High ‘Profile’ Deadline Signings and an ‘Ugly’ Week to Come for Aston Villa?

The Good, Bad and Ugly of West Ham and Arsenal.

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By Phil Shaw

I didn’t see myself writing depressing stories after I left the local newspaper, but I should have known that Aston Villa would turn my writing into Les Misérables, and that’s without mentioning Morgan Sanson or Freddie Guilbert!

It’s time for the Good, Bad and Ugly of the week.

The Good

It’s early in the season, this can still be fixed.

The two deadline-day signings of Leander Dendoncker and Jan Bednarek, may not be signings that will please the FIFA/Football Manager or football hipster crowd, but they are experienced and have a bit more of a physical presence.

Dendoncker, especially, has been difficult to play against, whenever Villa took on Wolves, and he may be the unfashionable midfielder Villa have craved for three seasons.

Oh! And the third kit looks nice.

Villan of the Week

Whatever poor soul has to staff the Aston Villa social media accounts, between demoralising defeats, unrest and Transfer Deadline day, it’s a thankless task, but someone has to do it.

The Bad

Bad weeks – ’tis but a flesh wound to older Villa fans.

The worst thing about it is how easy it is to state the obvious and dissect the disasters.

Anyone, without being a tactical genius, can look at the last two games, against Arsenal and West Ham and generate an article that gets everyone nodding their heads.

It’s pointless, so I’m not bothering.

I think it’s better to look at how we landed in this terrible week and try to work out if it’s as bad as it looks and feels.

A good starting point is pre-season, Villa were poor from Christmas, it’s been talked over and written over to death, so I’m not going back there.

The pre-season was meant to be a chance to iron out the issues that have plagued Villa since Christmas 2021 under Dean Smith. Unbalanced midfield, susceptible to counterattacks etc.

Despite Gerrard losing assistant manager Michael Beale to QPR, Villa acted quickly and brought in Neil Critchley to replace him.

Things looked to be moving along fine, until the game against Manchester United.

A last-minute equaliser from Callum Chambers glossed over the fact that a very poor Manchester United team ran through Villa in the first half racing into a two-goal lead.

It was precisely the same problems, repeated. The whole team were casual and seemingly unaware that another team would up their game.

The shock of conceding after 90 seconds against Bournemouth has really derailed the first five games. That moment should have been a reality check, instead, it’s a festering wound that other teams are exploiting.

Villa desperately need a statement win to give opposition teams something to think about. So much of the game is based on momentum and attitude, currently, teams approach Villa, like a training ground exercise.

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The Ugly

When fans think of relegation, it can be a throwaway term. Villa in the 2022 season simply cannot afford to be relegated.

Stadium plans, wage bill, investment, owners, it doesn’t take much to put the worst-case scenarios out there.

At the moment, all roads of negativity lead towards the Manager, but could that change?

Steven Gerrard is rightly under scrutiny after the horrific start to the season. Losing his assistant Michael Beale is no excuse, as Villa weren’t pulling up any trees when he was here. Gerrard simply isn’t doing his job well enough.

People calling the Gerrard appointment a vanity project by CEO Christian Purslow, are only half right.

At the time of Dean Smith’s sacking, getting Gerrard on board was a coup for Aston Villa, probably only achieved because of their prior relationship. Think Coutinho and Gerrard, only at manager level.

Unfortunately, Gerrard looks like he left Scotland too soon. The hardest thing to do is retain a title, especially after a record-breaking season. Look at Klopp’s Liverpool team last time out and Pep’s City team the season before.

If Gerrard had lasted one more season at Rangers and lost the title to Celtic, he would have been a better manager. Players who had performed would have gone through bad patches, fans would have turned, he would have had to deal with adversity. He would have learnt he is fallible.

Instead, he came to Villa unblemished, in a more competitive league facing more varied tactics and coaches and is getting crucified on a weekly basis before skulking off down the tunnel.

In essence, Gerrard has never had to deviate from his plan. He’s never had to admit it’s wrong or adapt. He just can’t deal with it.

Storming off and not fronting up to the travelling away support is petulant and something you’d expect from a spoiled toddler, someone who hasn’t dealt with and overcome failure in football.

He probably has four games now to learn this ugly truth.

The game against Manchester City, couldn’t come at a more scripted time. There is the potential to lose and lose very badly. A heavy defeat could be terminal for Gerrard’s job.

Alternatively, the unlikeliest of victories could turn things around.

We will see how things stand in the next week, the ugliest week, will either have passed or be yet to come for Villa and Steven Gerrard.


Follow Phil on Twitter here – @prsgame