Aston Villa have gone above and beyond this summer with a massive transfer haul equating close to $157 million dollars on transfer fees. The newly promoted Premier League side has attempted to ensure an extended stay in England’s top flight past the 2019/20 season. For such a storied club, it is invigorating not only for the supporters but for the Premier League as a whole to see Aston Vila competing among the country’s best clubs. Yet, with so many moves completed is Aston Villa running the risk of being this season’s Fulham or are they laying the right foundation for future success?
Fulham managed to win the Sky Bet Championship Playoff Final in 2018, which has been dubbed the most expensive game. The reason is quite simple. The Premier League guarentees at least $125.9m just for participation in the league. This ludicrous amount of money is primarily thanks to the Premier League’s broadcast revenue that is equally shared among all Premier League clubs. Fulham used the wealth attained from their victory to provide an injection into the squad in excess of $130m.
Fulham went through three full time managers in one season and subsequently crashed out of the Premier League. The main culprits for such a horrendous season were the loss of the identity that got the South West London based club promoted in the first place and a gross overestimation of the club’s ability to integrate new players. The club signed a total of seven defensive players but they ultimately had little impact of solidifying the back line, which let in a league high 81 goals.
Aston Villa share a few similarities with Fulham including the high net spend upon arrival in the Premier League. Both clubs are big in terms of their support and their immense history within their cities and in England’s top flight. Fulham took a gamble by bringing in a large amount of players in one window and Aston Villa are potentially running the risk of going down a similar path.
Aston Villa have purchased a total of eleven players as of July 29. The transfer fees range from $3.88m for Kortney Hause, a center-back from Wolves, to Club Brugge’s Wesley for $28.50m. The average age of Aston Villa’s signings amount to 24.2 years old, which is similar to Fulham’s average of 24.9 years old. Six of Aston Villa’s signings address their defense, which was one of Aston Villa’s weakest areas on the pitch. Defense is not the only position on the pitch where Aston Villa have made changes.
Young Brazilian signing Wesley will inject pace and excitement to the club. He had an impressive season with Club Brugge in 2018/19 with 17 goals and 10 assists in 48 matches across all competitions. He will essentially takeover Tammy Abraham’s spot as central striker, but unlike Abraham, who returned to Chelsea, Wesley was not used as a traditional poacher and was instead a target man. As such it might take time for Wesley to either work into the system or for Smith to adapt to Wesley’s strengths. His signing, however, is representative of the challenges that can often be faced by managers when a plethora of additions come through the door.
One vital strategy that Aston Villa manager, Dean Smith, must employ is the slow and natural integration of new players into the squad. No individual would dispute that the Premier League season is a long one and that every point can make all the difference. By the same token, however, Aston Villa’s main priority should be to simply escape relegation. It is not an ambitious goal and considering the money spent this summer, upper management may find it unacceptable. The board and the more optimistic supporters must remember that just escaping relegation with a 15th to 17th place finish is just the first step in the quest for success. That does not mean that Aston Villa can pull off a season similar to Wolves led by the Nuno Espírito Santo.
Points will be lost, a lot of points in fact. There is a big jump in the quality of opposition in the Premier League and a newly promoted side must sometimes slowly and strategically adapt for such ambitions. Come Aston Villa’s first match of the season against Tottenham, Dean Smith might be tempted over even pressured to include a majority of the new players into the starting eleven. That could prove to be a mistake, but considering the turnover at the club he may not have much of an option especially in defense.
By all indications, Aston Villa look to have a mentality that would suggest a prudent and focused strategy to the new Premier League season. After all, Aston Villa are looking to stay in the Premier League on a long-term basis. The club had never been relegated in the Premier League era until the 2015-16 season, which saw the side finish with a league worst 17 points. For a club of Aston Villa’s stature that was simply inexcusable, but the club’s new owners are firmly in line with the expectations of the supporters.
Following victory in the Championship Playoff Final, Dean Smith and Christian Purslow announced that there would be no celebration parade. The reason was clear and sent a message to everyone as to their expectations for the club. Chief Executive Purslow explained,
“We’re Aston Villa. We have parades when we win cups and leagues, not when we get promoted effectively third.”
Dean Smith went on to state,
“We’re back where we should be.”
The mentality at the end of the day is one of the most important factors for success. This adherence to the club’s history has surely permeated throughout the club and the players old and new alike. As a result, that is the biggest difference between Aston Villa and Fulham.
In fact, Aston Villa may liken their chances to Wolves who managed an impressive seventh place finish in the Premier League table last season. The quality of Aston Villa’s signings have been lauded by supporters and the media alike, and the first five games provide a solid but not overly imposing challenge. The first match away to Tottenham is followed by home matches to Bournemouth and Everton, which is then succeeded with an away match to Crystal Palace before returning home to host West Ham.
Overall, Dean Smith will have to alter how his side plays in the Premier League even if it involves minute adjustments, but small changes could amount to big consequences. Every newly promoted side must adapt in some fashion to find success, but it is how such adjustments are implemented by the players at the club that matters. Aston Villa will hope the signings prove fruitful and can immediately buy into Smith’s system and the rigors of life in the Premier League.
Relegation does not look likely for this side and instead a lower mid-table finish seems reasonable, i.e 15-17. Many of the mid-table sides have gotten stronger this summer. Leicester, West Ham, Everton, Southampton, and Wolves have all gotten better making it even more vital for newly promoted sides to be aggressive in upgrading their squad. Dean Smith is a mastermind and could help mitigate the weaknesses that aren’t filled through the transfer window. He knows that keeping a team that represents the image of his style of play, which has been successful and entertaining, is paramount to the improvements through new signings. A good majority of the new signings brought in look to provide competition, and Smith will have made sure that the scouts targeted players that fit his desired mentality.
Aston Villa are a huge club and know the stakes at play upon their return to the Premier League. The executives and owners are not looking for a brief fling in England’s top flight, but are rather looking to reassert their claim as a Premier League heavyweight. While that might be a long ways off, it has to start somewhere. The slow integration of new signings, an adept tactical approach, and full support from the players could see Aston Villa in the Premier League for years to come.