As Villa fell to another meek and pedestrian defeat, this time to Wolves (0-1), the realisation that we are in serious trouble finally dawned for many.
This has been a season where glaring shortcomings have been tolerated and the substandard gradually become accepted as the norm.
Throughout the early part of this season we were optimistic, blinkered by our ‘competitive’ edge.
In truth, we were already becoming the nearly men. John McGinn was running around a great deal, but Villa weren’t winning football matches. Rarely as a collective did we look capable.
An opening day defeat to Spurs (3-1), a game in which we lead, seemed to set the tone of this ‘competitive’ narrative’. The records will show that as soon as Spurs stepped up a gear, they controlled and won the game with ease. We did at least show spirit and fight.
What fight and competitiveness we did possess soon faded, as our signings were found out (along with our tactics).
An error strewn home defeat to Bournemouth (1-2). A VAR influenced away loss at Palace (0-1) now feels like grasping at straws. Our failure to beat a ten man West Ham at Villa Park (0-0). Capitulating to ten man Arsenal (3-2) having lead by two; only to concede three.
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In amongst this we have shifted an eye watering amount of goals. Cumulatively, Manchester City have put nine past us. Leicester, eight.
There have also been false flags.
A welcome victory against Everton (2-0) against a back-drop of a raucous Villa Park detracted from the fact our opposition were in desperate shape, eventually sacking Marco Silva. Wesley scored. Jota delivered a delightful assist. All appeared promising.
Wins over Brighton (2-1) and Norwich (5-1) masked our inability to win consistently or at all against sides who would achieve mid-table safety. This was the safety we craved. We were brushed aside by Southampton (3-1 & 2-0), Sheffield United (2-0), Watford (3-0). Disconcertingly we lost twice to relegation rivals Bournemouth (2-1 & 2-1). Draws against Newcastle, Brighton and Burnley aren’t enough.
Any dissection of who was to blame, either in terms of recruitment or how the playing squad has been used will come at the end of the season. A caveat, however, should not be simply that surviving by the skin of our teeth be regarded as success. We will have done that despite a squad that looks to be woefully short in all areas.
It would be to delude ourselves to suggest that those brought in have performed as required.
Whilst we were faced with the need to over-haul our squad following promotion, this was surely an opportunity, rather than a hindrance? Indeed, our spending of in excess of £140m was justified by club CEO Christian Purslow. This spend was owing to an “obligation to be competitive“. Only Manchester United exceeded us in regards to net expenditure. However, this out-lay, whilst far from insignificant, was spread thin.
For Villa, this vast swathe of cash has not translated into even standing still in terms of quality or results.
Trezeguet, a wide-man, lacks the pace to beat a Premier League level full-back. Jota, creative, but another bereft of pace, was signed knowing he had two hernias. Nakamba cost an eye-watering £11m but is routinely dribbled past, appearing barely equipped to handle life in a top flight fixture. Have we seen £22m pounds of quality in Wesley? Luiz, who has arguably improved the most of any since joining, has been guilty of costly mistakes on more than one occasion whilst adapting to the league.
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The jury is also out on whether signing reserves from other clubs makes sense. Targett and Hause are examples not already mentioned; triers definitely, but are they good enough? El Ghazi showed glimmers of promise in The Championship, but looks out of his depth for having stepping up a division. The former Lille and Ajax midfielder also cuts an often distinterested figure.
It then lurches from the debateable to the outright nonsensical.
Borja Baston was a desperate January acquisition for a football club needing to strengthen and provide itself a credible chance of survival. Baston has already been released by Villa.
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Danny Drinkwater, arriving with a career hampered by off-field struggles, rarely made the Burnley squad. Watching the former Premier League winner and England international being fed to the lions in a 6-1 mauling by Manchester City, live on TV, on his debut, epitomises our ineptitude.
Villa have six fixtures to save the Premier League status we were so desperate to secure last season. Life in The Championship provides a different excitement, but it is not the place for a club of Villa’s heritage, stature and pedigree to see out its days.
Whether we survive or not, the post-mortem must ensure we rectify the errors in our recruitment and more importantly, see that we stop repeating them.
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