This week Villa manager Dean Smith confirmed what many of us suspected already, come the January transfer window there’ll only be “minor surgery” being performed to the face of the first-team squad.
When you consider the swift turnaround in performances that we’ve seen since Smith came in just two months ago and with 14 points from the last 6 games – before hosting Stoke later today (and desperately unlucky not to take maximum points from them all) – then there seems little point in tinkering with things too much.
New faces can go one of two ways of course. They can give you that shot in the arm or on the flip side they could even upset the applecart. For us mind, this window will all be about strengthening two or three areas as opposed to making wholesale changes to the starting eleven and the periphery.
Factor in the ongoing financial fair play question-marks and the fact we’ve got a handful of relatively high-earning players whose contracts expire in the summer it seems improbable that we will be adding much more onto the hefty monthly outgoings bill. Not least until we shed the likes of Richards, Jedinak, Whelan, Elphick and De Laet.
As I stated on Twitter recently, I was left bemused at some supporters claiming that a right-back is a must have. We’ve at least three competent right-sided defenders at this level and yet we’ve only got one left-back to pick from and I wouldn’t say that he’s been especially standout.
Although Neil Taylor appears to have improved a smidgen under Smith, I do still think he’s the weakest link in the outfield and so not to have any competition for places there is a little bit tragic.
A few days ago I happened to tweet out if anyone had any thoughts on which left backs could be considered and although there was some great discussion many would-be targets as chosen by the fans were possibly a tad unrealistic for a number of reasons – all except one.
As you can see from the date and time of this tweet – it came before a few of the football news and gossip websites ran the story that Smith may indeed go in for Rico Henry. A player he’s previously had with him at both Brentford and Walsall and at 21 years of age he’s got the potential to turn into something special.
If the parting of funds was to be an issue for the club then it may well be a case of dipping into the loan market again. The versatile Tyrone Mings might well be an option. Otherwise Smith may be forced to turn to our new scout Juanfran and ask him to make a return to the playing field!
Cover at centre-half is another obvious necessity. It seems silly when we have a perfectly able central defender out on loan at another Championship club – especially as his contract expires in the summer.
Steve Bruce’s decision to allow Tommy Elphick to leave was nothing short of farcical. The logical thing to have done would’ve been to keep Elphick as back-up and then just dip into the market come next summer (attracting a higher calibre of player if we were to go up).
The rumour of Gary Cahill re-joining the club he played for as a youngster is one that has been doing the rounds since the start of November. But with Premier League suitors in the hunt along with the wages that he’ll command – I just can’t see it myself.
Realistically we’d be better off targeting someone like Watford’s experienced forgotten man Sebastian Prödl or the young Mason Holgate from Everton, whom has recently been linked with a loan move to Celtic. The latter with a view to a permanent switch in the summer.
The goalkeeping situation requires urgent attention. Although summer signing Ørjan Nyland has pulled off a few decent saves his weaknesses are far too prevalent for my liking.
For starters his distribution leaves a lot to be desired. The amount of times we’ve turned over possession directly from a goal-kick is crazy. Earlier in the season – against Blackburn – his pass accuracy was as low as 26.7%.
Nyland’s pass accuracy will have increased under Smith by process of playing out from the back a lot more – something that was non-existent when Bruce was here. But how often do we still see him over-cooking a knock to the wide men?
His scrambling from a long throw at Ipswich cost us two points and despite keeping a clean sheet in our 2-0 win over Bolton his fumble from corner almost led to conceding and then he dropped another clanger under no pressure whatsoever. Then there was that goal away at Bristol City in which he went down to his knees to take what appeared to be a fairly routine stop and then just watched on as the ball went past him an inch to his left.
Nyland’s positioning has to be called into question too. The third goal against Forest he wasn’t quick enough off of his line and nor did he make himself big enough and then there was the fifth where he just simply has to shut-off his near post.
I know it seems like I’m roasting the lad but these are just examples that immediately spring to mind and there are plenty more I could bring to the fore to substantiate my argument if I really thought that I had to.
Sometimes one or two outfield players can go missing and yet you might still find yourself getting a result. Keepers cannot operate in such luxury. Should we go and get a top keeper such as Tom Heaton then that’s easily 10-12 points added to our total come May.
Enjoy the game today and UP THE VILLA!
Written by Ryan Pitcher