Welcome to the preseason roundtable, an annual exercise here at 7500 to Holte for our staff to give our thoughts on the upcoming football season, and to have something to look back on and laugh at once the year’s over! On Wednesday, we looked at football outside England’s top flight, and yesterday, we made our predictions on the Premier League! We close things up today with a look at the club we love: Aston Villa.
Let’s get to it. Where will Villa finish this season?
Phil Vogel: 14th. Villa will probably lose four/five in a row at one point — and go six/seven matches unbeaten.
Jake Fenicle: 12th. Confident.
James Rushton: 12th. Let’s do this!
Sean Evans: I will say 15th and we kick on from there.
Matt Booher: Somewhere above 17th. I don’t rate the lower half of the Premier League and our preseason was decent. Let’s go with 15th.
Alex Carson: I’ve seen a lot of people say 15th (not just Matt and Sean) and feel that’s pretty close to being right.
Beyond survival, what things should Villa be targeting this season?
PV: Player development in the style of Dean Smith. Smith and Co have brought in players that fit the Head Coach. Now he needs to develop them as players and as a squad. The squad aspect will be tough at the start of the season because of all the new faces and the fans will need to be patient. Individually — the young players need to grow so they can stake a place and/or be sold for a nice profit to help the club as a whole.
JF: Beyond just survival, I think a good word is stability. We have stability financially, and we’re in a spot to stabilize the club and solidify our spot as a Premier League club, but will we achieve that? Or will we be battling at the bottom all season, still not really steadying the ship? A stable club is the big target for me, not one (not naming any names) that’s going up and constantly back down either in the next or within a couple of seasons.
Robb Jones: I think continued academy improvement will be really important. Sawiris and Edens have spent a lot to fill out the club for surviving in the prem and they’re targeting players that can be here for years, but having a steady stream of youth that can fill the coffers can help fend the top teams off of studs like McGinn and Grealish so Villa can compete in Europe sooner. Or in the worst case scenario of relegation, having experienced youth ready for that fight can help the team to sustain internally rather than having to spend the money they did over the past few years to get back up.
JR: Establishing a foundation for the future. We need to set in motion the post-Smith plans, whether they be actioned in ten years or two. We need to not be rocked if we fail, basically.
SE: I honestly have a hard time adding to what has already been said. I guess I might say a short-term target would be to remain patient. That goes for the club’s brass and supporters alike. In an ideal scenario it won’t be, but I suspect this will be a season with plenty of ups and downs.
AC: I think the biggest thing for Villa is establishing their style of play and identity in the Premier League. If they’re not getting results by playing the attack-minded football Smith prefers, it’s going to hamper the club’s ability to achieve its higher-end goals, both in the targets they can (and will) sign, and the long-term ceiling of the club. They need to survive in style.
MB: I agree that Villa need to establish a Premier League identity, one that announces the club’s intentions going forward. It’ll more than likely emerge slowly as the season progresses but indicates the kind of football the team plays, the types of players it will seek, and the management approach it desires. I think we’re seeing the blueprint so it’ll be interesting to see how well the plan holds up during the rigors of an entire season where the pressure will build quickly if the team starts out slowly.
Who will be Villa’s key player this season? If your answer is Jack Grealish, who’s the second-most important player?
JR: Honestly, I’m thinking that it’ll be the wingers — the starters in each position. With Big Wes dropping deep to collect and the midfielders propping him up - our goals will be coming from the wide areas. El Ghazi and Jota — and I’ll even put my name down on Jota right now.
JF: I gotta go Wesley on this one. As our biggest signing and our sole option up top ahead of Kodjia and Davis who also have no PL experience, Big Wes is gonna have to come out of the gates firing and scoring goals early to find that form. A drought to start the season could really do damage for him personally and us as a whole.
PV: It’s Jack. Second up is Mings. He must stay healthy and rise to be the same kind of force he was in the Championship but at the PL level.
SE: Because we’ll need a consistently solid defence in the Premier League, it is Mings for me. In just seven months, he’s endeared himself to the supporters and become a cult hero. As Phil said, it is important for him to stay healthy for an entire season. If he can — with Chester’s health an uncertainty — I believe Mings has the capacity to lead the back four and perform at a very high level.
AC: How hot of a take is it that Mings might not be part of the first-choice partnership by the season’s end? I think both Björn Engels and Ezri Konsa are the real deal and together could push Mings out of the XI.
AC: To answer the question, I definitely think it’s Jack, but outside of him, I think John McGinn needs to take another step forward and be an impact player. The strong midfield fueled so much of Villa’s success last year, and it’s so vital as you climb the levels. There’s also a financial side to this, as Villa will be able to make a huge profit on McGinn if he has a good year, if they’d want to cash in.
MB: Of course it’s Jack. But then my mind jumps to Douglas Luiz. If he can sit behind our attacking CMs and disrupt opponents coming at our back line, we’ll feel comfortable going forward and trust our style. Pep wanted this guy for a reason.
Who will be Villa’s leading goalscorer this season?
JR: Bold prediction: John McGinn. Him and Jack are Villa’s central attackers and I expect John’s energy to grab him some goals.
PV: Oh I like that prediction. John and Jack are going to have license to shoot whenever they can. I’ll go for El Ghazi with Wesley having the most assists on the team.
AC: I think the traditional answer of Wesley gets it done, even though I expect a balanced attack. Why? With VAR, I expect the number of penalties to go up this year, and he’ll likely get the first crack to take them.
JF: I’m backing one of the wingers here with Wesley’s hold up play. Just not sure which one(s) will be getting the nods between Jota, El Ghazi and Trezeguet.. So I’ll go with the one who’s been with us already, El Ghazi. Scored some nice goals in training and got into some good positions in preseason
JF: But the penalty shout isn’t a bad look Alex, look at Tammy last year and imagine if we had VAR penalties too last season.
SE: I’d love to say Wesley, but I am not sure he’s quite there yet. Based on the preseason, does seem like it could be just about anyone. That said, I think Jack’s finishing is there and he’ll take the cake.
MB: My guess is that it’ll be pretty balanced and a tight race for top goal scorer. All the options mentioned above will be in the hunt. But I still think it comes down to set pieces and penalties, so the nod goes to Wesley.
Who will be Villa’s breakout player this season?
JR: Björn Engels. He’s got all it takes to be one of the better Villa defenders in history. He’s unknown in this league and he’ll surprise a lot of people.
RJ: For the club I hope it’ll be Big Wes. His assist to Jack against Walsall, though you can’t see how he struck it, just spoke to me that he’s going to be so much more involved than just being the big man in front of net. There’s certainly a lot of hope there.
On the league-wide scale it’ll be Tyrone Mings. He’s the spiritual leader of the club and Villa Park is his pulpit. All of the Sunday morning broadcasts lead up will talk about Villa returning to their league while showing Tyrone hyping up the Holte End or the the Villa fans in their away allocations. I can already see it in my minds eye. Oh my God, is it Sunday yet?!
PV: I like the shout for Engels. I’ll stay in defense — and I’m not saying James Bree this year. That didn’t work... two years in a row. I’ll stay at RB though: Guilbert for me. He is going to put in some great assists, and far too many yellow cards (given the right odds I’d take his tally over McGinn’s).
SE: We probably won’t see him until later this month or early September, but I like what I’ve seen of Douglas Luiz. I love the fact that he said he wants to come in and lead the midfield. He’s clearly highly rated and I feel as if he could be an anchor in the midfield.
AC: I think I’m with you on Guilbert, Phil. Dude looks like a real talent who could bag 10 assists if he’s even passable defensively (and isn’t perpetually suspended for yellow card accumulation).
JR: I forgot about Guilbert. I rate him!
What is the most compelling storyline at Villa this year?
PV: The pressure on Jack Grealish. The young man is going to blossom into an English International or crack under the pressure of the moment. Not sure there is an in between. He — and fans — need to be patient if he struggles in the opening matches.
RJ: It sucks because of the play it’ll get in the media but it’ll truly be which summer signings hit and resonated and which ones fell flat. The “pulling a Fulham” story will be discussed any time the team under-performs irregardless of the fact that the only way the team could “pull a Wolves” was by doing the exact same thing. So to sum up the most compelling story is whether or not the talent evaluation of the players brought in was correct or not.
JF: Spot on, Phil. Grealish was hyped while hated on all over last season because it was “only the Championship.” If he produces anywhere near that same level in the Prem it’ll be impossible for Southgate and England to ignore.
JR: As much as we hate it, it’s the “Doing A Fulham” rubbish. It’s a storyline pushed onto us and it’s time to accept it and prove everybody wrong.
SE: You can’t look past the amount of attention as well as criticism that we’ve drawn for the amount of money we’ve spent. It is without question the hope that Villa plays well and comfortably stays in the Premier League. Such a result would defy the lazy journalists/pundits who have made convenient comparisons whilst neglecting the fact that we have 13 new players for about £145 million — give or take.
MB: The “doing a Fulham” narrative annoys me mainly because Villa spent a some of that £145 million on players already playing for the club or for Smith previously. There was a built in debt to paid down just to keep the squad together because of the previous financial mismanagement. so for me, its about the new additions and, for lack of a better term, the “new” money spent - Wesley, Douglas Luiz, Targett, Trezeguet, etc. and if they reveal something about our long-term intentions in the PL.
AC: It’s probably the Fulham crap, but it is interesting on a broad scale — if Villa are successful and launch them toward the top half in coming years, will more sides go for broke after promotion?
You’ve heard our thoughts — now, what do you think of Villa as we head into a new season? Let us know in the comments!