Spotlight 2020 / 2021: Looking Ahead To Aston Villa’s Next Campaign

The 2019/2020 Premier League season was the longest season in history, starting in early August 2019 and ending in late July 2020 due to Covid-19.

Liverpool took the league title in what turned out to be a one horse race, securing a first Premier League trophy and domestic title in thirty years.

However, the battle for the Champions League berths and top-flight survival went down to the wire with Manchester United and Chelsea taking third and fourth spots, securing their places in Europe’s elite club competition.

The relegation battle between Bournemouth, Watford and Aston Villa was in the hands of the latter with Dean Smith’s side needing a point to survive on the final day.

Bournemouth made it tight courtesy of a 3-1 win against an Everton side that hadn’t previously lost at Goodison under Carlo Ancelotti. The Cherries needed both Villa and The Hornets, who bizarrely opted to sack Nigel Pearson, to falter.

Watford were proved unlucky with a 3-2 loss to Arsenal in a game where they had better quality chances than The Gunners overall. Villa did a job against West Ham and as a result were the club celebrating after full time in North London.

Jack Grealish Aston Villa

As a consequence of surviving to face a second season in the Premier League, Dean Smith and everybody behind the scenes knew that a productive summer of player recruitment was going to be required in order to avoid yet another relegation scrap in the looming season ahead.  

SUCCESS OR BE SACKED

It didn’t take long for Wes Edens, Nassef Swiaris and Christian Purslow to make a big decision with Jesus Garcia Pitarch (A.K.A. Suso) being relieved from his Sporting Director post just a day after safety was secured.

Jesus Garcia Pitarch Aston Villa
Jesus Garcia Pitarch: Former Villa Sporting Director

Pitarch had been criticised by fans as many felt as if the quality of signings were simply not good enough, especially considering the amount of money that had been spent over the summer (2019) and January (2020) transfer windows (approximately £140 million).

It took 2 days for a replacement to be announced as Johan Lange was brought in from FC Copenhagen, where he had been working for 6 years previously. Lange arrives with experience of working with limited funds in the Danish capital and found players for cheap prices who were eventually sold on for good profits.

These players included Robin Olsen, Robert Skov and Denis Vavro who were all transferred for a total positive margin of £23.76 million. The appointment will from Villa’s perspective hopefully turn out well, as Lange will be expected to do a similar job but with a much larger budget (not to mention profile) involved.

Johan Lange Aston Villa Sporting Director
Johan Lange

The former Wolves Assistant boss can now go and find promising players for in excess of £10 million without the need to necessarily sell them on in the future if they are successful.

Furthermore, Rob Mackenzie has joined as a Head of Recruitment having been at Leicester and Tottenham. In the past Mackenzie was involved in signing players such as Anthony Knockeart, Riyad Mahrez and Heung-Min Son. An appointment of this calibre can only help to improve the quality of players that will be brought in due to the connections that both he and Lange have across the footballing world. 

PREMIER LEAGUE QUALITY

The key to this summer is to bring in between 4 and 6 good quality players, most of which will ideally possess Premier League experience. The downfall of the squad last season was in part down to a large number of new players attempting to find they’re feet at the same time.

Danny Drinkwater
Loan Flop: Danny Drinkwater

Of the signings, only Tom Heaton had the requisite experience having already made 96 appearances in the Premier League for Burnley before joining Villa.

When Heaton got injured on New Year’s Day (along with Wesley), the squad took a visible hit with the main experience in the side being taken away.

Just four games were won after the England international’s season ending layoff, compared to six prior. This coincided with the injury of Wesley which left no recognised striker available to Dean Smith beyond Keinan Davis until the signing of Mbwana Samatta.

Despite this being a factor, I think that Tom Heaton alongside Grealish, Mings and McGinn were the most important players in the squad. It represented the spine of Villa’s formation. The absence of both Heaton and McGinnn owing to long term injury had a huge effect on the position that Villa ultimately found themselves finishing in the table.

TRANSFER TARGETS

Odsonne Edouard Aston Villa

Linked players so far have been Ollie Watkins, Said Benrahma, Max Aarons and James McCarthy (amongst a raft of other transfer rumour).

Although I would personally be very happy with such signings, it worries me that we haven’t been linked to any ‘veterans’ of the league. I feel that a striker or a centre back with plenty of experience is needed as they will understand what is needed in order to see out games at this level.

An example includes a player that we opted not to sign last season such as Gary Cahill. Cahill would have been ideal, especially on a free transfer, as the former Chelsea Premier League winner demonstrating, enjoying a strong first season at Crystal Palace.

Gary Cahill Aston Villa Chelsea transfer loan rumour
Gary Cahill: Discarded by Martin O’Neill

Might acquiring Cahill have improved our survival chances as he and John Terry could pass on their experience to younger players like Ezri Konsa and Kortney Hause who needed to develop in order to become Premier League quality players? Perhaps it would have lifted some of the pressure from Tyrone Mings too?

I genuinely think with the introduction of some pace into the side, a goalscorer and some much needed experience could serve to boost the whole squad.

What is second season “success”?

My view is that success in the upcoming Premier League season would be a mid-table finish.

Anything above that will be a great season in my eyes having finished 17th the year before.

If we are sucked into another relegation battle, then we have failed and as a result there will reasonably be managerial jobs on the line.

The Premier League, on paper, next season looks as strong as it has been in a long time with Leeds, West Brom and Fulham being promoted.

All three of those sides have many good qualities and high class players such as Kalvin Phillips, Matheus Pereira and Alexander Mitrovic who will no doubt be joined by new recruits to improve their respective squads. The gulf between the Championship and the Premier League only ever seems to widen, after-all. 

Villa’s season will ultimately come down to who leaves and the quality of players that come in.

The current squad is a year older and now have a seasons worth of Premier League experience, this in itself can only be seen as a benefit. Perhaps the experience and unity of staying in the division may even galvanise those that remain?

Dean Smith and Co will also have learned much alongside the squad which again will hopefully reap have positive effects. A mid table finish is a realistic goal and anything less than that could potentially be viewed as a failure, especially if we spend large amounts of money in the summer and again in January.

I look forward to the upcoming season and feel that we will do better despite how nerve racking the previous campaign was and how difficult Villa always seem to make it for themselves.

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