When a team suffers the ignominy of relegation from the Premier League, the often repeated narrative focuses on just how long it’ll take to return to the big time. This is, largely, due to the fear of languishing in the lower divisions for an extended period, a reality fans never want to experience.
That was likely how Aston Villa supporters felt at the end of 2015/16 when they finished at the foot of the table. The Championship is no walk in the park, and while some teams return at their first attempt - think Newcastle United - others huff and puff without success - think Leeds United, who have not returned to the top flight since 2004.
Villa, like Leeds, are one of the English sides with an European trophy, as well as a rich history, so their relegation after 24 seasons was a real kick in the teeth.
If anyone whispered to locals at Villa Park that last season would be their year to return, they might’ve laughed at the idea, especially after a poor start to the season which led to Steve Bruce’s departure.
It was at that point that Dean Smith took charge of the Villans, finding them in 14th place, before guiding them to a fifth-place finish before their playoff success against Derby County at Wembley saw them book their return to the top flight.
A busy summer ensued, with Smith’s side splurging in key areas to beef up their squad for the rigours of the Premier League.
One the biggest names of their 12 new additions is Mahmoud ‘Trezeguet’ Hassan, who signed from Kasimpasa in July.
The Egypt international is renowned for his dribbling, directness and shooting ability – three attributes that suit the English game – and the 24-year-old has steadily improved as a player over the last two seasons in Turkey, scoring 13 times in his first year, before following that up with nine strikes last term.
8 - Trezeguet scored eight goals from outside the box in his last two seasons of Turkish Süper Lig football at Kasımpaşa; double the number of any other player in the competition. Villan. (via @OptaCan) pic.twitter.com/l3I2NwIsbr— OptaJoe (@OptaJoe) July 24, 2019
Trezeguet’s return ought to have been higher, but for his staggering 19 big chances missed last year, 14 more than he managed in 2017/18. The statistic can be a double-edged sword in that while the wideman wastefulness can prove costly sometimes, the fact he keeps putting himself in goalscoring positions shows a confident player who never hides.
Furthermore, his creativity from out wide will be essential to what Smith tries to do this term.
The winger provided nine assists in 2018/19 (three more than he managed in his first campaign), while creating more chances per game as well as big chances in his second year. He’s already begun to show his worth for Villa, coming off the bench against RasenBallsport Leipzig to assist John McGinn’s clincher for a 3-1 victory.
In theory, Smith’s attacking strategy ought to be to his advantage, so it’ll be interesting to see how the exciting winger adapts to the English game as he enters his prime years.
The Villans also added midfield playmaker Marvelous Nakamba from Club Brugge in a deal reportedly worth £10 millio. The Zimbabwe international’s reputation has steadily grown in the last few years since his quality in the heart of the park made Brugge acquire him from Vitesse.
Nakamba’s game isn’t only restricted to his proficiency at regaining possession, as he displays a competence in keeping the ball and making things tick in the middle of the park. Indeed, he has the potential to be the finest African playmaker of his generation.
Villa’s African group isn’t limited to the aforementioned pair, as Smith’s side have Ahmed Elmohamady as well as Jonathan Kodjia in their ranks. The former played a key role in the Birmingham-based club’s promotion to the Premier League, making 38 appearances, and is likely to continue in a prominent role this term.
For Kodjia, doubts persist about his ability to lead the line on his own. Having had to play second-fiddle to Tammy Abraham, who scored 25 times, last season, the Ivory Coast international will seemingly slug it out with Wesley for the striker’s berth this term.
Certainly, adequately replacing the Chelsea forward’s goals from the previous campaign will be vital to Smith’s troops staying up.
The jury’s still out on Villa, partly owing to their summer outlay, which has been likened to Fulham’s, whose extravagant spending last summer proved damaging in an appalling campaign for the West London side. Players seemed unable to get to grips with the league and constantly seemed to be like 11 strangers brought together on matchdays, to disastrous consequences.
Smith has pushed back at the criticism thrown at his door owing to his club’s spending, and it’ll be up to Trezeguet, Nakamba and co. to prove they can be up to scratch in the Premier League.
If they fail to adapt, then Villa risk suffering the same fate as the Cottagers, whose return to the big time was short-lived.