With our opening day clash against Aston Villa just a few weeks away, we caught up with Regan of underagaslitlamp.com and asked him his thoughts on both sides in the lead up to the game.
1) First of all, congratulations on promotion back to the Premier League. How much of a relief was it when your top flight status was reconfirmed?
It was a huge relief and it’s something that still hasn’t properly sunk in – and probably won’t until the first game of the season. There was so much more riding on the promotion than just appearing back in the Premier League again. If we didn’t return, it was almost certain that Jack Grealish would be leaving the club – and would likely join yourselves. He’s an exceptional player, and we expect him to showcase this in the upcoming season, but he’s much more than a footballer to the Aston Villa faithful, he’s almost like the resurgence, the resurrection of the club, personified. I think if he gets his wish of International football, which I expect will happen this season, and we stay up, he’ll be at the club for his entire career.
2) A common trope this transfer window is that Villa are splurging cash carelessly aka ‘doing a Fulham’. With the signings you’ve made so far, how confident are you that this isn’t the case?
There’s a huge difference between Aston Villa this summer and Fulham last summer. Fulham lost hardly any, if any at all, of the squad that achieved promotion to the Premier League but instead decided to replace most of the players that got them there with foreign talents. That, and they also decided to keep five-foot-eight Denis Odoi at centre-back. In our case, we’ve lost a number of loan signings and let a lot of our veterans leave on a free, so these players needed to be replaced. Three of the five loanees that came in last season have been purchased this summer and a number of the signings have worked under Dean Smith before, which makes a huge difference. There are some risks, with Wesley being one of them, but only one of the signings that our recruitment team has made so far has disappointed, Tom Carroll, and that’s because of injury. Fulham’s purchasing also came deep into the window, where-as ours was probably around 75% done before our first pre-season game. I’d like to think that our signings are necessary, where-as Fulham were just trying to show what they could do in the market.
3) And of the signings you’ve made so far, who are you the most underwhelmed by?
I don’t think it’s fair to be underwhelmed by any of the new signings, as I’ve only seen the vast majority of them play 90 minutes spread over two games at the time of asking. At the time of signing, I wasn’t too sure on Jota from Birmingham City – but he’s impressed so far and I think under Dean Smith he’s certainly looking like he fits our system and can make the step up to the Premier League.
4) When Villa face Spurs next month, who are the danger men we should look out for (other than Grealish)?
I’d look out for both of the goalscorers from the Play-Off Final, in Anwar El Ghazi and John McGinn. I don’t think any Premier League side truly knows what to expect with their arrival on the scene, and I think both of them will throw up a few surprises next season. They both have the ability to pull something out of nothing, and often their ‘unexpectedness’ can produce the very best something out of almost nothing. Sound like I’m quoting Winnie the Pooh there.
5) How do you think Villa will line up on the 10th?
I think as things stand, we’re still working on a few signings, so I’d expect this to change a fair bit by the time the game comes. But we’ll have Jed Steer in goal, a back four of Matt Targett, Bjorn Engels, Tyrone Mings and Frederic Guilbert, a midfield of Conor Hourihane, John McGinn and Jack Grealish, with a front three of Anwar El Ghazi, Wesley and Jota. If new signings that we’re expecting come off, you can expect Hourihane and potentially Jota to lose their places in our line-up.
6) And finally, where do you think both Spurs AND Villa will finish in the EPL this year?
I think Tottenham Hotspur will labour to a third-place finish. I think we can expect a few shocks next season, but I think it’ll be a battle for fourth between Arsenal and Manchester United and Spurs will quite easily secure third, but won’t be close enough to challenge for the title. For us, I think we’ll finish around sixteenth or seventeenth – it’s not going to be an easy season but I back us to stay up, and improve on that finish year to year if we can achieve it.