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Football News: Aston Villa Season Review

Aston Villa Season Review
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Aston Villa Season Review

The second city's most successful club had dropped out of the top flight for the first time since 1987, as then-owner Randy Lerner's belt-tightening while he looked for a sale took effect. The constant money-saving that had been employed since Lerner's divorce had gradually seen the club move closer and closer to relegation, until the inevitable happened in the 2015-16 season. However there was more to look forward to than a local derby with Birmingham City, despite the relegation to the Championship.

From the depths of despair came the signs of a bright future, as Villa were bought out by the Recon Group Ltd., and Chinese businessman Tony Xia, the chair of Recon, took charge in June. With a £76m takeover in the bag, Roberto Di Matteo was appointed as the new manager, and there was an influx of exciting, new players to replace the Premier League flops.

However the initial enthusiasm soon waned as little changed, with Di Matteo failing to do anything but drag the club down towards League One, lasting just 12 games before being sacked and promptly replaced by Steve Bruce. Bruce steadied the ship but was unable to lift the club into a battle for promotion, with a midtable mediocrity that was probably the minimum expected before the season began. Now Bruce will set to work on the job he was brought in to do, winning promotion, as he has done a number of times in the past.


Roberto Di Matteo

The Italian has experience of winning promotion with a Midlands side that had just been relegated, having done so while in charge of West Bromwich Albion. Villa turned to him to do that once more, bringing in his former Chelsea team-mate Steve Clarke to assist him. However, despite a decent budget to work with, results were poor. Di Matteo's dull style of defensive football saw his team struggle, picking up just one win in 11 Championship matches, which led to his dismissal following a 2-0 defeat at the hands of Preston North End. He left Villa in 19th place and sliding down the table.

Marks out of 10: -4


Steve Bruce

Bruce never quite had the impact he was meant to have, instead of taking Villa back to the Premier League, he was only able to steady the ship, keep it away from relegation trouble, but barely threatening to challenge for even the play offs. Considering the mess he inherited, a club in the doldrums after relegation and being run into the ground by a previous regime, the turmoil of the takeover, issues with players and the poor form, Bruce can hardly be judged as anything other than a success to keep the team in the midtable.

There are some black marks against him though, his handling of Ross McCormack in particular left a lot to be desired, though understandable at the time, in the light of future revelations it shows an attitude that is maybe out of touch with modern thinking. Bruce will need a better season next season, or there will be more questions raised about him.

Marks out of 10: 5


Adama Traore

Just a cameo substitute appearance for the Spanish speedster, before the sprinter in football boots headed off late in the summer transfer window to Premier League side Middlesbrough. It was the only time Traore even made it into the squad before moving on.

Marks out of 10: -6.5


Rudy Gestede

Started the season as first choice, managing to pick up a couple of goals in the second Championship game at home to Rotherham United, but soon found himself out of the team. His lack of movement, ability on the ball, and any sign of being anything other than a big lump that needs to be hit at the right angle so the ball glances off into the net hampered him before he was surprisingly bought by Boro in the January window. Nothing about that move made any sense.

Gestede looked a forward completely out of his depth in the Championship at Villa in the first half of the season, as he had done in the Premier League. Bruce must have thought all his lucky stars had aligned at once when Boro came in for him! The only skill I have ever seen him display is to win most headers but head it in a completely different direction from the one he was aiming for.

Marks out of 10: -7


Jordan Ayew

Ayew is one of those players that constantly flatters to deceive, as he shows flashes of genius, but that is all he ever shows. He always seems to be working hard, but it never seems to be achieving anything at all. You only have to look at his goal return from his 21 games in the Championship, before making a January move to Swansea City, just 2 goals, to get an idea of how little actual end product he provided.

Marks out of 10: 2


Ashley Westwood

The much-maligned Westwood was another player to return to the Premier League via a January transfer. Rightly or wrongly, depending on your point of view, Westwood was the subject of large amounts of criticism by Villa fans, who never seemed to warm to the way he played the game. Without a goal or assist to his name in 23 Championship matches for them, it is easy to see why Westwood became a target, even if it was unfair.

Certainly Burnley manager Sean Dyche saw something in a player most Villa fans would dimiss as merely wanting to pass the ball sideways. Even now, with hindsight, it is difficult to judge the midfielder and criticise him with justification or defend him with confidence. Was he a victim of playing for a team that presented him with little forward movement to pick out with a pass? There is certainly a degree of that to excuse Westwood's lack of creation.

Marks out of 10: 3.5


Pierluigi Gollini

The young Italian keeper joined from Hellas Verona in the summer window, as Di Matteo looked to replace Brad Guzan. Gollini had a mixed time, though he only conceded 17 goals in his 20 games, including 6 clean sheets, he never really convinced. Bruce certainly was not convinced, replacing him with Johnstone before sending him to Atalanta in the January transfer window on a loan to buy deal.

Marks out of 10: 4


Aaron Tshibola

There were concerns regarding his attitude before the 22 year old signed from Reading, concerns which seem to be have been borne out with him being sent out on loan in the January transfer window to Nottingham Forest, just six months after signing. It was not the best season for him, struggling to get into the side, not offering the quality expected on the pitch and having a few issues off the pitch.

Marks out of 10: -2


Aly Cissokho

Cissokho is one of that was always known as a 'trier' when I was a kid. There was always a 'trier' on the team, the kid who ran around giving his all but struggled to kick the ball in the direction he wanted. Cissokho was Villa's trier in the Premier League, even in the Championship his lack of quality was clear and he was soon dropped. Olympiacos took him on loan in January.

Marks out of 10: 1


Sam Johnstone

Johnstone arrived on loan from Manchester United in the January transfer window, as Bruce looked to get an improvement in goal. On the face of it, the replacement for Gollini was not as successful, conceding 7 more goals, despite only playing one more match. Just looking at those bare stats does not tell the full story, though Johnstone still struggled with similar errors of inexperience, he was a much more assured player than the one he replaced.

Marks out of 10: 5


Mark Bunn

If there is one man who thought relegation was good for his career, it would have been Mark Bunn before this season started. With Guzan leaving and the only incoming keeper an unknown young Italian, Bunn must have thought he was finally going to make the number one shirt his own on a regular basis. It was not to be though, Bunn struggled badly to hold down a place and clearly is seen as no more than a back up.

Marks out of 10: 1


James Chester

Chester was brought in from Midlands rivals West Bromwich Albion to be the key rebuilding piece, the defensive lynchpin for Di Matteo to build around. He was certainly that, an ever-present following his arrival and captain under Bruce for almost every match. While he has always been a promising player, at one time in the Man Utd academy Chester was earmarked as a potential first team player there, but he has never quite developed to achieve his full potential.

Chester is what I have heard referred to as an 'almost' player. He is almost good enough in every aspect, but not quite, to make a top class defender. Almost. At Championship level that makes him one of the better defenders around.

Marks out of 10: 6.5


Micah Richards

When Richards arrived from Manchester City on a free, there were a lot of fans thinking it was a coup, that they were getting the freshfaced young kid who burst onto the scene with the Citizens and England. Sadly today's Richards is a lazy, overweight, underwhelming disgrace of a player that is only still at the club because no one else wants him. Years of living the high life, while being last into training and first out at Citeh, have ruined him. His only real use to the club is as a warning to the youngsters, a how not to live your life if you want to make the most of your career warning.

Marks out of 10: -10


Tommy Elphick

Officially Elphick is the club captain following his arrival from Premier League club Bournemouth in the summer, though he saw that role taken from him by Chester as the season went on and he lost his place. The season was not one he will look back on fondly, as it was a struggle for him once the manager who brought him in, Di Matteo, was sacked.

Marks out of 10: 3


Nathan Baker

The Villa centre back is an academy graduate who has managed to make a place for himself in the team. Baker may be a little on the slow side, but he is big, strong and always willing to put his body on the line for the team. Every team needs a player like that.

Marks out of 10: 6.5


Jordan Amavi

Villa rejected a number of bids for the French left back in the summer, following their relegation from the Prem. However Amavi did not fully repay the club for their faith in him, as he failed to hold down a place on a permanent basis, with questions asked of his dedication to the team. The worries over his ability to defend saw him turn out at left midfield fairly regularly, rather than his usual left back position.

Marks out of 10: 2.5


Neil Taylor

The Welsh full back was brought in late during the January transfer window as Bruce was so unimpressed with Amavi. He was part of the deal that took Jordan Ayew to Swansea. Once he got back to full fitness, he quickly settled in to the team as the first choice left back.

Marks out of 10: 4.5


Leandro Bacuna

The Dutchman has become a utility player for Villa, more than just a right back or right mid, he covers left mid and the central midfield too. That makes him extremely valuable to the team, as he gives the manager options tactically. Options that can be moved around during a match as well, with his flexibility a key asset. However, Bacuna does have a tendency to get himself suspended, missing 7 games because of suspension this season alone.

Marks out of 10: 6


Ritchie De Laet

Started the season as first choice right back, following his summer arrival from Leicester City, but only managed to start three Championship matches, before a knee injury ended his season early.

Marks out of 10: 2


James Bree

A young right back who arrived from Barnsley in the January window, as Steve Bruce attempted to build a squad to achieve promotion. The 19 year old struggled to establish himself following the move and mostly kept the bench warm.

Marks out of 10: 3


Alan Hutton

Never the most gifted of players, in fact Hutton is often viewed as a joke by Scotland fans (with a huge host of memes in his 'honour' attesting to that), but Hutton can never be accused of lacking effort. He has excellent pace and will charge forward at every opportunity, though it tends to be mainly to little effect as he struggles badly with crossing, passing and shooting. Wayward is probably the best description of his efforts in those areas.

Defensively he is suspect, not just because of his forays forward leaving a gap, but because Hutton, for all his effort, is technically poor and, even when he does get in position to make an interception or tackle, his attempts are often wild and fail to clear the ball safely. What he does give is heart, as he always keeps going and never lets his head drop, that is badly needed in a team after relegation, or it is easy for the team to just keep sliding down the divisions.

Marks out of 10: 4.5


Mile Jedinak

The Australian midfielder had gradually been sidelined at Crystal Palace, where it was felt he was just not up to the pace and lacked the quality for the Premier League, so he jumped at the chance of a move to Villa. Jedinak's first season with the Villans was mixed, with fans veering between loving him for his desire and hating him for being too slow, depending on the game they had just seen.

What is clear is that, at 32, his career has entered the veteran stages and Jedinak can no longer be the all action pressing midfielder he once was every single match. His legs are just not up to it any more. Villa will have to decide whether to use him more sparingly or change his role, if they are to get the most from him throughout the season.

Marks out of 10: 4


Henri Lansbury

Another of Bruce's January signings, this time from Nottingham Forest, the former Arsenal youngster came straight into the side as the midfield creator. It is worrying that a player seen as a set piece specialist, playing mainly in an attacking role, failed to get a single assist or goal for his new club.

Marks out of 10: 4


Birkir Bjarnason

The Icelandic midfielder was another of the Bruce January revolution, as the new manager tried to build his own team. Unfortunately he was unable to fully establish himself before a knee injury ended his season early.

Marks out of 10: 2


Conor Hourihane

Like Bree, Hourihane was a January arrival from Barnsley, but his end of season was much more successful as he established himself in the new-look Villa midfield for the second half of the season.

Marks out of 10: 6


Gary Gardner

Like Baker, Gardner has come through the Villa academy and made a place for himself in the team, though not as consistently yet. Needs to step up his game if he is to hold down a place in the team next season. If Bruce decides to keep him.

Marks out of 10: 4


Albert Adomah

Adomah was brought in during the summer to provide pace and skill on the wings. Following his move from Middlesbrough, the Ghanaian certainly did that, but very inconsistently. Like most flair players, Adomah can be devastating one week, then anonymous the next.

Marks out of 10: 6


Jack Grealish

Another player to come through the academy at Villa and to graduate into the first team, Grealish is more of a luxury player than most. Still only 21, so plenty of time for him yet, but he has to improve on his end product if he is to become an effective players for the Villans.

Marks out of 10: 3


Gabriel Agbonlahor

Yet another product of the Villa academy, though this is one with a fraught relationship with the fans, due to his poor performances and lack of effort. The pace that once gave him an edge has long since vanished due to his terrible fitness, which has resulted in him putting on enough pounds to look more like a beer swilling fan who has slipped onto the pitch behind the back of the stewards, than a professional footballer.

Agbonlahor was completely out of favour prior to the appointment of Bruce, who brought him back into the fold in the hope of getting some goals out of the former England international striker. Eleven games without a goal went by before he was ruled out for 3 months with a hamstring injury. His return lasted just 2 more matches before another hamstring injury ruled him out of the final game. Just one goal and one assist were all his 'efforts' brought to the team in his 14 first team appearances.

Marks out of 10: -3


Andre Green

And another Villa youth academy product, this one just 18 and just beginning to make a name for himself in the game. Mostly just made substitute appearances to little real effect yet.

Marks out of 10: 3


Ross McCormack

The big money signing from Fulham turned out to be a complete disaster, failing to make a positive impact on the pitch and suffering off field issues which led to him missing training and the famous episode of Bruce climbing over his gate after he made the excuse of a broken gate stopping him. Ross was soon sent off on loan to Forest.

Marks out of 10: -2


Libor Kozak

The former Lazio forward has never been able to make a mark in English football, struggling badly to break into the Villa team. Following the Villan's relegation he must have thought his chance would finally arrive, but, despite scoring regularly in the reserves, he only manged to get 2 substitute appearances all season.

Marks out of 10: 0


Scott Hogan

Another of the players brought in by Bruce during the January transfer window, this time a forward from Brentford. Hogan was unable to replicate the form he showed prior to his arrival, only adding the one goal in claret and blue to the 14 he had already. More will be expected of him next season.

Marks out of 10: 3


Jonathan Kodjia

The big summer signing from Bristol City has to be termed a success, as 19 goals in 36 matches is a good ratio for a striker at any level. In fact, Kodjia has already scored as many for Villa as he managed for the Robins in 16 less games! All this despite not always playing as the main striker. Yes Kodjia can be greedy and he can waste chances, but he has shown himself to be the rarest thing in football, a goalscorer.

Marks out of 10: 7.5

Written by Tris Burke June 11 2017 14:38:32