require having faith that Hogan, Davis, McCormack (huge risk) & Hepburn-Murphy can absorb his loss. If Bruce remains the manager, then he needs to make do with the forwards at his disposal. He brought in Hogan and Villa are in no position to spend money on a player and then not cater to his skillset. While Kodjia has had some fitness concerns, I think another team would be willing to take a chance on him due to his scoring prowess. He simply has the highest value amongst the forwards that remain and I’d rather him go instead of Chester or Grealish.
  4. Reshuffle some players. He probably needs to anyway but Villa will need to make Jedinak’s transition to CB permanent and be part of the CB rotation along with a player brought in on loan, Chester, Richards & someone from the academy. Also, while I’d rather see him centrally, Villa should play Bjarnason more and having him play out wide could help offset Snodgrass’ departure. Elmohamady would move to right midfield to help address depth issues there.
  5. Rehabilitate players on the squad. Players like Neil Taylor, Ross McCormack (good luck) and Henri Lansbury need to be brought back into the fold. As I mentioned earlier regarding Scott Hogan, with the exception of players who came in earlier like McCormack & Tshibola, there are several players on high wages that Bruce brought in during his time only to have Bruce bring in additional players that played the same position either on a permanent deal (Whelan) or on loan (Grabban).
  6. Promote younger players. Green’s injury (plus Albert’s form) will make his return feel like a new player of the squad for 2018-2019. Also, players who have stood out for the u23s should be given the chance to fight for a place on the team and keep established players from becoming complacent. Financially, their wages are smaller than having someone like Samba ride the bench for £10k/week.
  7. Address the glut of central midfielders. Between youth players, players returning on loan and players still on a contract, Aston Villa have around 8 players that could make a case for minutes on the first team. Personally, I’d place Gardner on the transfer list and send Tshibola on loan unless an attractive transfer offer comes up (which I highly doubt).

In total, if Villa would save around £48m (including confirmed transfers/departures) and find themselves retaiingn Chester AND Grealish. Villa’s wages could be below the rumoured £30m wage budget for the 2018-2019 season at between £26m and £27m. Here’s a breakdown of the roster:

Goalkeeper (3): Steer, Bunn, Sarkic

Central Defenders (4): Chester, Jedinak, Richards & Suliman

Fullbacks (4): Taylor Clark, De Laet & Bree

Central midfielders (6): Grealish, Hourihane, Whelan, Lansbury, O’Hare & Lyden

Wide midfielders (4): Adomah, Green, Elmohamady, & Bjarnason

Forwards (4): Hogan, Davis, McCormack & Hepburn-Murphy

The roster is flawed (no starting GK, too many CMs, too many wasters, not enough CBs or wide midfielders) but again, Grealish & Chester are still on this team. It really isn’t a terrible squad but I’m not sure if it’s a team ready for a promotion campaign either. It can be a competitive team with the right tactics, mentality and some shrewd loan moves. One example of a shrewd loan move (if his £12k/week wages are accurate) is bringing in a player like Sam Johnstone: promising player on a top-tier Premier League team stuck behind too many players to get first team minutes. We’ll wait and see.

If Chester and/or Grealish are sold (which should only happen for a ridiculous amount of money) then those funds should be reinvested in finding replacements for a fraction of the cost with the rest going towards doing whatever is needed to establish financial security. Chester is probably lot easier to replace than Grealish and so I’d pick James if I had to sell one of them.

On top of it, there’s a really good chance fringe players like Ritchie De Laet will depart the club via loan, or ideally with a transfer which further drops the team’s wages/costs. Villa need a GK, LB, CB at minimum for the 2018-2019 season and can do so via loans with at least a £3m wage budget available.

I don’t want to come off too optimistic though. Steve Bruce (or whoever the manager is if Bruce departs) will need to make do. If Bruce decides he’s ‘up for the challenge’, then he needs to accept the fact that he’s a big part of the dilemma this roster has: high wages, depreciated market value and/or poor reputations. The board needs to have a honest conversation with Bruce and make some things very clear to him: 1) There’s no transfer money available, 2) There will be opportunities to bring players on loan for areas that lack depth (about £2m wage pool) and 3) He needs to incorporate youth players and the players he’s signed over the past 18 months to address the depth of the team. News suggests that Bruce is pleased with the playing budget for next season. Again, we’ll wait and see.

With the recommendations listed above, Villa are really not completely ruined if the board can somehow make some tough, yet smart decisions. Lessons will have to be learned. Villa need to address the immediate issues at hand but do so while looking to the future. The team gambled over the past two years that promotion would happen and that assumption can no longer continue to shape decision making. It’s time to stabilise finances, give the fans confidence in the way the team is run and don’t make any naive promises.