Pre-season is mainly a time for fitness and the implementation of new ideas. It’s not a time to get overly excited, and script out narratives for the early stages of the actual season. For Aston Villa fans, pre-season thus far has served as a refreshing break from the club’s off-the-pitch issues. There’s still football to be played despite the agony of Villa’s ownership, and we can learn something from the football that Villa are currently playing. Not much, but it’s still something. So, what have we discovered thus far from Villa’s three pre-season games against Telford, Walsall and Kidderminster?
Finally, Jed Steer is Villa’s #1
Sam Johnstone leaving Villa, on a free, for no money, hurt. That’s the deal with loans though- Villa never owned Johnstone, they simply borrowed him and put him in the shop window. He’ll ply his trade at West Bromwich Albion, he’ll get promoted and he’ll likely be in the international scene going forward. Villa, on the other hand, must move on.
Thankfully, there’s a ready-made replacement. Jed Steer has been at Villa for five years and is the same age as Johnstone. It beggars belief that the club are only calling on him now, and Steer is probably one of the defining examples of the decision making at the club. Steer? He’s the man Villa are going to rely on unless transfers are made (and with 25 or so days left of the transfer window, time is ticking).
There’s a caveat to Steer though, and while he looks calm in goal - he’s suffered some bad injuries over the past two seasons. That might mean that the worst of his issues are out of the way, but it could also hint at a major problem. Villa don’t necessarily ‘need’ a new goalkeeper as there are more pressing areas within this squad that need improving, which means that Villa have an actual reason to thank Paul Lambert for something.
In the youth setup, lies hope
A lesser club would be struggling with the issues Villa have faced off of the pitch, and there’s no doubt that it’s hit AVFC pretty hard. However, there’s a lot of room for optimisim and that’s mainly due to the fact that Villa are seemingly ready to deploy one of their strongest youth-classes in memory. Keinan Davis, Andre Green, Easah Suliman, Mitch Clarke, Jake Doyle-Hayes, Callum O’Hare and others will more than likely have an opportunity to step into the first-team picture. What’s more, there’s almost no pressure on them - there’s no expectation for them to become world-beaters. If a few of them became first-team names in the vein of Ciaran Clark and Nathan Baker - that’d be a massive boost to Villa.
Villa need to stick to a simple plan
Thanks to events conspiring off the pitch, Villa cannot afford to complicate things on the pitch. There’s a lot of moving parts, and anyone - I mean anyone - could leave Villa at any point until the transfer window closes. That means Villa cannot build around specific players, but must adapt to a mouldable system. The three-at-the-back system used against Walsall ensured that Villa could pass the ball and control the game - it also seemed to suit most of the players on the pitch. That’s key. Now, this doesn’t mean that we base everything off a warm-up game, and it certainly doesn’t mean that Villa commit to a 3-3-3-1 or a 3-5-2, but it has to mean that Villa need to find something simple, stick to it and create a flexible philosophy that will succeed despite change. To put it simply, Villa need to master one thing - because overcomplicating their football at a time when anything could happen could well be a recipe for disaster.
Villa can play good football
Look, it’s a warm-up walkout against Walsall - but Villa are capable of playing some decent football on the ground. This relates to the previous point, well - because the second Steve Bruce starts applying instructions on top of instructions, Villa are going to suffer, get confused and start kicking the ball up the pitch to nobody. Even without Jack Grealish, Villa are very capable of holding onto the ball, absorbing pressure and playing positive football. Bruce simply needs to provide the platform for the players to succeed. They shouldn’t have to succeed in spite of their manager. The 3-5-2 helps them do this. Let’s see if they stick with it.
There are plenty more things to consider, and of course, we have to take our opinions with a pinch of salt. It’s still pre-season, after all. We’ll hang on before making some final judgements on Villa’s warm-up campaign, but it has been rather promising so far. What do you think of this Villa team so far? Let us know below!