Are Aston Villa the Premier League's surprise package for 2019/20?
Background Image Via: Geograph/Ian Rob. CC BY 4.0.
It had been a long three years in the Championship for Aston Villa and their fans, but after play-off final heartbreak twelve months ago, the Birmingham-based giants righted those wrongs - fighting their way back into the Premier League in unbelievable fashion.
Hiring Dean Smith in October 2018, with John Terry sitting alongside the former centre-back, proved to be an absolute masterstroke for The Villa. Their winning run from March 2019 to play-off glory will go down in Claret and Blue folklore, particularly if they can maintain their status as a top flight club in the 19/20 campaign.
Realistically, for any promoted side surviving is always the main aim. There's something different about this Villa team though. Perhaps it's their big-club aura, maybe it's their vastly underrated squad, heck, it could even be those passionate Holte End supporters that roar their team home; perfectly emulating the lion their beloved heroes wear on their chest with pride.
Before the transfer window started I'd already tipped Villa to stay up. First and foremost, it's fair to say I was concerned about replacing their loan stars at that time. Alright, they may have lost Axel Tuanzebe, who'll be staying with Manchester United this season, but Tyrone Mings has returned in a £20million deal, but he's brought defensive back-up with him... Matt Targett has joined from Southampton in a vastly underrated transfer, while Kortney Hause has made his part-time Villa Park move into a permanent one. Bjorn Engels, another centre-back, was also signed from Ligue 1 side Reims and Ezri Konsa was brought in from Brentford. Smith will finally have some reliability at the goalkeeping position, too. There aren't many better than Tom Heaton, particularly for just £8million. Talk about sending out a message, eh?
Villa wasn't finished there, either. Club Brugge hot-shot Wesley has been tasked with replacing Tammy Abraham's goals. Again, he'll have ample help. Anwar El Ghazi, who scored in the play-off final against Derby, has turned his loan move into a permanent one from LOSC Lille, winger Trezeguet has been brought in from Turkish side Kasimpasa and Douglas Luiz was acquired from Manchester City for £15million.
All-in-all over £130million has been spent, but in stark contrast to Fulham twelve months ago, Villa has gone big on the correct players. They've filled gaping holes with proven commodities. Heaton has played at the highest level in English football before, they know exactly what they're going to get from Mings and Targett. Wesley's the big gamble, but with top players in and around him, I'm not betting against the Brazilian to bang in the goals. He's already bagged a couple in a pre-season game against Walsall...
We've not even talked about the lads who're still at the club. Jack Grealish is a sensational young footballer. I'm actually surprised he's decided to stick around at Villa Park for another season, but you know what, credit to him as loyalty is rare in this day and age. John McGinn oozes class, hence the links with a proposed Old Trafford switch earlier on in the window.
Smith is the mastermind behind the whole operation but give a special mention to Nassef Sawiris and Wes Edens who have put complete trust in their man. In terms of where they could finish, I already have them above fellow new-boys Norwich City and Sheffield United, while Brighton, Burnley and Newcastle could all struggle. The same could be said about Crystal Palace and Southampton...
Watch out for AFC Bournemouth who could also shoot up the table, but Aston Villa could well surprise a few over the next twelve months...