What Aston Villa must do to avoid falling in the same trap as Fulham
Last Monday saw jubilant scenes at Wembley Stadium as Dean Smith's Aston Villa were promoted to the Premier League. After the heartbreak of losing out on the grand prize to Fulham the previous year, the euphoria and relief was clear in the Villa end.
But what happens now? The similarities between Villa's and Fulham's squad post-promotion and their respective promotion run-ins are uncanny. Both had disappointing starts to their seasons followed by a breathtaking run in the latter stages. Both were taken up by young and inexperienced managers with no Premier League know how. Both had a lot of loan players. Both squads lacked Premier League experience.
The similarities even go as far as them both being captained and led to promotion by an injury prone, attacking midfielder. In fact, both Fulham's season in 2017/18 and Villa's in 2018/19 took a massive positive turn when Tom Cairney and Jack Grealish came back from injury for their respective clubs. Fulham’s performances at the top level improved when Tom Cairney returned from an injury which kept him out of much of the first half of the season (although this was not helped by the manager at the time, Claudio Ranieri, playing him out of position on the wings). Villa's season could be determined by the fitness of Jack Grealish. Making sure they have a back up for him is pivotal and something Fulham failed to purchase for Cairney's position.
So then, what next for Villa? Are they destined for the same pitiful season Fulham just experienced? The first mistake Fulham made was making no attempt to re-sign their loan players who got them to the Premier League. Ollie Norwood, Tomas Kalas, Lucas Piazon and Matt Target all left the club and were ultimately replaced by players who may have had more quality but certainly did not share the same work ethic and desire.
In Aston Villa’s case, it is looking very likely that top goal scorer Tammy Abraham's will remain a Chelsea player for the 2019/20 season. Abraham had 26 goals to his name this season. Their second highest scorer is Conor Hourihane with just 9 goals highlighting the importance of Abraham to the Villa's promotion.
Defender Alex Tuanzebe is on loan from Manchester United and is set to return and play a part in Ole Gunnar Solskjaers pre-season tour. He lined up in the playoff final with fellow centre-back and loan signing Tyrone Mings. Villa will believe they have a greater chance of signing Mings from Bournemouth permanently.
Even if they do this, it is far from a guaranteed success. He has struggled in the Premier League with Bournemouth and failed to make an impact. A similar decline in defensive performances between the top and second tier was witnessed by Fulham’s Tim Ream. He went from being the club's Player of the Season in their promotion year to being a culprit in a defence that conceded 81 goals.
Anwar El Ghazi declared he wanted to make his stay with the Claret and Blue side after his successful loan spell. This is great news for Villa and it is important they follow through and sign him rather than getting distracted and caught up in the money as Fulham did. They must treat the players who got them promoted with much more respect than the London team managed.
This is certainly going to be an interesting summer for all involved with Aston Villa. They must make sure they get it right to avoid the 100 million quid disaster seen on the Banks of the Thames. However, they will still certainly need to spend big in order to make up a Premier League quality squad. Due to the number of loan players in their squad, they currently lack both depth and Premier League experience.
It is crucial they sign players to play to a system. They cannot afford to make a lot of random signings with no Premier League experience and no system in mind as Fulham did. Aston Villa must learn from the mistakes made in London when looking to build a strong squad fit for the Premier League.