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 return to Premier League action against West Ham United.
England number two Tom Heaton is at the head of a deep pack of goalkeepers that includes Jed Steer, Lovre Kalinic and Ørjan Nyland, and will face no threat to his position without an injury.
Heaton has impressed at Aston Villa so far - he’s a great leader, an agile keeper and a steady hand. He’s not given Villa any cause for concern despite a mistake during his first match at Villa Park against Bournemouth - when he cleared out an attacker during the opening seconds of play to gift a penalty to the other team.
These things happen though. Goalkeepers occupy the void. It’s a lonely role, and it can be challenging. A Goalkeeper might not see the ball for eighty-six minutes, only to drop his first touch and concede. It’s a taxing role for the mind - and that is why a goalkeeper like Heaton is so important. A keeper who is not at all upset with a mistake, and a keeper that commits them rarely.
Jed Steer is Heaton’s deputy and is a capable one at that. Villa won’t fall through the floor without Heaton, but they will certainly miss his experience. Steer is a good keeper, but he’s not got the experience of Heaton - and neither do Lovre Kalinic and Ørjan Nyland - not really. Heaton is Villa’s best goalkeeper, and long may his starting role continue.
The reserves are stocked with talent, and Villa’s goalkeeping situtation is rather odd as they boast four starting goalkeepers - all of which they have paid a fee for, to buy a starting goalkeeper! Even Steer, who Villa paid a tribunal fee for, was viewed as a future starting goalkeeper.
It’s all a bit strange - but Villa haven’t been able to move a goalkeeper one, and thus sit pretty and rich with four talents.
The full-back position at Aston Villa wasn’t expected to be a rather flexible position for the club in terms of squad depth heading into the season. Two locked-in starters were purchased in the form of Frederic Guilbert and Matt Targett - and one of them hasn’t started in the league yet.
While Guilbert has impressed, he didn’t start Villa’s first two league games. Ahmed Elmohamady offered a solid option until Villa’s hand was forced after struggling against Bournemouth. Change was needed - and both Guilbert and Targett were set to take up their roles. Only one of them did.
A word on Neil Taylor here. The Welshman has been cast off each and every season. Alan Hutton was preferred at left-back. Targett was signed. Villa went in for Joe Bryan before that move collapsed. Villa have worked to add strength to the left-back position and yet Neil Taylor stands tall to claim the position every time.
It’s assumed that its only a matter of time until Targett becomes the starter on the left for Villa - but that’s still a lofty assumption to make and one that is fuelled by the bias that comes with a shiny new transfer. Targett will have to earn his position as Taylor has stepped up his game. Targett has been stalled with a minor injury, so Neil will continue in this role for the foreseeable future. Targett’s crossing ability will give him the edge when he returns to fitness, but it’s not exactly an open door for him to get into this team. Ahmed Elmohamady on the other hand can find action on the wing - and will be brought in to offer Villa some strength in tight games.
The centre-back position at Aston Villa is full of deep reservoirs of strength. Villa can boast Tyrone Mings and Björn Engels as well as two people who’d probably be starting for this team if they fell short in the play-off final - Ezri Konsa and James Chester. That’s strength.
Mings and Engels are the clear starters and have shown how effective they can be. The pair are standouts and would fit into a fair few teams in the Premier League. Their teamwork, aerial dominance and ball-playing ability displays the clear template of the ‘Aston Villa defender’ in 2019. What James Chester and Axel Tuanzebe started last year has been taken another step due to Mings and Engels.
Long may it continue.
Depending on your own opinions and outlook, there can be questions marks about the holding position based upon the strength of the players competing for the single role, or their individual weaknesses.
After ‘shoe-horning’ Conor Hourihane into the role to accommodate Jack Grealish and John McGinn, Hourihane developed into a different type of midfielder than the box-to-box maestro that Villa had originally purchased. Hourihane’s left-foot became effective from deep, and his set-piece ability still is a gamechanger.
The problem for Hourihane, then, is the presence of both Douglas Luiz and Marvelous Nakamba. Nakamba didn’t put a foot wrong in his cup debut - and showed both energy and tenacity in spadefuls. Douglas Luiz has endured a mixed start to life as a Villan - but has also displayed plenty of defensive quality. There isn’t just a single quality contender for the role - but two, and all three players in total are of similar ability.
Luiz holds the role heading into Villa’s return from the break, but you don’t want to count our Marvelous Nakamba and you especially do not want to count out Conor Hourihane.
John McGinn and Jack Grealish have adapted to life in the Premier League well. Grealish would’ve saved Villa a point if he wasn’t (wrongly) judged to have dived against Crystal Palace. McGinn has been a force of nature and his storming playing style coexists perfectly with Jack Grealish.
Villa’s starters are clear - and while Aaron Tshibola has now left the club, there is still deep strength. Nakamba, Luiz, Hourihane and Henri Lansbury can feature as an eight - the midfield role of both Grealish and McGinn - and should all be able deputies.
Lansbury in particular seems to be raring to go, and it was his ability to grab a lost cause by the scruff that saw him ‘score’ against Palace. While the ‘goal’ was ruled out, it’s nice to know that Villa probably won’t go missing without Grealish or McGinn. There is quality to exploit should an injury occur.
The winger role at Aston Villa is fairly deep, and has seen plenty of rotation. The early issue for Villa though is that not one player has really grabbed their place in the team when it comes to the two winger roles available.
Jota showed glimpses of brilliance against Everton at home, but was completely locked out of the Crystal Palace match. Trezeguet has been exciting, but there has been no evidence of the ‘end product’ - except for a silly red card that will now open up his role to Anwar El Ghazi.
The fact that Ahmed Elmohamady will be in consideration for a forward role showcases the issues of this position. Villa will tear away from their full-back depth to add something to the wings. That shouldn’t be the case, but it is. If Elmohamady is torn away, and injured, filling in for the right-winger (because they aren’t showing up), Villa will have big, big problems.
El Ghazi is the big talent here, and will have the opportunity to showcase his abilities against West Ham United and more. His role on the left is locked in for a few games, so he’ll need to take the opportunity and run with it. As for the right? Jota will be the man going forward and much like El Ghazi, he’ll need to show his stuff.
Villa’s forward line cannot function without the wingers.
Wesley grabbed his first goal for the Villa against Everton - and more importantly has showcased why goals won’t be what strikers are judged on at Villa this season. Their link-up play, channel work and passing ability to open up opportunities for McGinn, Grealish and the wingers is so much more important than creating opportunities for themselves. Wesley can do all of that and is getting better - game by game - and is the clear starter at Villa.
An injury to Jonathan Kodjia is bad news for depth, and good news for Keinan Davis, who showcases the same abilities as Wesley. Davis can hold a defender off the ball until the end of time - and that is needed in this team. Kodjia will be like a stick of dynamite when he returns to fitness, but he may be needed on the wings. Until then, Keinan will hold down the fort. Villa are fine up-front, and goalscoring worries will be aimed at the wings, more than the sole man up front.