Life After Grealish: Why Aston Villa Mightn’t Be Doomed
Jack Grealish was by far the most talented player Aston Villa has produced in the last 20 years.
He made his senior Villa debut in 2014 as a 17-year old and in a 4-0 loss to Manchester City. Losing would be a constant in his early years to the point that in his 3rd season in 2015/16 he played 16 games with the club losing each and every one of those encounters before being relegated for the first time in 25 years.
Despite the losses Grealish remained true to his boyhood club and at a time when they were in complete disarray. They spent the next 3 seasons in the Championship yet it was here Grealish developed into a star, scoring or assisting 27 times and leading his club back to the Premier League.
Last season’s 11th place finish was Villa’s best in ten years with Grealish producing a monstrous campaign with many regarding him as the EPL’s most creative player. His exploits earned him a spot on the English national team and minutes in the Euro final, as well as prompting Manchester City to pay Villa 100 million pounds to switch allegiances to Sky Blue.
While Grealish's exit has left a gaping hole in Villa’s squad and within the hearts of their loyal fans, his departure needn't be a life sentence, and while their first game didn’t go as planned, falling 3-2 to newly promoted Watford, Villa are well placed to not fall off the face of the earth.
It was pretty much a foregone conclusion that Grealish was jumping ship once Manchester City declared its interest.
Thankfully, Villa had already got to work preparing for life without their talisman.
Crucially, they did most of their buying before the Grealish sale was consumated knowing that had they waited they'd be priced out by clubs knowing they had an influx of money to play with.
The shrewd business started with Emi Buendia from Norwich, then Leon Bailey from Bayer Leverkusen and culminated with the surprising acquisition of Danny Ings from Southampton. All three possess Premier League quality and are fresh off excellent campaigns for their respective clubs.
Buendia played in the Championship last season and help guide Norwich to the title and a return to the EPL. The Argentine was their main creative threat, providing Teemu Pukki with plenty of chances and scoring some himself. Being deployed on either wing, he dominated the league, providing 13 assists and 1.9 key passes per game. Buendia also has the capability of playing in behind as a number 10 and his versatility will prove a precious commodity to the point that his 38 million transfer fee could end up being a massive bargain.
While it's seemed like forever that Leon Bailey has been linked to the Premier League, the 24-year old Jamaican national has finally made the switch, joining Villa from Bayer Leverkusen where he played 119 games and scored 28 times. Like Buendia, Bailey can be deployed on either wing, however his preference is on the right where he can use his pace and agility to cut in and shoot on his trusty left foot. Last season his 0.17 gaols per shot ranked him in the top 11% of all wingers throughout Europe's big 5 leagues . With Buendia on one wing and Bailey on the other this could be a formidable tandem that could terrorise EPL defences.
Amid the Jack Grealish saga, Aston Villa announced, with no warning or rumours, that they'd paid Southampton 35 Million pounds to secure Danny Ings. Whilst he wasn't as proficient or as durable as in previous campaigns, he's still a proven marksman who's scored 83 goals in english football over the last decade, adding a dozen for the Saints last season. While Ing's shot and shots on target per 90 minutes were well down last season, he's only 29-years old and likely still has plenty to offer.
Dean Smith’s conundrum
The only problem with all of Villa's off-field activity is how to fit everyone in.
You would think that Dean Smith will remain with the 4-2-3-1 system, and which will likely feature Ings as the team's sole striker, yet what would that mean for the likes of Ollie Watkins, Bertrand Traore, and Anwar El Ghazi?
Is a system change perhaps on the cards? Not so fast.
Defensively, this Villa side has become used to Smith's system, and you wouldn’t want to destroy the kind of continuity which had Villa knocking on the door of a top-10 finish last season. So, Smith indeed has a big job on his hands keeping all these players happy, whilst keeping busy with rotations.
If however Smith can perform this juggling act with his talented squad, Villa has everything else in place to ride out the Grealish loss, and to keep pace with those fighting to crack into European football.
Last Year’s Building Blocks
Dean Smith has proven that he can coach a side into playing expansive football, whilst also being tidy at the back.
They have the foundations of a fantastic team led by a brilliant and adaptable manager. In Emiliano Martinez they have one of the league's very best keepers and fresh off a Copa America triumph with Argentina. He has a solid back-4 in front of him, the likes of which conceded the 7th least goals in the league last season.
Their workmanlike double pivot midfield is complimented by an attacking force that can score and create goals out of nothing and which should be bolstered by a brilliant transfer window.
Life after Grealish was always going to be hard, however Villa are very well placed to rise above their current gloom.
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