It’s FA Cup time yet again for Tottenham Hotspur, entering the competition this weekend by hosting Aston Villa at White Hart Lane. The Villans were relegated last year to the Sky Bet Championship, finishing dead last with just 17 points and seeing Remi Garde step aside at the end of March. There have been plenty of changes at Villa Park, so we invited our old friend Robert Lintott from our sister blog 7500 to Holte to talk about life in the Championship, what’s in store for Sunday, and if he misses Tactics Tim as much as everyone else does(n’t).
CFC: Aston Villa have gone through some changes since their relegation. What's different with the club and what's the future looking like?
7500: Everything. Everything is different. Well, except for Alan Hutton. (Author’s note: It’s like you read my mind!)
But realistically, it's new ownership, a (second) new manager in Steve Bruce, a renewed sense of "oh god perhaps we might be able to win," and a new ambition. But part of the problem is what is the same: the same lack of ability to score goals, the same unwillingness to close out matches, and the same wasteful attitude in both the transfer market and on the pitch. Right now, Villa are set such that they will wind up comfortably mid-table in the Championship. If that's where it ends this year, great. But that cannot be the mindset going forward if Tony Xia wants fans to actually buy into his reign.
What’s it like having an owner who runs his Twitter account like a spectacularly wealthy person’s Xanga?
Oh man, so much fun. And so exasperating at times. But as someone who has to write about this club, it's a blast having an owner who is (seemingly) accessible. We would literally go months between statements or appearances from Randy Lerner, and so it was impossible to tell what the attitude at the club was. Now we can just check the ol' twitter dot com to get a sense of what's going on in Dr. Tony's mind.
How is the club doing in the Championship this year? Any chance to sneak into promotion or is it going to be a year or two of rebuilding the squad?
Pretty much as expected, really. Under Roberto Di Matteo, Villa drew so often that we temporarily renamed the club Bill Watterson. And then Steve Bruce came along and so, too, did the wins. They currently sit 12th with a 5-2-3 record in their last ten matches. Given that last year saw Villa get fewer than 20 points for the whole season, I'll take it! Our current points/match pace would put us on 53 for a 38-match Premier League season, and dear god that seems like so many. And heck, we're just seven points back of the promotion playoffs, so that hope is still very much alive with some smart moves this month.
But if not much changes, we've found our level. Stupid losses still happen. Bad play still happens. This is a club that needs some time to figure itself out after an absolute travesty of a decade thus far. And again, I'm okay with that. I can tune into a Villa match and hope for a win. That's a huge improvement!
How much do you miss Tim Sherwood? I mean, we don't really miss him other than our wonderful bot...
Please be thorough with your answer for Tactics Tim.
Every single time that bot gets triggered on Slack, I contemplate going into the backend and deleting that bot. I never will, because that would be selfish, but man do I hate Tim Sherwood. So how much do I miss him? Not a whit.
I'm guessing that you all are happy to have Steve Bruce after he bolted the tire fire that is Hull City?
Yeah! He's not perfect. For starters, he seems to think that midfield shortcomings can be overcome by simply having what scientists call "all the forwards ever" on the pitch. And he's made the rather dodgy decision to bench 21-year-old keeper Pierluigi Gollini (who had allowed nine goals in the ten matches Steve Bruce let him play in) in favor of Mark Bunn (who is almost literally a replacement-level keeper). Is that bad? Not really. There isn't a huge difference between Gollini and Bunn at this stage to be honest. But the move was made because Gollini was too young and inexperienced. Bruce literally said that. And then he went out and brought in 23-year-old Manchester United third-choice keeper Sam Johnstone on loan for the rest of the season.
I mean, what in the ever-loving heck? The whole "he's too young" thing is old-school footballer and it's annoying. But I can live with that, because Bruce seems to be getting results. But to say that and then make the corresponding move is utterly perplexing.
So yeah, I like the results, but I'm still a bit unsure of what to think of Bruce exactly.
We saw that Villa sold Rudy Gestede to Middlesbrough. Was it just his time to move on or was he unhappy with being in the Championship?
Uhhhhh, I have no idea. Honestly. We all think that was a really stupid move and none of us really understand it. I'm sorry.
Why in the name of all that his holy is Alan Hutton not only still on your squad, but is getting playing time?
I ask the same thing ALL THE TIME. And you know what? He hasn't been too bad, really. Mind you, he hasn't been good. But he's fine.
And yet, my personal biggest priority in the transfer window is to get a real right back. Because supporting a team that lets Alan Hutton start makes me sad.
Has Jack Grealish ejected the party bug out of his body and started focusing on football again?
Maybe? To be honest, I was never too concerned about the party bug. He's a kid. Who gives a damn what he does off the pitch so long as he's good on it. Actually, let me rephrase that. "Who gives a damn what he does off the pitch? How is he playing?" Footballer's personal lives are none of my business. The only thing I really care about is how they play. And in those terms, Jack is doing much better this year. He's actually a creative presence who can score every once in a while! Just what we needed!
Last season he came in for a lot of criticism, but I think it's easy to forget that he's just 21. Give the kid a break, world.
How do you think Villa line up on Sunday?
I really have no idea. The question is: do we punt this match that we're going to lose (spoiler) or do we try to win a match that we're going to lose (spoiler). Here's my sort of haphazard guess, but beware that this could be 122% wrong.
Johnstone - Hutton (lol), Chester, Baker, Amavi - Probably some people? Who knows. Our midfield is rubbish - Grealish, McCormack, Agbonlahor (lol)
How about a prediction?
Villa lose 4-2. Emmanuel Adebayor makes a shock appearance and scores one each for both teams.
We want to thank Robert for his time and hope that VIlla can find their way back to the Premier League.