Follow us on Twitter @claretandview // Words by Mark Jirobe (@VillaMarkPGH)
Can you feel it Villans? The international break is almost over, and we all can all agree it felt a lot longer than it actually did. With a little bit of a shaky start through the first handful of fixtures, there is still a lot to be hopeful about in the Villa camp. But, what are the realistic expectations for Villa? And are we all about to witness the biggest September in the entire history of Aston Villa? I think so…
First and foremost, the arrival of Robert Snodgrass on a season-long loan from West Ham United has seemed to have split Villa supporters. On one hand, most believe that if he couldn’t cut it at West Ham, how is he going to cut it here? On the other, there are a good number of people who believe Snodgrass’ history with manager Steve Bruce will help push Villa up the table. It is also no secret that Snodgrass is a pretty good player when he was in the Championship. Neither opinions are outlandish or wrong. This would now be the second signing Bruce has made in the transfer window where the player coming in has worked with the gaffer before. No matter if those moves were made out of familiarity or necessity, Bruce just may know something we don’t. As hard as that is to fathom for most recliner managers, from a business standpoint this makes perfect sense. If a formula or idea works in the past, there should be nothing in the way of trying it again when applicable in the future. With such a congested and hazardous fixture list for September be on the lookout for some serious squad tweaking and most likely a change of tactics against sides that may possess a more physical style.
September is very congested, and the club will have a rough go if they don’t jump out of the gate. Aston Villa will play seven games in the month of September. That number is the highest number of games scheduled in a month for the entire season for the Villa. Granted the inclusion of the EFL Cup game against Middlesbrough could be our last volley in the Cup, but there are rumblings that Steve Bruce is the type to make a run at it if at all possible. Minus the EFL Cup clash, there are more than enough clubs that will be looking to tip Villa over.
Brentford visit Villa Park for the first contest of the month. Being the first game off of the international break, it is absolutely vital that Villa takes all three points in this contest. Earlier in the week, Aston Villa CEO Keith Wyness was interviewed about Villa staking claim to a culture among a lot of other things. This culture must start with consistent wins. Of course we all would love to see the kind of attacking prowess we have seen glimpses of this season. That goes without saying. But even if Villa grind out low-scoring wins early in the month, a lot can change. Especially the trust and chemistry in the first-team squad. Entertaining football will always be a supporters dream. The reality is that while missing unique players like Jonathan Kodjia and Jack Grealish, the wizardry of pretty football under Steve Bruce might be a little bit of a stretch to obtain. Regardless of style of play, the players must have a massive chip on their shoulder during this run of games.
The next two games after the Brentford clash will paint a picture of the solidarity and depth in the Aston Villa squad. Next up will be newly relegated Middlesbrough away from home. Boro manager Garry Monk has an acumen for adjusting his style to the opposition and I see no difference when coming up against Villa with the home advantage. With two former Villa players in Rudy Gestede and Adama Traore now at Middlesbrough, one would expect that both players will come into the game with something to show not only their former club, but their former clubs supporters as well. If Villa manage to snatch a win in the previous fixture and in this one, heads will start to turn towards Steve Bruce and not in a negative way.
Barnsley will be Villas’ next opponent on September 16th, and I think we can all agree that this has the making to be a tricky match. Villa have struggled against teams that they “should” be winning against in recent memory. No matter how the previous results go, Barnsley will have much more to gain than Aston Villa do to lose. A draw just may be on the cards, but the feeling is that this game might see Bruce experiment with some of the youngsters that usually have featured for the EFL Cup games so far.
Just three days later, Villa will play Middlesbrough again in the EFL Cup 3rd Round. With Villa being drawn as the home team, this puts a little more pressure on Boro. Villa has been miles better at home than away, and it’s the worst kept secret in the Championship. While a Cup run would be great for the squad and for the supporters, there is a lingering feeling that the sooner we exit this competition, the better. The focus during the off-season, through preseason and now in the thick of it has been results in the league. Steve Bruce cannot begin to slowly rotate in first-team selections into Cup games with such a tight knit run of games. Although the Villa squad is larger than usual, there is no rational argument that the EFL Cup should be priority-one for Villa. As much as the supporters love a deep run in a competition, this season has always been and always will be classified under “Promotion Or Bust”.
The next scheduled game will be Nottingham Forest, making it Villas third game in the span of seven days. Fatigue will most likely plague the squad during this match, and if the youngsters don’t feature for the previous EFL Cup clash, they will most likely feature here. Be on the lookout for Callum O’Hare running amok over this time period, as his young legs could seriously improve the speed at which Villa dictates matches.
The next two games to round out September are a visit to Burton Albion away and Bolton Wanderers at home. Again, it seems Steve Bruce has tactical problems against teams that Villa should be trampling on paper. Alas, paper burns and positive results don’t. If Villa are to make a serious run at promotion this year, this month is going to be the one to get us started on the road. As negative as many supporters have been towards Steve Bruce, they must believe in the process. If there was a time for the man to be judged, this is the time. If by the end of September, if Villa aren’t at least half-way up the table, the moaning and complaining will surely rev right back up again and with good reason. This is undoubtedly the most important September in recent history for Aston Villa and let us all hope that the team can make a push to get the club back where it belongs.