Steve Bruce may not like the pre-season, and as a rule The Villa View team are in general consensus that the exercise is more important for its role in preparation than the final score. Nonetheless, Aston Villa’s first few fixtures are complete, and now the EFL Championship season is upon us.
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So how was the pre-season? Wins against Kidderminster and Telford followed by success in the Cup of Traditions, mixed with a defeat to Shrewsbury and scoreless draws with Walsall and Watford won’t leave promotion rivals quivering, but the Aston Villa hierarchy appear to be happy with the squad as they turn their attention to the curtain raiser against Hull on Saturday evening.
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But who impressed and who fell short this July? We take a look at some of the players who caught the eye.
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TOP OF THE CLASS
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Andre Green: A
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One of Villa’s top prospects made the most of his opportunities in the first team, using pace and trickery to unsettle defenders throughout the pre-season.
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After coming close at the end of last season, Green also notched his first senior goal for the club and has given Bruce food for thought as the season approaches.
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John Terry: A
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If there could be one reservation about Terry’s arrival at Villa Park, it was whether he still had the fire to continue playing after leaving Chelsea. Those doubts appear to have been quashed after the newly-appointed captain added further steel to an already solid defence, which did not concede a single goal whilst he was on the pitch.
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James Chester: B
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A model professional after ‘losing’ the captaincy to Terry, the Welsh international has shown class and leadership by supporting the decision, and it is already telling on the field.
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Together, the new centre back pairing look like they’re on the same wavelength and Villa fans will hope that they can also weigh in with their fair share of goals from set pieces, too.
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MUST DO BETTER
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Scott Hogan: C+
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Last month, the former Brentford striker promised a “20 goals plus” season. He showed glimmers of his ability, scoring twice against MSV Duisberg, but often cut a frustrated figure in a system that doesn’t play to his strengths.
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Bruce must discover how best to utilise the 25 year old and this comes from a much more creative midfield than we saw last campaign, playing the ball into space and maximising the number 9’s speed. With Jonathan Kodjia still weeks away from fitness, Hogan could prove integral to a good start.
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Ross McCormack: D
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Often looking lost and off the pace, McCormack was not selected for the Germany tour and did not make the squad for the final game against Watford last weekend. Though Bruce says the door is “still open” for the centre forward, it seems clear that Villa would accept a bid close to the £12 million they paid for him last summer.
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However, after a troubled season and an unsuccessful loan spell at Nottingham Forest, permanent offers are not flooding in, and McCormack may remain in B6 for the time being.
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Micah Richards: E
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The former Manchester City and England defender has struggled with injuries, having only appeared three times last season. It looked as though Bruce wanted to give the 29 year old another chance, but he was forced off twice in pre-season, including just 10 minutes into the Cup of Traditions final against Hertha Berlin.
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With two years remaining on his contract, it is unlikely Richards will be sold, but it remains to be seen how much on-field action he’ll see.
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HONOURABLE MENTIONS
The youth of today
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As well as Green, there were some promising performances from Callum O’Hare and Jake Doyle-Hayes who showed enough promise to get fans excited. Rushian Hepburn-Murphy also impressed, scoring two in three games as he continues to work his way back from a hamstring injury.
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Injuries and absences
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There was a faint hope earlier in the summer that Kodjia might have been fit for the season opener, but Bruce now believes he will be without his top scorer for at least another month. Centre midfielder Mile Jedinak will also miss the first two weeks with a groin strain, and is unlikely to feature before the trip to Reading.
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There was more bad news as it was revealed Jack Grealish may not be back until the New Year after suffering a damaged kidney in the draw against Watford. A positive from preseason was the return of goalkeeper Jed Steer, who recovered from an Achilles tear to keep clean sheets in Germany and then against Watford. It looks as though No. 1 Sam Johnstone will be fit for Hull, but 24 year old Steer will provide healthy competition.
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New, old faces
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There has been much talk of “the old guard” signings at Villa, with John Terry, Glenn Whelan, Chris Samba and Ahmed Elmohamady joining the squad. However, the additions give Bruce invaluable experience on the field and, after a rash of injuries, will provide ideal cover for the first quarter of the season.
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Both Whelan and Elmohamady looked sharp in their opening minutes for Villa, and Samba has obviously proven to Bruce that he can be a valuable role-player. If anyone knows centre backs, it is Bruce. He also knows success in the Championship, having been promoted a record four times.
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It is exciting to see Villa academy products being offered a chance rather than buying in similar players, and if the veteran signings complement our home-grown talent to provide a title challenge, I am all for this transfer policy.