Five Reasons to be Cheerful as Villans
It has been a busy summer so far for Villa with new additions at both playing and executive level. As the club positions itself for the next phase of the NSWE era; this promises to be an exciting couple of months. While there is no club football to enjoy for a number of weeks, here are Five Reasons to be Cheerful:
A New Hope
The summer footballing lull was broken this week with the publication of next season’s fixtures. The fixture release provides a shining beacon of light for fans, who are already missing club football. Villa requested an away fixture for the first game of the season and it was delivered in the form of a challenging trip to the Geordie oil fields. The fixture should provide an excellent contest between two of the sides backed to strengthen their squads considerably to cope with the additional strain of European football.
The decision to start with an away game further extends Villa’s unbeaten home record, which commenced on February 19th. It will be put to the test once again six months later on August 19th when they face relegation survivors Everton at Villa Park. Along the way, Villa has won their last seven consecutive home fixtures, defeating teams like Newcastle, Tottenham, and Brighton. Assuming Everton will capitulate at Villa Park, as has become the trend, then how long can this winning run continue?
Villa’s home fixtures for the upcoming season offer an opportunity to sustain this momentum. After Everton, Villa will host Palace, Brighton, West Ham, Luton, and Fulham before facing the perennial serial winners (and cheaters) Manchester City on home turf. The fixture list has sparked renewed excitement for Emery’s first full season in charge.
Among the three relegated teams, Leicester undoubtedly possessed the most valuable assets that Premier League clubs were eager to acquire. With the anticipated departures of Barnes, Maddison, Castagne, Souttar, Ndidi, and Tielemans, Leicester, now relegated, is set for significant changes during the summer as they prepare for Championship football under new manager Enzo Maresca. Villa wasted no time in securing the services of Tielemans, signing him on a free transfer.
Much like the free transfer acquisition of Kamara, this appears to be a shrewd signing that adds further competition to an already functioning midfield. Only 18 months ago, Tielemans was being chased by Champions League sides, with transfer fees of £50m+ being discussed. While his form hasn’t, perhaps, been at the same elite level, the same can be said for the majority of that Leicester team. Villa fans know all too well how quickly Unai Emery can recover a player’s form, so this is a transfer with plenty of promise.
With Monchi announced, the club’s structure looks set and re-balanced. The change from Purslow to a combination of Heck, Monchi and Lange, separates the roles that the previous CEO had but the efficacy of this setup remains to be seen. Neither Heck nor Monchi have any experience working within the Premier League, which may or may not prove to be an issue. While there is a clear risk in switching personnel, especially given the relative success that the club has experienced under Purslow, it is pleasing to see how efficiently Villa have acted in recent months to bring in their high-profile executive targets.
Monchi brings with him an excellent track record in Sevilla, especially during his time working there with Unai Emery. In recent years the Monchi success story has cooled somewhat, but it will be interesting to see what he can deliver in England.
The list of players linked with a summer move to Villa Park has reached an overwhelming level. Week after week, numerous names are tossed into the mix, generating both excitement and later frustration among the fan base. Putting aside the gibberish, the transfer window can indeed be an exhilarating time if one has the patience to await credible or, better yet, official announcements.
With Tielemans already secured, it is expected that several more signings will be brought in to compete for a place in the starting XI, while also seeing some players depart from the club. Now that a central midfielder has been signed, it’s reasonable to assume that a backup goalkeeper is on the agenda, especially after Olsen’s somewhat inconsistent performances last season. Additionally, Ashley Young’s departure leaves a right-back spot open for a new signing too. Whether or not that will be an expensive high profile signing, or another highly effective under-the-radar addition like Alex Moreno, remains to be seen. Lastly, an attacking player is likely to be purchased to provide competition for Leon Bailey in the wide/forward role and to cover or compete with Ollie Watkins, and it wouldn’t be surprising if this transfer breaks the current transfer record.
Will that be the core of the business or will there be other more opportunistic squad additions?
While the debate on whether Chelsea and Spurs have an advantage next season due to their lack of European football rages on; West Ham’s Conference League final win certainly gave Villa fans an insight into the potential elation to be had next season. The trophy may well be a third tier European competition, but for a club like West Ham that hasn’t won a trophy in decades it feels like a huge success.
Watching football is about entertainment and emotion, and if Villa can replicate West Ham’s run to the final next year, then I am certain that no fan will be questioning the tournament’s importance. There is no doubt that finishing 8th would have provided Emery’s men with an easier run at the league next year, however securing European football in his first six months is a welcome tangible achievement.
Finally, winning the Conference League would provide Villa with a relatively convenient pass into the Europa League competition that otherwise requires finishing in the top six of a very competitive Premier League.