Opinion: Villa’s Need for Malcolm in the Middle, Carney Cash in and Preseason Verdict

The New Season Good, Bad and Ugly

Nice to be back with a Good, Bad and Ugly for Aston Villa’s 22-23 season. Has it really been a year since the Grealish exodus, those open training sessions, and the opening day roasting at Watford?

The Good

It was nice of Aston Villa to actually have a preseason this time. Without Covid disruption, games being cancelled, last-minute fan meltdowns and the rest.

Because of the shambles last year, Villa and Dean Smith started slow and barely made it to average. The debate is whether Steven Gerrard made it past average or not after Christmas.

This time, the current Villa manager, will not have a poor preseason as an excuse. He got his signings in early and has blooded them. Despite this, some questions remain, but we will come to that.

It’s also a good thing, that there’s no prolonged and tedious transfer saga this time, as Carney Chukwuemeka is destined for Chelsea. I can’t be the only one who’s eyes and jaw hit the floor at the reported fee of £15 million Pounds Sterling plus add-ons (or £20m, depending on who you believe).

For a player, who hadn’t been at Villa long, having been poached from Northampton’s academy in 2016, and had little chance to be a crowd favourite, it’s an astronomical fee.

It’s comparable with Jude Bellingham, even if Carney Chukwuemeka has yet to display a fraction of Bellingham’s potential. He’s only started two league games for Villa.

So into the season Villa go with the usual good intentions, nothing can go wrong, can it?

Villan of the Preseason – Cameron Archer

This time last season, nobody had heard of him, he was yet to make his scene-stealing bow against Barrow in the League Cup. Now he’s two injuries or suspensions away from being Villa’s Premier League striker.

With nine subs on the bench and five useable, the unassuming hitman will get game time this season in the big league.

There’s something refreshing about the way he doesn’t celebrate goals in preseason. It’s his job, he makes finishing look easy. Let’s see what the future holds.

The Bad

The bad is simple enough, Steven Gerrard and the whole Aston Villa fanbase can’t pick their best eleven.

If you take out, Martinez, Carlos, Kamara, Cash, Digne and new Captain Mcginn, you are left with five spaces to fill.
If you get two Villa fans at this stage who say they agree on the five, they’re lying.

Many don’t even agree on McGinn being a starter.

Steven Gerrard would ideally like to know his starting line-up, but he can’t be sure at this stage.

This is what preseason was meant to be for. But in the games in Australia, and the Rennes game, nothing seemed to flow.
Players still look disjointed and confused about their general style of play and identity.

Watkins and Ings are misfiring, Mings if dropped, will become a shadow on the bench behind Gerrard in times of trouble, and then there’s the midfield…

The Ugly

The ugly thing this week is the nagging feeling in any realistic Villa fan’s head. Have they all learnt from the last two seasons?

I’ll reserve judgement on this until after the first month. But there’s no denying that some of the issues we’ve seen with Villa since January 2021 are still there.

A lack of idea’s in the final third, no control over a game, too weak in the middle, and a stubborn manager.

The faults all seem to be bubbling under the surface, masked by the decent signings and an unbeaten preseason.

It could be years of ingrained pessimism on my part, or it could be the obvious staring me in the face.

Ironically, Villa are still a midfielder short going into the new season, despite having too many.

How is this the case? Villa aren’t looking for the CDM they needed as Kamara is here, they aren’t looking for creative number 10’s, there’s two of those in Coutinho and Buendia.

Villa need a reliable number eight, their own Malcolm in the Middle – the disciplined unsung hero, or overlooked player who does the simple things.

A player like former Villa captain Kevin Richardson maybe, who supports every part of the team and keeps things ticking over like clockwork.

Sanson, Douglas Luiz and even McGinn haven’t been that man yet. Maybe a refocused and more responsible Captain McGinn is the answer?

The real shame is that this position should be easy to fill. There’s plenty of choice in the Premier League, without specifically wanting any of these players, the likes of McTominey, Billing, Tielemans, Loftus-Cheek, Ndidi, Choudhury and Gallagher, could be the type of profile of player.

Villa fans may laugh at some names on the list, but there’s enough choice out there to get someone in who can do the simple job to bring the balance that Villa’s midfield lack.

If Villa falter this season, the decision not to go after someone of this ilk will probably be the main reason.

Despite this, Villa enter the new season with the best squad they’ve had in years. Perhaps someone will adapt to fill the role or a new star will rise.

In any case, it’s going to be a season worth following.


Follow Phil on Twitter here – @prsgame


  1. I think the mainn problem is the balance of the team and the pattern of play. We now have a squad that we should know our starting 11 but have options to change things for different opposition or from the bench during the match. But you need a base formation. Something we have not had since promotion. Let’s hope Gerrard knows what he is doing. There are no excuses like there were last season.

  2. “Sanson, Douglas Luiz and even McGinn haven’t been that man yet.”

    Yet. Because there was a balance issue.
    Now Kamara is there.

    There are enough men. Enough quality. With different skill sets. Just need the balanced combination for each game. With options from the bench.

    I’d say Luiz, Sanson, Ramsey against weaker teams.
    Kamara, Luiz, McGinn against the top teams.
    Kamara, McGinn, Ramsey against most teams.

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