Aston Villa 2016-17: Hard lessons to be learnt but real reason for optimism
Aston Villa fans held high hopes that the club would bounce straight back to the Premier League in 2016-17, but a 13th place finish in the Championship comes as a sobering reminder of just how competitive English football`s second tier is.
After a wretched previous campaign, there was real reason for optimism due to a new owner, reputable manager and expenditure on the squad.
The Roberto Di Matteo experiment failed to launch and the initial upsurge under Steve Bruce plateaued; the Midlands club now must recognise that a significant concerted effort is needed to defy the bookmakeradvisor.com odds and return to the Premier League.
Most fans will be keen to think towards the future rather than dwell on the past, with considerable transition at the club of late being accredited as the reason for a disappointing 2016-17 campaign.
As such, there is reason for optimism for next season, but a host of things must happen for Villa to be celebrating in 12 months time.
Bruce is an experienced and canny manager that should be trusted to get the club promoted – he has been there and done it, with signs at times in the second half of 2016-17 that his methods were starting to sink in.
The current playing squad has a spattering of Premier League and international football experience but needs to be refined carefully this summer.
Villa`s expenditure on new players in the Tony Xia era has been considerable, with some acquisitions showing promise and potential while others look like money wasted.
The core of a Villans team that can win promotion to the Premier League is already there: Neil Taylor, Jack Chester, Mile Jedinak, Conor Hourihane and Jonathan Kodjia.
For Villa to push on, Bruce needs to get the best from other talented members of the squad, namely James Bree, Henri Lansbury, Albert Adomah, Birkir Bjarnason, Jack Grealish and Scott Hogan.
While Xia has shown his commitment to splash the cash to get back to the Premier League, another wasteful summer is the last thing the Villa Park club need.
Bruce should look to cull a host of players and generate funds that way, with a couple of positions needing strengthening afterwards.
The likes of Jordan Veretout, Ross McCormack, Carles Gil and Carlos Sanchez do not look to have futures at the Championship club and should be sold – with others also sure to be shown the exit door.
After this, the recruitment of a reliable goalkeeper, addition firepower and possibly an extra centre-half should be Bruce`s transfer priorities.
The Villa boss also needs to settle on a formation, with the side setting up in a host of different systems in his tenure already.
There is clearly quality in the centre of midfield and picking a set-up to maximise the potential of Hourihane, Lansbury and Bjarnason seems necessary.
However, the most important thing ahead of next term is that Bruce gets his transfer business done early, the group prepare well in pre-season and hit the ground running.
There is still real reason for optimism around Villa Park despite an underwhelming season just past, with high hopes that the club will be back where it belongs in 12 months time.