As Aston Villa blew Everton away in a 9-minute blitz, heads turned to the Villa dugout in which Emi Buendia, Bertrand Traore, Anwar El-Ghazi and Co were waiting in the wings. The bench was pivotal on Saturday night, with Leon Bailey producing a Man of the Match performance in his 20-minute cameo, whilst Marvelous Nakamba slotted seamlessly into the Villa midfield after the suspected concussion to John McGinn. The substitution of Leon Bailey pushed the Everton defence to the brink in the second half, highlighting how important a strong bench is going to be during tight matches this season.
Over previous years we have not been renowned for our strength in depth, relying heavily upon our starting XI. Last year we made the least number of changes all season long, with Dean Smith not trusting certain individuals to meet the bar. Previously when hit by injuries to key players such as Jack Grealish, a dip in form has followed, with Villa’s win success rate dropping from 50% to 25% when the team was without their captain in the 2020/21 season. Even though any team would have struggled when a player of Jack’s ability was injured, a true representation of a team isn’t just with the starting XI, but with the full 20-man matchday squad.
Below, I’ve highlighted how far Villa have come in the previous couple of seasons, comparing the bench from this game-week 2 years ago to the one which we saw on Saturday night.
Arsenal vs Aston Villa, 22/09/19:
Jed Steer, Ahmed Elmohamady, Ezri Konsa, Henry Lansbury, Conor Hourihane, Jota, Keinan Davis.
Aston Villa vs Everton, 18/09/21:
Jed Steer, Ashley Young, Kortney Hause, Marvelous Nakamba, Emi Buendia, Leon Bailey, Anwar El-Ghazi, Bertrand Traore, Cameron Archer.
Recruitment the Key
The difference in the two sets of substitutes highlighted above comes predominantly down to the recruitment under the new owners Nassef Sawiris and Wes Edens. Although Villa lost Grealish in the summer, the redistribution of these funds was always going to be crucial when assessing the direction in which the club moved.
Under previous owners such as Randy Lerner Villa were recognized as a selling club, allowing key players such as Ashley Young, James Milner and Christian Benteke to leave the club. I don’t believe that selling these players was the real issue, but instead, the lack of a clear vision once sold. Time and again we failed to replace the goals, assists and general attributes which they brought to the starting XI.
However, this summer a somewhat new strategy was put in place, with the board willing to complete all its summer business before the sale of Grealish.
Johan Lange and Christian Purslow knew that once Villa had their hands on the £100 million from Manchester City, every team in Europe would know of the deep pockets which Villa possessed. If the club had not acted as they did, these teams could easily have placed an extra £15 million on any attacking player, sensing the desperation as Villa scrambled for adequate replacements.
Christian Purslow stated that the club’s strategy was to reduce an “over-dependency on one brilliant footballer” by bringing in 3 attacking replacements. Purslow finished off by stating that Villa now possessed a “real depth and breadth” which could not be seen before, and it is hard to argue with that fact.
What this means for the 2021/22 season
As Villa have had a somewhat steady start to the season, Dean Smith has called upon the fans to be patient, as he moves his team up through the gears.
The strength in depth which Smith now possesses suggests that things should only get better as the season goes on. When the annual festivities of fitting 7 Premier League fixtures in a 30-day period arrives in December, the squad should start to come into its own. This quality should allow Smith to tinker with the side without damaging the team’s chances of victory.
Hopefully, when comparing Villa’s bench to our counterparts, fans can see the depth that we possess, and must therefore be patient if we aren’t where we should be in a month’s time. I believe that once we navigate the tricky run of fixtures coming our way in October, a slow progression up the table will be evident as the season progresses. With this in mind, don’t be surprised to see a last-minute push for Europe, as this is a far more complete side than that which finished just 7 points off Europe last season.