Ahead of tonight’s clash with Villa, I caught up with Sam Tighe – a journalist who covers Villa and who writes for, amongst others, the Bleacher Report. Here’s how it went…
So… a Dean Smith/John Terry dream team?! Discuss. (Didn’t realise Smith was a die-hard Villa fan until his post-Swansea interview). Is this combo the one to get you back to that so-called ‘Promised Land’?
Sam: Plenty has been made of this combo, and it’s fair to say a not-insignificant number have done a few U-turns in their minds over it—largely due to what the media have reported at various stages, though.
Initially there was mild concern that Terry was a pre-decided fixture that any new manager would have to accept, and that that’s perhaps not quite “right”. Then there were suggestions that Terry already commands the respect of the dressing room, so if the players fell out with Smith, they’d gravitate toward the former, thus creating a power rift.
Add this to the conspiracy theories (largely from other fanbases, granted) that Smith’s a sacrificial lamb and Terry’s being groomed for the top job and, well, it’s been far from quiet.
Ultimately, though, Terry has come across perfectly: A little shy, very understated but still giving off a hint of passion to make a serious success of this. He did not attend Smith’s opening press conference which was a great move (Smith probably would have been ignored in the questions) and it’s been reported that Smith is only too happy to be teaming up with him, and has brought his trusted commandant Richard O’Kelly with him from Brentford, so his usual structure hasn’t changed.
Smith is the man many fans wanted. Him being a Villa fan helps, but I’d say the majority looked to him because of the football Brentford have played against Villa since the drop into the Championship. In almost every meeting the Bees played them off the park, becoming something of a nemesis team, and that’s not easy to forget. Him supporting the club is just a bonus.
Why didn’t it work out for Steve Bruce under the new ownership model?
The new ownership model has very little to do with why Bruce was sacked. He certainly can’t point to it as a reason why, anyway.
Villa looked listless under his stewardship this season, his obsession with playing players out of positions and fielding right-back upon right-back for seemingly no reason eventually turned fans against him. The football was dire, shocking, and considering the squad at his disposal, it was impossible to escape the idea he was vastly underachieving. He botched the transfer window too; this squad is ridiculously imbalanced.
He then started giving it back to the fans and the relationship soured. The cabbage incident against Preston stole the headlines, but “We Want Bruce Out” was also heard at Villa Park that night, and the away end had been singing “We’re Aston Villa, we’re there or thereabouts” before that (mocking Bruce’s regular soundbites in post-match interviews).
His position became untenable that night against Preston.
Fair enough. Sounds like the credits he had in the bank for getting you to the play-off final soon ran out. Talking of which, my abiding memory of your Wembley final was of an ashen-faced Dr Tony Xia watching the Fulham players collect their winners’ medals. Where does said gent fit into this new set-up?
He’s on the board in some kind of honorary position. He’s quietened down on social media considerably and, with Christian Purslow and Jesus Pitarch now forming a genuine front office, Xia’s impact seems extremely limited.
Presumably, despite the lukewarm start to the season, there’s a sense of relief after it all appeared to go t!ts up once the play-off final dust had settled? In one breath we were learning of cost-cutting and fire sales and then, in literally a matter of days, a new billionaire in shining armour rode to your rescue. Never heard of ‘self-financing’?
It was a strange two weeks. No one was really surprised when the financial reports started to come out as it had been made abundantly clear that the playoff final was a match Villa literally could not afford to lose. Most resigned themselves to cost-cutting and the loss of key loanees like Sam Johnstone and Robert Snodgrass.
Villa fans braced themselves for a full squad reload, but the churn was lighter than anticipated, as the new owners came in and brought stability.
Ask any fan what their one wish was during that period and the answers would all have been identical: Keep Jack Grealish. Everything else can change if required—even James Chester would have been begrudgingly waved away due to circumstances—but losing Grealish would have broken hearts.
Somehow he was kept, though and then Villa actually signed a few players! Self-financing? That sounds entirely too orderly, responsible and calm to fit in with Villa’s M.O. ?
Some of us are not completely sold on the benefits of self-financing although, in some ways, Villa are a reminder of why it’s not always a bad thing!
Should we expect your new-manager bounce to continue tonight?
I genuinely reckon two wins on the bounce is too much to ask for, even with Smith’s new manager bounce in action. Saturday’s win was only the club’s 2nd in 11 attempts, the energy levels were extremely low by the final whistle, and this is a quick turnaround on fixtures.
Saturday sounded decent though. Was it?
It started extremely well, and while Swansea were probably good value for a point by the end, Tammy Abraham missed two golden chances to put the game to bed before the visitors really found their groove.
In the end, Orjan Nyland (GK) was being clapped on the back heavily for bailing his team out and securing the win. This team are not up to the fitness standards Smith requires to play his style of football, so I’d imagine there’ll be good spells and bad spells in the next several games yet.
Hhmm … interesting. We are fit and we do have a habit of scoring late on in games.
Probably too early to say, but how does the Dean Smith philosophy differ from the Steve Bruce equivalent?
On Saturday Villa pressed high, forced turnovers in advanced positions and scored early to settle the nerves. The defence played fairly well, and most notably, they passed it out from the back rather than hoof it down the line. They even drew Swansea’s press onto them once and then bypassed 5 players with 1 pass, setting Grealish off on a run that resulted in a shot.
Under Bruce, they just used to lump it down the line and see what happened. I remember the horror on Abraham’s face against Blackburn as he was given another lazy hoofed pass to contend for, and the camera zoomed in on him just as he was pleading with his teammates to consider keeping it on the deck. His request was denied.
The hallmarks of Bruceball were playing for set pieces and relying solely on Grealish to do everything in the final third. The hallmarks of Smith’s style already look very different.
You should meet my dad … you’d get on. He’s something of a football ‘snob’ (by his own admission) and has always scoffed at Bruce’s crude style of football wherever he’s managed.
I suspect I know the answer, but does this squad – even minus some January surgery – have enough to get in the top six?
Undoubtedly. It’s one of the most talented squads in the division and, despite the rough start, it’s still somehow only a short distance from 6th. In newly capable hands, 6th is a minimum target.
Or, do you still see top two as a possibility? (only seven points off the top of the table).
Very possible. The talent has been matched up with a coach who can utilise it. In addition, the Championship seems filled with a load of pretty good teams, rather than a couple of great ones who are already out of sight.
Yep, good description that. Despite Leeds being presented the trophy at the end of September, as it transpires, they’re no Wolves!
So, who’s going to hurt us tonight?
Grealish, obviously. Probably the best player in the Championship, a mesmeric dribbler and a surprisingly robust competitor nowadays. I’d usually say John McGinn here too (excellent vs. Swansea City) but he’s suspended. That’s a shame, though Conor Hourihane isn’t a bad replacement.
Abraham is too good for the Championship and has 3 goals in 3 games. Perhaps Bolasie will get his first start too?
Oddly, of all the names you mention, Hourihane is the one that strikes most fear! He enjoys playing against us.
And finally … a score prediction?
1-1. It’s still very difficult to trust Villa to go away from Villa Park and haul in 3 points, though by December I think that perspective changes. I know Norwich haven’t drawn one at home yet, but I’ll go for a share of the spoils.
Thanks for that Sam. Appreciated. A great insight into what’s going on at the Villa.
This week could give us our clearest indication yet of where the season is headed. Two home games against strongly fancied, Villa and Brentford, provide a genuine test of City’s play-off credentials. Defeat against either would likely see City drop back into mid-table. If we win both…..!?!
Penney predicts: Having seen the early-days Dean Smith version of Villa (highlights only) I reckon we’ll do them. 2-0 City.
Andy assumes: Both teams had great Saturdays, but under the lights at Carrow Road I think we’ll have too much for a team still getting used to a new manager. 3-0 Norwich.
Gaz guesses: My gut feel is for a 1-1 but I’ve learnt not to pay attention to my totally unreliable and erratic gut. I’m going for a 1-0 City bum-squeaker.
Cookie concludes: New manager and a quality squad Vs City’s stability and momentum. As it’s a home game, I’ll go 2-1 City
Stew suspects: Villa have an outstanding squad and will come good at some stage. Right now, though, the force is with Norwich. 2-1 City
The oppo’s opinion: 1-1
Siri says: ‘Please update the operating system’. City 1, Villa 2
Whilst the table above looks tight, we do have a ‘runaway’ leader in the full rankings. Keep an eye out for Keith B’s prediction as he’s currently sitting pretty on 12 points and putting our panel to shame. The full table will be published soon so join the ‘fun’ by adding your predictions in the comments below.