It’s the Villa up tomorrow and one we’re surely all looking forward to. I know I am. I wasn’t fortunate enough to have been there when we clinched the Championship title but I know many of you were
Of course, that will count for nothing tomorrow – as Villa manager Dean Smith says, although we doubled them last season we have yet to face this version of Aston Villa incarnate.
So it’s over to James Rushton to give MFW the lowdown.
Hi James – what’s your background in writing about Villa?
Fresh out of Uni and jobless, an American Aston Villa site was the only place to respond to my queries looking for a place to position my writing! 7500toHolte (7500km from the Holte End) took me on, and I learned a lot from Kirsten, Aaron and Robert who ran the site before me. We wanted to cover Aston Villa fairly, funnily, and properly and I think we’ve done a good job of that so far.
How did you fall in love with Villa and when? What’s your all-time Villa highpoint? [I think I might already know!]
I didn’t have a choice to be honest! My maternal grandparents grew up in Aston with characters like Ozzy Osborne running around, and my dad was a Villa fan himself. It was always Villa, and never not Villa. I started actually following the club when I set eyes upon Juan Pablo Angel. He was a star in my eyes, and I fell for the club and him. He was so, so cool to a nine-year-old. It broke my heart when he left the club when Martin O’Neil took over. But yeah, I owe my following to my dad, my family and JPA!
High-point? I’d love to beg it here and say the European Cup win, but I was minus nine! I wasn’t consciously Villa for the League Cup wins – so I have to opt with the play-off final win. The narrative was beautiful after falling short in the previous final a year earlier and gatecrashing the party this year. I just remember all the flags, and the bouncing and the singing so well. It was a party for days! That trophy as well… It’s small, pointless and barely significant, but man – it sang! It sang when it was picked up. I want more of that.
Come on, let’s admit it, you’ve spent shedloads! Who’s shaping up as the best value in purchase terms thus far?
Absolutely. It’s good to have money after the threat of liquidation in 2018! We had to spend after losing our loanees – so we didn’t have much of a choice! You could make a fair argument for most of our buys – and Tom Heaton stands out as excellent value.
I think Tyrone Mings has a case as well – as expensive as he was, he’s got some Maguire qualities about him, and that chap went for loads more! Bjorn Engels was a steal at eight million and is very similar to Mings if not as ‘all-action’. I think, for pure value, I’d opt for Marvelous Nakamba. He cost about ten million from Club Brugge, and he should’ve cost twenty at least. He reads the game so well, never tires and looks after that midfield. He’s hit the ground running.
Ha! Tyrone Mings isn’t particularly popular at Carrow Road of course because of his Ipswich connections but I would agree that Heaton and Engels were excellent signings for you. I’m on MFW record as saying that I admire Dean Smith as a manager and particularly Jack Grealish, John McGinn and Conor Hourihane as players. Who have I left out that I should have taken notice of?
You’ve picked our three threats for sure. You probably want to keep an eye on our wingers though – they are inconsistent, but Anwar El Ghazi and Trezeguet, on their day, can do some damage.
That’s a bit of an if, though.
I’ve seen enough of you to observe the way you set up and how you play. You look pretty solid under Smith. Would I be right in that assumption?
Yep – Dean Smith isn’t an issue at all and I feel we’ve gone toe-to-toe with the opposition so far. Considering the clubs we have faced, I’m not at all unhappy with that. We could do with picking up some points though!
The recent Burnley game showed the best and worst of you – we are the same in some ways but with more defensive weaknesses than you appear to have especially with all our current injuries. Thoughts?
Yep. It was a real mixed-bag that. I’ve cooled off on it though.
So, our issue is that we can seemingly only pick one side of the squad to be any good at any one time… We started off with a pretty commanding defence, but we weren’t really creating chances. Now, we’ve unleashed a bit of an attack and our defence has gone AWOL! It’s annoying, but this is the same issue that most clubs face. I’d say that most clubs who try to play the ‘right’ way in our position will have this issue – and will drop clangers under a high-press like we both have.
Plus unlike us, you’ve had a good injury update this week as in Targett, Mings, etc.
Yep, injuries are getting better! Mings is taking knocks a lot but seems to be able to fight through. Matt Targett has been a worry – last week was his first league start, so it’s good that he’s recovered. Targett can offer us a real threat on the left!
Jonathan Kodjia will still be a miss though. Keinan Davis is quality, but Kodjia offers another option that we could be missing.
You have a history most of the rest of us would die for. Are you PL sustainable this time around?
I hope so, but this league has changed – big time – since 2016. Most teams can boast elite talent in a few positions, and most teams want to keep the ball. I think promoted teams will stay up, more often by luck and good chance than anything else. We have a great midfield, and good characters – we are just missing the luck. There’ll be no shame in relegation, but I really hope we can survive and stay up. I’m confident, but if we miss chances, lose the roll of the dice and go down – we’ll regret missing out on this chance to do some damage.
Your favourite Villa players over the years?
The aforementioned Juan Pablo Angel! Add Gareth Barry, Ashley Young, Tammy Abraham, Robert Snodgrass, James Milner, Christian Benteke, Ron Vlaar, Dion Dublin, Gabby Agbonlahor, Ian Taylor and Martin Laursen amongst others to that list.
I had a soft spot for Shaun Maloney as well.
I did one of our two MFW Villa previews last season and remarked that Black Sabbath’s Geezer Butler (so much a hero that Mrs P and I named one of our dogs after him) and Nigel Kennedy were real fans and, erm, HRH Prince William claims allegiance. Any other famous Villa supporters you are aware of?
We can claim Tom Hanks as a massive Villa fan – as well as HRH Prince William and his own young family! The late Amy Winehouse was spotted wearing a Villa jewel on a few occasions as well.
Blimey! I’m impressed. Tom Hanks is one of my very favourite actors. Some of us claim Hugh Jackman as one of our own but I’m not too sure about that myself. I thought Amy was a Londoner, but place of birth doesn’t dictate how you choose your team of course.
Finally, the old cliché which you’ve been waiting for: your score guess, please!
We are no pushovers at home, whoever is fit enough to wear the Yellow and my prediction would be a 2-2, which I’d be quite content with as you’re a decent side. But what do you reckon?
I’d be happy with a draw if it’s a good performance. A point-per-game is what we’re good for at the moment, but we need that to improve. Away games are a tough and perhaps infertile ground for us to expect hope to spring forth, though. I think we need a rocket up our backsides. I’ll go for a 3-2 win for Villa.
Fingers crossed – and good luck!
Many thanks to James for his time and comments – I just hope my 2-2 tops his 2-3!