What a difference a month makes for Aston Villa

August 12, 2018 by · Leave a Comment
Filed under: Aston Villa 

Aston Villa are currently third in the Championship table with a 100% record from their first two matches and supporters may be dreaming of promotion this season.

It’s quite the turnaround, as a month ago Villa were facing a winding up order and threatened to go out of business before Nassef Sawiris and Wes Edens came in to save the club.

Now, the Midlands outfit have enjoyed their best start to a season this century and things are looking up. What a difference a month makes.

Previous uncertainty over the future of Xia, Bruce and Grealish

After Aston Villa missed a tax payment, Tony Xia’s future at the club was in doubt. Many felt he could sell the club and depart, but the Chinese Businessman said himself in a club statement that he wanted an investor to make up the shortfall.

Xia had no intention of leaving, as he clearly felt he could find financial backing, but it was a nervy period for supporters before Sawiris and Edens were announced. The Midlands outfit were barely surviving from month to month, racking up a lot of debt in the process and Xia’s statement revealed the sales of key players could chip away at the deficit – leading to Jack Grealish speculation.

After failing to achieve promotion in his two seasons as Villa manager, Steve Bruce may have lost his job had it not have been for the club’s spiralling finances. Sacking the experienced boss would mean compensation, something the club had little money for. Bruce was in a strong position and was backed by the club’s new owners, so he’ll remain in charge for at least another season. Could it be third-time lucky?

Promotion the aim again for Villa

After such a good start, it’s hard to temper expectations. Villa are third in the Championship table with six points from their first two games after beating Hull City 3-1 and Wigan Athletic 3-2. There’s still plenty of the season remaining, but they’ve confounded their critics to start well amid all the previous uncertainty.

The Midlands outfit reached the playoffs final last season, losing to Fulham at Wembley. They were fourth that campaign, seven points adrift of an automatic promotion spot. With Bruce still in charge and the squad having kept all but one of its important stars – John Terry could retire after leaving Villa – their squad is more than capable of improving upon 2017/18.

Time will tell if they can deliver, however.

Villa implementing Wolves’ recruitment strategy for promotion push this season

July 30, 2018 by · Leave a Comment
Filed under: Aston Villa, Transfer News 

According to Alan Nixon of The Sun, Aston Villa manager Steve Bruce will have little say on the signings made this summer, with new owners Nassef Sawiris and Wes Edens implementing a recruitment strategy that will see an agent work closely with the club to help facilitate the move of talented young players on a loan-to-buy policy.

The Midlands outfit have certainly taken inspiration from rivals Wolverhampton Wanderers who had agent Jorge Mendes help broker deals for a number of talented Portuguese players last season. Villa may call upon Mendes to identify and sign promising individuals that won’t break the bank. Bruce has the backing from the owners, but not when it comes to recruitment.

Previously Technical Director Steve Round was the man in charge of signing players and sell existing individuals, but he left the club this summer after a winding up order nearly came the way of the Midlands outfit. Villa nearly fell foul of Financial Fair Play after a high-spending 2016/17, resulting in them making loan deals and free transfer acquisitions the following campaign.

This summer might be more of the same, as the owners are looking for loan deals that could turn permanent at the end of the season. Promotion was the objective in 2017/18, despite the massive cuts in spending, but 2018/19 might be a different story. Jack Grealish has an uncertain future, and his exit could lead to a domino effect within the first-team squad.

There are a number of players who could follow Grealish through the exit door which would greatly hamper the Villans attempts to return to the Premier League at the third time of asking. Bruce may have left his position if he wasn’t to be given such a big compensation package for a sacking, but he may only have one more season to prove his worth before the owners make a decision.

He’s no longer having a say on recruitment, which suggests the club are paying less importance to the head coach and more on the backroom staff. The most expendable person in such a team is the manager.  If the focus will switch onto an agent or third party bringing in players, there could be a power struggle. Nixon says Bruce is still trying to push through deals for players he previously identified, but he won’t have the final decision. Such a system threatens to undermine the coach in charge and could mean an exit is coming sooner rather than later.

While good news that Villa have found some investment, the politics in the boardroom threaten to spoil any chances of a successful campaign.

Steve Bruce to stay on as Aston Villa manager

July 26, 2018 by · Leave a Comment
Filed under: Aston Villa, Villa Manager 

Aston Villa released a statement confirming Steve Bruce would be staying on as manager, after rumours the Villans were considering replacing him with Belgium assistant manager Thierry Henry. Bruce held talks with majority owners Nassef Sawiris and Wes Edens and received their support for the new season.

Reaction has been mixed from supporters, as some believe a change in coach was necessary after last season’s failure while others suggest backing Bruce was the sensible decision. After Villa’s investment from Dr Tony Xia ran out this summer, the Midlands club haven’t managed to make a signing, so having the manager stay in charge who knows the players makes sense.

Backing Bruce over appointing Henry is wise

Bruce has come under a lot of criticism after failing to lead Villa to promotion last season. Despite getting the side to the Championship playoff final, questions have been asked why they missed out on a place in the automatic promotion spots given how strong their squad was.

Villa spent more than £70m in 2016/17 and had to curb their spending in 2017/18 to comply with Financial Fair Play regulations. Despite this, they came within 90 minutes of returning to the Premier League, but many people want Bruce’s head after he failed.

However, why would Thierry Henry be a better fit? The Belgium assistant is a relative novice in terms of coaching who has no experience of the Football League. Bruce has won promotion to the Premier League four times with two different clubs. He’s failed to deliver his remit but could have more success with another shot at it and would fare better than Henry, no?

Playing style needs improvement

With Sawiris and Edens backing Bruce, the Villa manager now needs to justify the decision. Fans have taken aim at the 57-year-old for the club’s poor playing style in the last 12 months, with Villa opting for a direct style that isn’t easy on the eye – no Championship side made more crosses last season.

Playing too forward too quickly and bypassing the midfield drew the ire of many fans. Despite having players such as Jack Grealish, Henri Lansbury, Robert Snodgrass and Conor Hourihane last season, Villa’s build-up play was predictable and direct.

An experienced manager like Bruce has to tidy up their play if they want to stand a chance of being promoted. He’s likely to be in charge for another year but could lose his job if 2018/19 turns out to be a failed campaign.

Aston Villa in meltdown and face an uncertain future

June 5, 2018 by · Leave a Comment
Filed under: Aston Villa 

Aston Villa owner Dr Tony Xia.

Aston Villa have had an eventful few weeks, losing in the Championship playoff final to Fulham, dealing with rumours that chairman Tony Xai was looking to cut his losses and run, while having a manager unaware of his future at the club.

Things have spiralled even further as the Villans’ have recently suspended their chief executive over a missed tax payment. The Midlands outfit have been served with a winding up order by Her Majesty’s Revenue and Customs and have one week to pay.

Villa are in meltdown.

CEO suspended

Aston Villa released a statement on Tuesday that revealed chief executive Keith Wyness had been suspended as a result of the winding up order from HMRC. Villa reportedly missed the tax payment on Friday and face a winding up order if the money isn’t paid within seven days.

“Aston Villa Football Club can confirm that Chief Executive, Keith Wyness, has been suspended by the club with immediate effect. Owner and Chairman, Dr Tony Xia will assume the role until further notice,” the statement read.

Wyness was appointed CEO in 2016, not long after Xia completed his takeover of Villa. He’s worked with Aberdeen and Everton in the past, but it’s unknown if he’ll return to Villa or be removed from his position.

Manager future unknown

Villa manager Steve Bruce is currently in the dark about his future at the club. The Midlands outfit are resigned to a third consecutive season in the Championship and Xia hasn’t made any guarantee that he’ll be taking charge of the club for 2018/19.

The 57-year-old was appointed Villa manager in October 2016 and led the club to 13th in the Championship (2016/17) and fourth the following season. Villa lost to Fulham in the playoff final and now Bruce doesn’t know where he stands.

Bruce won promotion to the Premier League four times as a manager, but he may not make it a fifth with Villa. The club are set to overhaul the squad to ensure they meet with Financial Fair Play regulations, meaning they could struggle in the Championship next season. If so many players are forced to depart, Bruce may feel promotion is impossible which could see him step down.

Club up for sale amid financial ruin?

Xia already admitted big changes were needed at Villa to meet with FFP this summer, saying: “We are all aware that we will face severe FFP challenges next season. I am an Aston Villa fan. But I am also a businessman. We have been heavily investing for the past two seasons. However, the (playoff final) loss means that we need to change a lot of things”.

Such issues could see Xia putting the club up for sale and cutting his losses, as a consortium headed by ex-football agent Matt Southall is reportedly keen to purchase Villa. If Xia gets back the £60m he paid to Randy Lerner for the Midlands club in 2016, he may sell up. Villa need to cut their costs drastically and won’t be promotion contenders if abiding by FFP regulations sees them losing all their best players.

Aston Villa v Fulham preview | Bruce chasing a fifth promotion to the Premier League

May 22, 2018 by · Leave a Comment
Filed under: Aston Villa, Match Previews 

Aston Villa travel to Wembley to face Fulham in the Championship playoff final on Saturday, and Steve Bruce’s men go in as underdogs given the impressive form of the Cottagers in the second half of the season.

Villa booked their place in the final after beating Middlesbrough 1-0 on aggregate in the semis. Fulham won 2-1 over the two legs against Derby County.

There could be £160m riding on the outcome of Saturday’s clash at Wembley, but can Villa get their hands on it?

Freescoring Fulham have been near-invincible in 2018

Slavisa Jokanovic’s Fulham side finished third in the Championship with 88 points from 46 games. Only Wolverhampton Wanderers scored more goals and lost fewer games than the Londoners this season, and Fulham ended up finishing just two points off the automatic promotion spots.

Their form in 2018 was outstanding, losing just one league game this year right at the end of the season when their fate was already sealed. At the turn of the year, Fulham were 12th in the table, seven points adrift of a playoff place, but picked up 16 wins and four draws from the 21 games that followed to finish on the cusp of the top-two.

If the season started on January 1, 2018, Fulham would be top of the table with 52 points from 21 games, nine points clear of second-placed Cardiff City and 11 ahead of Wolves. The Cottagers hit a couple of hurdles this month, losing their final league game of the season and the first leg of their playoff semi-final clash, but they responded well in the reverse fixture and deserve to be in the final.

Villa aren’t to be underestimated, however.

Villa’s mean defence can shut out Fulham

Steve Bruce’s Aston Villa side finished fourth in the table with 83 points, boasting the third-best defensive record in the division. Their form in the last six games cost them a top-two place as they dropped eight points in the run-in. Nevertheless, they have a manager who has more experience of the Championship playoffs than most and boasts an outstanding promotion record.

Bruce has earned promotion to the Premier League four times in his managerial career – Birmingham City (2002 and 2006/17), Hull City (2012/13 and 2016) – two of which came from winning the playoffs. He’s under a lot of pressure to deliver given the resources Villa had over the majority of their opponents this season and will be grateful for the experienced heads in the squad as they’ll be able to manage the final.

Robert Snodgrass, Mile Jedinak, John Terry, Alan Hutton, Ahmed Elmohamady and Glenn Whelan have a lot of Premier League experience between them and will lead by example on the big occasion, on and off the pitch. Villa’s greatest strength in their defence, while Fulham’s is their attack.

Something has to give on Saturday, but nerves may settle the final.

Summary

Fulham are favourites, but Aston Villa had more pressure to deliver promotion this season after failing in 2016/17. The Midlands outfit have a manager who has done it four times in his career and knows how to approach a playoff final, but Fulham have beaten Villa in their last four meetings in London.

It could be too close to call as a result.