Who’s the talk of the town? Who is on the fringe of the team? Which new signing can make the biggest gain? Here’s a breakdown of Aston Villa’s positions, role-by role, to look at the current setup of the team ahead of Villa’s home opener against Bournemouth
Villa didn’t have to go all out to get a new goalkeeper - but they did, and he’s a good one at that. Tom Heaton has been the talk of the town after an impressive debut at Tottenham for Villa, and seems a steal at eight million.
The leadership abilities he displayed alongside his obvious goalkeeping talents have been featured in many an article over the past weekend and for good reason. His first match was a loss, but Heaton couldn’t have performed much better than he did. Burnley fans have raved for years about Tom’s ability and they aren’t wrong. Heaton is clearly an elite goalkeeper who will keep Villa in the points.
Behind Tom Heaton is where every single goalkeeper at Aston Villa is going to be placed for the next few seasons. Last season’s hero, Jed Steer is an able deputy and it stands to reason that both Lovre Kalinic and Ørjan Nyland won’t see much first-team action this season. One game down and this position is locked in.
Head Coach Dean Smith dropped a little pipe-bomb when he announced his first Premier League lineup. Instead of the assumed duo of Matt Targett and Frederic Guilbert taking to the pitch, Smith chose the familiar faces of Neil Taylor and Ahmed Elmohamady to start against Spurs.
All-in-all, there cannot be too much disagreement with the avenue Smith chose - neither Elmo nor Taylor looked a ‘weak link’ at all. Their days, according to some Villa fans, are numbered, but their stock has risen due to solid performances in the first outing. The lesson here? Don’t count anyone out.
However, the first home game presents a change in approach for Dean - they won’t have to resort to a deep-block to defy an elite team. They have ‘beatable’ opponents and are playing in front of a sell-out at Villa Park. The dynamic attacking talents of both Matt Targett and Frederic Guilbert may be favoured over Taylor and Elmohamady. Kortney Hause also exists in consideration for a spot here at left-back, and Ezri Konsa exists as an auxiliary option on the opposite defensive flank.
The starters could change from game-to-game and this position may succumb to a situational approach from Smith depending on his tactics. There is no clear starter here, for now, and the depth will be utilised in full during this early stage of the season.
Björn Engels entered day one as a defensive talent and left it as the premiere defender in the Aston Villa ranks. His composure and aerial ability helped settle his defense as it came under siege from Tottenham Hotspur. Following close is Tyrone Mings, who quickly validated his £20 million fee with an imperious display of defensive might - even adding an assist. The rise of Engels to disrupt Spur’s production is one of the stories of August thus far and there is almost no chance that either Mings or Engels loses their spot.
Behind this duo sits James Chester - who for now is injured - and Ezri Konsa. Neither exists to simply sit and bide their time on the sidelines, but it seems that the performances of Engels and Mings may force them to do so. It is the start of a long season - and a lot will change - but the centre-back question at Aston Villa has it’s answers in Tyrone Mings and Björn Engels who look like a commanding partnership.
Don’t dare to defy Conor Hourihane’s ability to dream and achieve. The ‘Bandon Bomber’ struck out against a former admirer - who crept forward to ask him to reconsider his Premier League ambitions almost five years ago. No chance of that! Hourihane’s here, and he looks here to stay - stepping up to the plate as Villa’s deep-midfielder. It’s not Conor’s natural position, but it’s a role he has adapted to.
There’s a possibility that he will be dropped in the next game, but it won’t be based on performances. Conor is an attack-minded midfielder and excels with an open pitch before him. If Villa want to attack and impress against Bournemouth, Hourihane is the man - for now.
Waiting behind him is the presence of new signings Marvelous Nakamba and Douglas Luiz. Both are impressive and will add their own talents to midfield but may have to wait to display their abilities. Hourihane won’t give this position up without a fight, but if Luiz or Nakamba do manage to displace him then Hourihane has every chance of regaining that position himself. He’s been benched and bounced back plenty so that’ll be no surprise at all.
John McGinn proved his worth, and while Jack Grealish started off strongly there was a late fade - but both, without question, are the only two players in consideration for the two ‘8’ spots in Villa’s midfield. McGinn was Villa’s most advanced player against Tottenham while Grealish got stuck in a midfield battle - with the Scot thriving as a makeshift striker, crusading from deep.
McGinn’s goal against Tottenham showed that the midfielder can bottle lightning - but there will need to be game-changes made via substitutions more often. Despite Grealish and McGinn’s pressing ability, the midfield collapsed late on as energy levels faded.
Jack and John will start until they can’t start. Until then, Henri Lansbury - raring to go - will have to wait his turn. Aaron Tshibola will have to wait behind Callum O’Hare until the Villa youngster gets a loan move where he’ll start every game. Villa’s depth in this position is sound - and Conor Hourihane may find himself competing for this particular spot should he lose out to either Nakamba or Luiz - who themselves may be in consideration for more advanced pitch roles.
Trezeguet showed that he should be the first name on the team sheet in any counter-attacking formation developed by Dean Smith, while Anwar El Ghazi stuttered in their Premier League debuts. Both are similar players, but Trezeguet seemed to enjoy success more often than El Ghazi, who endured plenty of frustrations against Tottenham.
The wizardry of Jota offers an option, while Jonathan Kodjia isn’t out of the question either. Dean Smith will probably stick with the combination of El Ghazi and Trezeguet for at least another week but rotation, if it happens, will more than likely displace El Ghazi.
Wesley, by default, will remain as Villa’s first choice starter for a fair while - but the Brazilian couldn’t have endured a more testing debut. Had Villa actioned another striker purchase on deadline day, the queries regarding Wesley’s performance may have already resulted in harsh tangible actions. The striker collapsed in the challenge too easily, and Villa had nowhere near the amount of possession to give Wesley a fair chance.
However, it wasn’t all bad. Wesley’s strength shone through during Villa’s goal - and these performances are to be expected early on in his career. It’ll take him time to get up to speed and figure things out for himself. He’ll be thankful that Jonathan Kodjia didn’t impress against Spurs though, as that’d have raised some eyebrows.
Against Bournemouth, Wesley should be in a better position to succeed - Villa will see more of the ball and may be able to fire something at him to work with. Wesley is without a doubt the starter - and he’ll come good.
Keinan Davis, highly rated by Villa, will wait on the sidelines, but early indications suggest that an opportunity may come about.