Aston Villa have returned to the pinnacle of English football following a three-year exile to the Championship – and they mean business.
A stunning run of form saw Villa blaze their way back into the Premier League and heavy investment from new Egyptian and American owners proves they’re not content with a fleeting visit, a wander down memory lane.
The Midlands side have ploughed £80million into new signings this summer and that total is likely to rise before the window shuts.
Jack Grealish and backup-turned-Number-1 Jed Steer are the only remaining traces of the relegation squad from 2016, and they will do everything they can to ensure history doesn’t repeat itself.
RadioTimes.com has rounded up everything you need to know about Aston Villa ahead of the 2019/20 season.
— Aston Villa (@AVFCOfficial) July 28, 2019
Where did Aston Villa finish last season?
5th (Championship). Smith replaced Steve Bruce in October with Villa in 15th. He had an instant impact and everything was rosy – job done, right?
The former Brentford manager had a rough start to life in the Midlands, and won just three games out of 15 between the end of November and late February.
A 4-0 plundering of Derby at Villa Park sparked the most unlikely run of form with Conor Hourihane, Jack Grealish, John McGinn, Tammy Abraham, and well, basically everyone in a Claret shirt discovering their shooting boots all at once.
Villa won ten games on the bounce in the run-up to the play-offs and once again Derby were unable to buffer the runaway train.
Who is Aston Villa’s key player?
Jack Grealish. Had Villa not won the play-off final, he wouldn’t be likely to have remained at Villa after a stunning run of form inspired his side the showpiece game at Wembley.
His maverick style may be an acquired taste, particularly for those fans who only remember his edgy Premier League introduction several years ago.
Grealish has since matured, he’s developed. He’s happy to sit in one of the two central midfielder slots and drive forward.
He carries the ball well and his passing accuracy stats show he’s also efficient as well as having the necessary wildcard streak to cause real havoc for those tasked with shutting him down.
Who is Aston Villa’s biggest summer signing?
Wesley (£22.5m). Villa are not messing about when it comes to dipping into the wallet.
Tyrone Mings’ brow-furrowing ‘up to’ £26.5m fee has grabbed plenty of attention, but their guaranteed outlay for Wesley is yet to be topped.
The Brazilian striker recorded a modest goal tally at Genk with 35 in 117 outings, though he isn’t intended to be a prolific goalscorer.
At 6ft3 with broad frame, he has the size and physicality to be a menace in the box, and will be used as a target man for Villa’s array of midfield goalscorers to feed off.
Who is the Aston Villa manager? Meet Dean Smith
Smith was born and raised in the Midlands, a Villa fan from a young age, and jumped at the chance to take his boys back to the big time.
He commonly deploys a 4-1-4-1 system with Villa but isn’t prepared to die on that hill if things are going awry.
The 48-year-old likes to attack, likes to watch his full-backs fly forward and will be delighted with the spread of goals throughout his midfield as opposed to relying on just one man.
Aston Villa fixtures – The Start
10th August: Tottenham (A)
17th August: Bournemouth (H)
23rd August: Everton (A)
Aston Villa fixtures – The Run-In
2nd May: Everton (A)
9th May: Arsenal (H)
17th May: West Ham (A)
The fans say…
STUART YOUNG, AVILLAFAN
What is the mood like among fans going into 2019/20?
Fans are feeling pretty optimistic. I think most of us would snap 17th up now if it was offered right now so although there is a positive vibe, we must remain realistic.
The owners are doing what they promised when they saved the club from Dr Tony Xia’s mess last season. We would have to go right back to the early Martin O’Neill days for a more positive vibe around B6 right now.
Who will be your key player this season?
Without doubt Jack Grealish is the one to watch. He may not get the assists and goals that people believe he should but the way he creates space and find those passes that others don’t are a joy to behold.
It’s a big season for Jack. It is unfinished business for him in the Premier League and he looks in such good shape so early in pre-season.
I would not be surprised if he was in the England squad very early on. He could be the ‘something’ Gareth Southgate has been crying out for in his midfield over the last 18 months.
Any young talents to look out for?
This is a really tricky question because Villa have a relatively young squad. Players I would class as youngsters are probably not quite ready for the Premier League just yet.
I think that long term players like Calum O’Hare and Jake Doyle-Hayes could have real big futures but we may see them go back out on loan this summer.
Otherwise Frédéric Guilbert looks like he could have a big first season in the Premier League if pre-season so far is anything to go by.
Comparisons have been made between Villa’s summer spending and Fulham splashing out last season. Are you concerned that so many new faces could upset the core of the promoted squad?
It’s lazy journalist work comparing us to Fulham. In truth, its a comparison I am sick of hearing. At the time of writing Villa have signed eight players while more than 10 departed. Of those eight signings, three of them were Villa players last season (loan deals) and two of them have worked with the manager before.
Those eight signings were all in before we started pre-season also, allowing them plenty of time to gel in.
A few more faces will come in at Villa, but only if they suit what Dean Smith is trying to do at Villa.
If some media outlets do their home work they will see that most clubs who have been promoted in recent seasons have bought in plenty of new faces.
It is only really Fulham who signed so many new faces on deadline day meaning they were playing catchup who have struggled recently of newly promoted sides.
Just to add to this, the other two promoted sides have also bought in five new faces each also!
Jack Grealish is no stranger to Premier League football. How has he developed and changed since his last top flight appearances?
He has matured massively. That is the biggest difference. Maturity will take him a long way.
He has become stronger and much more determined. I have no doubt that Grealish will play at the very highest level in the future – I just hope it is with Aston Villa.
Where will you finish in the Premier League?
I would take 17th off your hands right now. Outside the top six-eight Premier League sides the rest of the league is a free-for-all so it really is hard to predict. I will go with 15th.
Where will Aston Villa finish? RadioTimes.com says…
Villa have spent big money on permanent signings to replace – or retain – loan stars from last season.
Youth is at the forefront of their thinking, as just two of their eight signings are over the age of 24.
In Grealish, they have the most naturally-gifted player of any promoted side this season and have a squad loaded with goal across the park.
It’s easy to get carried away once a team opens the chequebook and won’t stop adding zeroes, but Villa look well-equipped for the campaign ahead and could be one of this season’s surprise packages.