The fact that Aston Villa have been stable in the top half for a number of weeks now and that they have even been in the conversation for European football at all represents remarkably rapid progress on last season’s late scramble to 17th place.
So, how do they eek out an extra 5% in 2021/22 and turn what will hopefully be a top 10 finish this season into a top six one?
Tie down their best players
It seems obvious, but it’s imperative that Villa keep what is an excellent spine of their side together for a number of years.
During the summer, they would do well to tie Douglas Luiz (having already secured Ezri Konsa’s future with the club) down to a new, long-term contract and in Luiz’s case, remove any buy-back option that his former club, Manchester City, may have on him.
They also need to ward off even the strongest advances for their captain and heartbeat, Jack Grealish. The fact that Grealish signed a bumper, long-term contract with the club only last summer should help with this.
Villa’s frankly incredible back five need to stay in place also.
Get a midfield presence
Villa’s counter attacking style that they carried over from project restart has served them well this term, but in order to progress, they will need to control matches better next term.
They’ll need a destroyer in the middle of the park, someone who can consistently break up opposition attacks and as such, allow them to retain possession and dictate the play when counter attack opportunities are not available, so as to stop them from being pinned in their own half as we saw in the second half of the draw with Wolves.
January recruit, Morgan Sanson, looks tidy in possession from the brief glimpses we’ve seen of him since his arrival, so he’ll hopefully help with the controlling of games next term, but they still need an anchor man.
Should Brighton & Hove Albion be relegated, their midfielder, Yves Bissouma, would fit the bill.
Upgrade the wingers
Villa have predominantly used a 4–3–3 this term, which is a system that relies on having effective wingers. Unfortunately, the final ball from both Trezeguet and Anwar El Ghazi is too often found wanting and is a big reason why they look so toothless in an attacking sense when Jack Grealish is out of the side. So further pace and creativity from out wide would mean that Villa aren’t so reliant on their talisman.
Bertrand Traore has been decent this term on the right flank, but he needs competition. Buying a new winger for either flank would provide an extra threat for opposition defenses to worry about on the opposite wing to Grealish and it would also allow him to play centrally if required; driving Villa up the pitch from that position in which would help with the controlling of games issue, as mentioned earlier.
Sign some help/competition for Ollie Watkins
Villa’s record signing has had an excellent debut season in the Premier League with the former Brentford man’s constant stretching of defenses a big reason why they are where they are. He has, however, looked increasingly isolated in recent weeks, so signing someone who can play off of him or as an alternative to him if he needs a rest or gets injured would serve Villa well. The return of Wesley next term will hopefully ease some of the burden, but he struggled when fit at times in 2019/20 — they will need a second source of energy and goals from the striker position.
Rotate the personnel/formation more
Villa have made the fewest changes to personnel out of all the teams in the Premier League this season. Making the necessary additions in the off season will allow Dean Smith to rotate more next season without seeing the sizable drop off in quality that we currently do when the first 11 is stretched. Additional quality will also allow Smith to change system more freely, so as to make Villa less predictable.