Aston Villa Season Preview: Chance to rebuild without Grealish

Villa continue to push for top-half stability after narrowly missing out last term.

Pre-season results

It’s been a mixed bag for Villa strikers in pre-season, with Ollie Watkins continuing last season’s goalscoring form in a win at Walsall but Wesley, free of injury, picking up a red card as Dean Smith’s men lost 2-0 against Stoke City. Youngster Jaden Philogene-Bidace also caught the eye in a win over Bristol City, scoring the opener in a 3-0 win, and a run of victories will provide confidence going into the new campaign as the club aim to make another season-on-season improvement.

Results in pre-season haven’t been quite as strong as they were ahead of the 2020-21 campaign, where that form was taken into the campaign with four straight wins to start the league campaign, but meetings with two promoted sides in the first three games of the season offer a chance to get off to a fast start once again. With attacking reinforcements making their way to Villa Park since the last friendly, we could still see some changes by the time the opener against Watford rolls around.

Transfer business

The big question over Jack Grealish has been answered at last, with the England international moving to Manchester City for a club record fee.

The playmaker provided 8.40 xA last season, allowing Ollie Wakins and Anwar El-Ghazi to both hit double figures for goals, and while he will be tough to replace, Villa have given it their best shot.

Indeed, a £25m swoop for Danny Ings came as a surprise to many, but the former Southampton man will provide a different kind of attacking threat after netting 34 times across the last two Premier League seasons.

Before Ings’ arrival, £33m man Emi Buendía was the highlight of Villa’s summer spending, with the former Norwich City man arriving early in the window, but plenty of fans will also be delighted to see Ashley Young return to Villa Park after a decade away. A trio of big signings was rounded off in August with the addition of Leon Bailey, with the Jamaica international described as “a hugely exciting young striker with great pace and creativity” by Smith.

The Villans have also got some fringe players off the books, with full-backs Ahmed Elmohamady and Neil Taylor among those to leave upon the expiry of their contracts. Most of the Grealish money has already been spent strengthening the squad, but there may still be time for one more addition, with James Ward-Prowse of Southampton among the players believed to be interesting the club this summer.

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What the odds tell us

After a huge improvement last season, it would take something really special to bring Villa the title, and they’re 210.00 to do so on the Betfair Exchange. Smith’s side narrowly avoided relegation in 2019-20, which may be a factor in their 7/1 Betfair Sportsbook odds to go down this time around, but exchange prices of 18.50 on a top four finish and 2.04 for the top half are reflective of a team which never dropped below 11th last time out. Taking the odds on a top six finish now may allow for a nice trade if those summer signings click.