Amid all of the chaos surrounding the club’s financial situation, it might be easy to forget that Steve Bruce must prepare his side for another campaign in the Championship flight, perhaps without the services of the most familiar faces of the previous seasons.
While the transfer window has not seen many of the most valuable Villa assets shipped off just yet, the sale of these players is almost inevitable, as has been indicated by Bruce himself. So barring any sort of small miracle the club will be selling some of its most valuable players, and will be looking to approach this upcoming season with a sense of hope, far removed from the confident measured goal of promotion which surrounded Villa Park in the previous season.
Sam Johnstone and John Terry are gone. There will be no changing this. One could make a case that losing either of these players is more detrimental to this season’s success than the potential loss of James Chester, Jack Grealish, or Johnathan Kodjia.
Sam Johnstone was a rock between the sticks last season, having posted 22 clean sheets in 48 games started, his heroics preserving many a low scoring, grind-it-out draw or win for the Villans. John Terry’s leadership and experience, coupled with his tutelage helped lead to the blossoming stardom of “Super Jack” Grealish, and has no doubt led to an elevated level of play from Chester as well.
Whoever ends up starting in goal should be serviceable but the question should be: Can Tommy Elphick be THE guy alongside Chester? The back line needs a healthy, consistent and quality presence to maintain the fantastic Villa defensive record of last season, and that must start with Elphick.
I know what you’re thinking: “How will Villa deal with the inevitable sale of Jack Grealish?”
This is the easy and obvious question, but more pressing for the skipper might be to ask: How will the young lions from last year’s U23 team (or those that were injured) feature in this year’s first team side? Callum O’Hare, Jordan Lyden, Jake Doyle-Hayes and the injury stricken André Green will need to make up for the energy and the assists that were lost as a result of Robert Snodgrass departing back out after his loan spell, and the potential loss of Grealish (as well as Albert Adomah).
The obvious candidate to shine here is O’Hare, who impressed mightily in the campaign last season often playing a slightly more advanced role than would probably be expected of him with the first team. Perhaps a 3 goal / 7 assist / 1,200 minute season would leave Villa fans feeling positive and primed for more from the youngster.
There is clearly some overlap between the production of the creative midfield players, and the play of the gents up top who are expected to be slotting the ball into the back of the net. Inconsistency was the word last year, with players like Scott Hogan finding some success, occasionally in games where he had touch numbers in the teens. Can King Kodjia return to his 2016/17 form following injury? Can Rushian Hepburn-Murphy return from injury and translate Division 2 success to the first team?
The point here is that the attack is still littered with what-ifs and potential inconsistency. It seems there are a lot of players with the potential to put in quality match performances, but can that success be replicated for the entire season? The only thing we know for sure as that we will get the first hints to the answers to these questions when Aston Villa travel to Hull City on August 6th to open the 2018/19 season.