In the public eye, Aston Villa finished their preparation for the new season with a 3-1 win at Villa Park over Serie A newcomers Salernitana. Dean Smith spoke about planning two friendlies this weekend but with our game over Sevilla postponed it remains unknown as to whether there will be another behind closed door game before the big kick-off next Saturday at Watford.
Preparation has been difficult for many clubs this pre-season and it has been far from ideal for Aston Villa. I will attempt to round up the summer so far.
Aston Villa originally set out to have five friendlies (to our knowledge) but Covid-19 is still playing havoc for many teams. Our games against Nottingham Forest and Sevilla were both postponed late on so Villa had to settle for what they could get. Villa are said to have played some games behind closed doors also but they have not been reported.
The traditional pre-season game against neighbours Walsall was welcome by returning spectators and Smith’s men didn’t disappoint. Smith named a different starting XI each half to give as much game time to his squad.
Ollie Watkins bagged two, both assisted by Emiliano Buendía in the first half. Youngsters Jaden Philogene-Bidace and Aaron Ramsey scored in the second half ensuring the Villans got off to a winning start in pre-season.
Next up for Villa three days later were Championship side Stoke City at the Bet365 Stadium. The result didn’t quite go to plan for Villa as they came away with a 2-0 defeat.
Obviously, pre-season is all about fitness but Villa didn’t impress the travelling faithful on the day. To top the disappointing afternoon off, Wesley was given his marching orders having put his head into an opponents face.
A week later Villa head down the M5 to take on yet another Championship opponent, this time Bristol City welcomed Smith’s men.
Teenager Philogene-Bidace continued to impress as he gave the visitors the lead after just six minutes. Defender Ezri Konsa doubled their lead just before half-time.
Watkins then scored his third goal of pre-season with a third in the second half.
Villa’s final game of pre-season was today against Serie A side Salernitana. The Italians stepped in at the last minute following the late postponement of the game against Sevilla at Villa Park.
Despite early domination, Villa was shocked when the visitors took the lead against the run of play through Joel Obi.
Villa were soon level though when Philogene-Bidace found new signing Danny Ings in the box and then in turn he slotted home. The home side were ahead just before the break as Anwar El-Ghazi converted from the penalty spot.
Substitute Ashley Young finished the scoring in the second half following a flowing move to hand Villa the victory.
Many would regard the transfer window to be fairly successful over the summer. Buendía was the first through the door when he signed for a fee believed to be in the region of £30m. The Argentine impressed in the Championship last year and helped Norwich return to the Premier League.
Next through the door was a fairly popular one and probably a signing not many of us saw coming. Ashley Young returned on a free transfer after choosing to return to Aston Villa 10 years after he departed for Manchester United. Although Young is coming to the end of his career he is still regarded as a solid piece of business and adds some much-needed experience within our squad.
Leon Bailey then joined Villa, again for a fee believed to be in the region of £30m. Although we are yet to see the Jamaican in pre-season as he is believed to be in quarantine at the moment, he is regarded as a very good piece of business for Villa. The winger has impressed for some time in the Bundesliga with Bayer Leverkusen and was linked with a high profile move to the Premier League last summer.
Possibly the secret of the summer, Danny Ings then followed through the door on the same day for a similar fee. Another player who had been linked to clubs playing European football next season will be regarded as a good signing having scored goals wherever he has played.
In the theme of players returning to Villa Park, Villa announced the loan signing of Axel Tuanzebe today. He is a firm fan favourite as Villa continue to strengthen their squad can only be seen as a positive signing. Let’s just hope there is an option to sign him at the end of this loan.
Mbwanna Samatta completed his £5m move to Turkish giants Fenerbache following a successful loan spell.
Villa then released both Neil Taylor and Ahmed Elmohammady and thanks to both for their service. Both were instrumental with Villa’s return to the Premier League and are said to have been valued very highly at the club.
Tom Heaton’s contract also ran out but the club wanted to keep the goalkeeper. Due to his first-team chances being numbered and the lure of returning to former club Manchester United, the former Burnley goalkeeper was soon on his way.
Björn Engels opted to return home when Royal Antwerp came knocking, another who struggled to nail down a first-team position. Injuries, of course, didn’t help the Belgian defender last season.
And then the one that probably hurt the most, Jack Grealish…
I haven’t said too much on this website or social media regarding Jack. I have left it to everyone else. Some regard him as a snake while others look back on the fond memories and that’s OK, we are all entitled to our opinions.
The biggest issue for most was what was said by Jack last summer. I am starting to think it’s as much the club as it is the player as it’s not the first time the club has pushed the players desire to play for the club when a new deal was signed. While I have no doubt when Jack signed the deal last year he probably meant every word of it, he still agreed or allowed his agent to insist on a minimum fee clause. That will leave a sour taste in so many peoples minds.
I don’t regard him as a snake and I can understand why he made the decision. He has outgrown us, whether we like to admit it or not and while we are on the up, we are not quite at the level Jack needs us to be.
I was disappointed, however. Maybe that’s as much my fault as anyone else’s. I fell in love with a player, something I haven’t done since we lost Gareth Barry. As a football fan grows up you come to realise that players come and go so you tend not to get too attached. I got too attached to Jack. Through all the good and all the faults, he could do no wrong in my eyes.
It was never about the money because Villa reportedly offered to match or even beat Man City’s package. It was purely down to him wanting to play Champions League football now.
Another problem that doesn’t sit right with fans right now and not just Aston Villa may I add. The so-called ‘super 6’ tried to break up English football a few months back and were fined a measly £3million each. Liverpool aside, all of them have been able to splash the cash again as if nothing ever happened. Just take a look on social media and see what other fans were saying to Jack and you see everything you need to see.
I am one of a few who hopes Jack is personally successful. I don’t want City to be successful but Jack is still one of our own regardless of your feelings towards him. I am sure one day in the future he will come from behind his PR team and explain exactly why he made the decision. Just like I have no doubt that we will see him back at Villa Park at some time in the future, when schedule allows, supporting the club he grew up as a boy.
Thanks for the memories, Jack!
Ones to watch
I have already mentioned one quite a lot in this piece, Jaden Philogene-Bidace. This lad has really impressed throughout pre-season and hasn’t looked out of place.
Carney Chukwuemeka hasn’t had as much game time but is another who impresses every time he takes to the field.
I strongly believe we will see more and more of both of these lads as the season progresses.