Aston Villa Season Review: A Campaign of Progress at Villa Park

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While it may have been a season of two halves, it was certainly a season of progress at Aston Villa. Ten months on from their dramatic survival, Villa have vastly improved in all areas of the pitch and stormed to their highest Premier League finish since the 2010/11 season under Gerard Houiller. They also recorded their highest points total in the Premier League since the 2009/10 campaign.

A coronavirus outbreak and an injury to talisman Jack Grealish hit Villa hard during the second half of the campaign but despite that its been a fantastic season for the Villains.

Dean Smith’s clever summer recruitment culminated with the improved performances of many players saw Villa secure an 11th place finish. They were competitive, a dangerous threat to teams but fell short of the European places. That must surely be the next stride in their progress under Smith.

Aston Villa 2020/21 Season Review

Astute Transfer Business

It was a case of quality over quantity in the summer transfer window. The 2019 summer window saw Villa bring in over £100 million worth of players. However, the 2020 window saw Villa bring in just five new faces and all made a significant impact during the season.

Ollie Watkins became Villa’s third record signing under Dean Smith’s management. His £33 million move from Brentford proved to be a bargain. His debut Premier League season yielded 14 league goals and 16 overall. Watkins also earned his first England call up in a season to remember. However, his overall work rate and play in the final third has made him an instant fans favourite and key player in Dean Smith’s team.

Matty Cash arrived from Nottingham Forest and slotted seamlessly into Villa’s back four. He has grown with each game and can only get better going forward. Ross Barkley arrived on loan from Chelsea and his Villa career started well but a hamstring injury against Brighton & Hove Albion ultimately ruined his loan spell. He failed to recapture that early form and eventually fell out of favour at Villa Park.

Tricky winger Bertrand Traore enjoyed a decent first season with the club. Brought from Lyon, Traore has been a threat for much of the campaign but consistency has been lacking in his displays. But eight goals from the wing is a decent return. He too can only get better.

Perhaps Villa’s best piece of business was snapping up goalkeeper Emiliano Martinez. The Argentine international sparkled in between the sticks keeping a club record-equalling 15 clean sheets. A £20 million signing from Arsenal who arguably has been one of the signings of the season in the entire league. His performances saw him earn the Villa’s fans player of the season.

Villa’s only arrival in January was midfielder Morgan Sanson. He was brought from Marseille with the intention of getting the best value of money at that time.  Seen as signing for next season, Sanson was given cameo appearances before a knee injury ended his season. However, he will likely get his big chance next season.

Aston Villa’s Key Results

Aston Villa 7-2 Liverpool – When the champions went to Villa Park on a cold October evening, nobody expected the result that followed. Villa ripped Liverpool apart as the champions struggled to contain Villa’s free-flowing attack. Ollie Watkins bagged a hat-trick while John McGinn, Jack Grealish and Ross Barkley also scored on a night to remember. This was also part of Villa’s four-match winning sequence to start the season – the first time they had achieved that in 98 years.

Arsenal 0-3 Aston Villa – Villa went to the Emirates Stadium with a clear plan. They tore Arsenal apart time after time and stretched their excellent start to the season to five wins from their first seven. An Ollie Watkins brace capped off an excellent display.

Aston Villa 3-0 Crystal Palace – It was a boxing day to remember at Villa Park as we saw a new determined streak in the team. Bertrand Traore put Villa ahead early but Tyrone Mings soon saw red for tussling with Wilfred Zaha. However, that didn’t deter the ten as they bulldozed Crystal Palace in the second half. Kortney Hause and Anwar El Ghazi capped off a brilliant display.

Leeds United 0-1 Aston Villa – Villa had endured a difficult start to 2021 due to their Covid outbreak and the loss of Grealish. However, they went to Elland Road determined to prove they are not a one-man team. An early Anwar El Ghazi goal settled the contest as Villa frustrated Marcelo Bielsa’s Leeds United team.

Tottenham 1-2 Aston Villa – Victory at the Tottenham Hotspur Stadium secured Villa an 11th place finish. It was part of back to back wins to finish the season. They saw off Chelsea on the final day to finish on 55 points. In total Villa took 16 points off the big six during the course of the season.

Jack Grealish Shines Once Again But Villa’s Back Five Were Outstanding All Season

Aston Villa did have a vastly improved season and of course, Jack Grealish played his part. Villa really missed him when he sustained that troublesome shin injury. He returned at the end of the season and announced his return with a brilliant display at Spurs.

But overall, it’s been another great season for the Villa captain who earned his first England cap. He scored six goals and set up ten others in a campaign that would have yielded more. Despite missing a third of the season, he still was the most fouled player in the Premier League and the only one to be fouled over 100 times.

While Grealish will receive much of the credit, Villa’s back four and goalkeeper deserve immense praise. Emi Martinez has been outstanding, equalling Brad Friedel’s Villa clean sheet record, but the four defenders in front of him all shined. Tyrone Mings led by example and despite the odd rash mistake, he was heavily dependable and consistent through the season. Villa’s leader at the back has a massive influence on the team and certainly, he is key to Villa going forward.

His partner Ezri Konsa has come on leaps and bounds in the past 12 months. He is composed, quick and isn’t afraid to throw his body on the line. He is the complete centre-back who can only get better at the age of 23. Konsa was outstanding throughout the course of the season and an England call up cannot be far away.

Full-backs Matty Cash and Matt Targett also shined. Cash enjoyed a brilliant season but Targett has been simply sensational. He has developed brilliantly with all areas of his game improving. Targett was the only outfield player to start every league game – he finished the season on a high being named player’s player of the year.

A special mention too for Anwar El Ghazi. The Dutch winger has had his critics but he was excellent this season. He registered his best ever goals return and grew as the season progressed. El Ghazi finished with ten league goals and arguably played some of his best football. He scored key winning goals against Everton, Leeds and Wolverhampton Wanderers and certainly has gone under the radar as an unsung hero in the Villa side. At 26, he is reaching the peak of his powers and can only get better next season.

Dean Smith is Growing Into a Top Premier League Manager

The players will get plaudits but Dean Smith deserves immense praise too. He is growing as a coach and getting better. While he does still have some critics in terms of not changing things around, he is demonstrating a real maturity in his management.

His shrewd transfer business has transformed his team. But perhaps his best recruit was reuniting with his former Walsall teammate Craig Shakespeare. Shakespeare has been there and done it and that extra voice and presence has massively helped Smith and the team.

He will raring to go for the new season as he targets Europe next season.

A Campaign of Progression Has Optimism High for Next Season

It’s been a brilliant season overall for Aston Villa. They have come leaps and bounds and progression has been the word bandied around under Dean Smith.

Now the club will want to make the next step which is the top half and European football. They have the tools to challenge the top six but need to bring in extra quality this summer. Creativity is what Villa missed when Grealish was injured. Dwight McNeil and Emiliano Buendia are high on their list of targets.

The academy also had a terrific year with the Villa U18s winning the FA Youth Cup as well as 18 academy products making their senior debuts. This was mainly down to the Covid outbreak in January but still a brilliant achievement. The likes of Carney Chukwuemeka and Jaden Philogene-Bidace are likely to play a bigger role next season with Villa determined to open a pathway to the first team.

It’s a great time to support Villa and optimism is high for next season after a great 2020/21 campaign.

 

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