Aston Villa are coming off of a few pretty rotten years, but the rebuild is now finally fully underway. Villa are a HUGE club in terms of followers, similar in a lot of respects to Tottenham Hotspur in the mid 2000s, but without the combination of luck and astute investment that propelled Spurs up the table in the Martin Jol & Harry Redknapp eras. In fact, between 2007-2010 Villa finished sixth in the table three consecutive years and looked like the next likely club to make the leap into a team that could contend with the (then) Big Four. In terms of club stature, they’re the giants of the Midlands, a club that really has no business being in the Championship.
But they were. Villa suffered under some frankly appalling ownership in the mid 2010s, first under Randy Lerner and later a Chinese group led by Tony Xia. Paul Lambert happened, followed by Tim Sherwood and later Remi Garde. Villa floundered, finishing bottom of the table in 2016 and relegating to the second tier for the first time in nearly three decades.
After the inevitable fire sale, Villa spent three years rebuilding in the Championship and finally earned promotion back to the Premier League last season by winning the promotion playoff, despite finishing fifth in the table, under manager Dean Smith and behind the play of academy grad and one time Spurs target Jack Grealish and Scottish midfielder John McGinn.
Since then they’ve thrown money around like drunken sailors, spending over £130m and adding 12 new faces to Smith’s squad. The jewel of the crown is probably Brazilian striker Wesley, Villa’s most expensive signing, a £22.5 signing from Club Brugge who had 17 goals and 10 assists last season in the Belgian league. A sleeper could be Spaniard Jota, signed from Birmingham for just over £4m. However, this team’s beating heart is still Grealish and McGinn, and Villa’s futures will hinge on how well they adapt to Premier League football.
There are concerns, of course, that Villa will “pull a Fulham” and underperform despite a huge financial outlay, and there’s whispered talk that many of Villa’s signings aren’t... well, very good. But they’re also getting some buzz about being a sleeper team in the Premier League this season, like Wolves were last season. I suspect the truth is somewhere in the middle — Villa’s primary goal is survival, but a lower mid-table finish is certainly not out of the question.
But first they have to survive the Champions League runners up at their shiny new billion pound stadium. Good luck.
As an aside, do check out Villa’s SB Nation site, 7500 to Holte, one of my absolute favorite SBN blogs. It’s run by passionate fans and exceptionally good people. I’m happy to see Villa back in the top flight, mostly because of them.
How will Spurs line up against Aston Villa?
The million dollar question. Tottenham are without four of last year’s squad due to a combination of injury and suspension — Dele Alli, Ben Davies, Son Heung-Min, and Juan Foyth will all miss the match. New boy Ryan Sessegnon is also carrying a hamstring injury sustained while at Fulham, but he wasn’t likely to start the match anyway. Giovani Lo Celso, meanwhile, is still unpacking his suitcase; it would be surprising if he even made the bench, much less makes it onto the pitch two days after signing with Spurs.
That leaves the 1000 pound elephant in the room — Christian Eriksen. We’ve written ad nauseum about his transfer situation and his desire for “a new challenge.” He wasn’t sold on the English deadline day, but and as Sean noted earlier today his path to his desired transfer to Spain appears to be blocked for now. But that doesn’t mean it might not still happen, and if Spurs do want to cash in on him to Atletico or Real Madrid before the European window closes, it would be a huge risk to play him and risk an injury that would derail that move from happening. It’s for that reason that I don’t think he starts today, and I wouldn’t be surprised if he doesn’t even make the match day 18.
So where does that leave Spurs? In that scenario, the lineup almost picks itself. The back line is pretty much set now, with Kyle Walker-Peters and Danny Rose flanking the Belgian CBs. I suspect we’ll see a midfield diamond, like we saw at the end of last year and in preseason, with Harry Winks anchoring the base, Tanguy Ndombele and Mousa Sissoko as runners (Sissoko as defensive cover for KWP), and Erik Lamela at the tip of the formation. Harry Kane and Lucas Moura will start up top.
What do you think? Agree/disagree? Think Mauricio Pochettino may spring some tactical surprises? Have your say in the comments!