The Boxing Day game this year is an away fixture at Villa Park, so TEB had a chat with the guys at 7500 TO HOLTE about the season so far, thoughts ahead of the game and much more.
Q. How did you rate the first season back in the Premier League for Villa?
Probably somewhere around a 5 out of 10; we stayed up by the skin of our teeth which was the goal, but getting there was a roller coaster. Pre-Lockdown, things looked a bit hopeless as our defence was leaky and we had injuries all over the pitch. After Lockdown, Dean Smith seemed to fix the problems in the back end and players got heathy at the right time.
Q. What was the general view heading into the new season and what were the expectations?
Going into the season, supporters were bullish after a good transfer window. Ownership was able to lock Grealish down to a near deal and I had hopes of a finish around 10-12, but realistically we were all just hoping to avoid a relegation scrap like last year.
Q. It is great to see Jack Grealish stay at the club and we liken his situation to one that we have faced so many times with Wilfried Zaha, but the big question is, can you hang on to him?
I think so, Grealish grew up as a Villa fan and is under contract for 5 years. I don’t think his head is turned by the other clubs in England, so the interest from the Manchester clubs doesn’t scare me at all. However, I think if Villa cannot match his ambition in the next three years, with a cup run or top 8 finish, then we could see him leave, but as of right now he isn’t leaving.
Q. It was a peculiar summer transfer window for everyone, but how active were Villa and are there any areas that will need attention in January?
The summer transfer window was a busy one, but compared to the previous one, it was relaxing. This summer was about adding quality to the areas we were lacking in during lockdown, namely up front, whereas last season was about building a whole squad. Ollie Watkins was the number one target throughout the period and although Villa paid a record fee for him, he’s been worth every single penny. We were also able to add two other starters in Emi Martinez and Ross Barkley on loan from Chelsea, who have both been outstanding. In January I don’t expect to see a ton of incomings for Villa; it’s likely that they would send some young players on loan and sell a bit of deadwood though. On the other hand, I would like to see a squad player come in that could add a bit of muscle to the midfield off the bench.
Q. We are keen to see young players coming through the ranks here at TEB so is there anyone that we should keep an eye on who could make the breakthrough into the Villa first eleven?
In the short term, we have a young attacking midfielder, Jacob Ramsey, who is only 19 and just made his first Premier League start against Wolves. Looking a bit towards the future, Villa is really excited about the futures of both Louie Barry and Carney Chukwuemeka who are both 17 and 16 respectively and are currently featuring for the U-23s.
Q. The Premier League has looked pretty open so far this season, do you see that continuing into being the most open title race for years?
I hope so! The football has been really exciting at the top of the table so far, although Liverpool seem to be coming into form while being 4 points clear of second place. I think if they can bring in some defenders over the January period then they’ll be tough to catch.
Q. The use of VAR continues to frustrate everyone, so where do you sit with the ongoing debate?
The lack of clarity and transparency with VAR along with the inconsistency in its use is indisputably annoying and frustrating. I feel as though they’d be better off utilising the NFL’s approach and only allowing replays when a coach feels as though a ruling can be clearly overturned. Unfortunately, as of right now, the referee’s use the system as a crutch.
Q. What do you make of Palace this season?
Oddly enough, Palace are one of the teams that I keep tabs on through some of your fan-led media. I think the club is interesting as it is underrated due to the style of play people expect from Palace. When you look at the squad, there is impressive offensive talent (i.e. Zaha and Eze) and a defence led by one of the better keepers in the Premier League, Guaita. However, I think that the team as a whole is inconsistent and if everything isn’t firing just right some disappointing results can occur, such as the Burnley and Newcastle losses.
Q. Name one player from each team that you believe will be a threat to the opposition in this match.
I think that Villa have had a tough time finishing through the last few weeks, highlighted by the effort we had against Burnley. Guaita is a quality keeper and could frustrate Villa if we don’t have our finishing boots on. For Villa, the in-form man is Anwar El Ghazi, he has 3 goals in as many games and is proving to be a very tricky player. Although he’s been hit or miss throughout his time in B6, when El Ghazi is on-form, he can become the standout player on the pitch and I think that can continue.
Q. …and finallly, your all-important prediction?
1-0 to Aston Villa. I think Roy will batten down the hatches after the Liverpool loss, but Dean Smith’s men will still be able to sneak one past that Palace defence.