Alan Hutton discusses Villa’s season so far, Grealish and Sunday’s West Brom game
Aston Villa’s season takes them to West Brom Sunday, with the Villans enjoying plenty of highs this term, coupled with the odd bad result.
Ahead of the game, we’ve already sought the views from ex-Baggies frontman Kevin Phillips this week, so it’s only right to balance the books with the thoughts of former Villa defender, Alan Hutton.
Speaking ahead of his West Brom v Aston Villa Ladbrokes 5-A-Side bet, we grabbed a few exclusive words with former Scotland international…
On West Brom v Aston Villa (score prediction: WBA 1-2 Aston Villa)
West Brom taking a point away from the Etihad is an absolutely massive result heading into the game at the weekend. You could see that they were fighting for their lives, they defended well. It’s always difficult to keep Man City out so fair play to them.
The only problem with that is that is you spend a lot of energy doing that. I’ve been there, it’s a tough job to do and it takes a lot out of you.
I just think on recent form Aston Villa will go there and perform well; I think they’ll get the victory, if I’m honest. I’ll go for 2-1 to Villa.
I see both teams scoring because Villa love to attack but they do have a tendency to concede. I just think they’ve got too much for West Brom going forward.
There’s quite a gap between Villa and West Brom on paper at the moment. I thin even if you go back a couple of years to that play-off semi-final, it was really quite even between the two teams. They were well-matched at the time hence why that play-off went down to penalties after two close games.
But both clubs have taken two different routes since then. Obviously Villa got themselves promoted and decided to spend big two summers ago, letting a lot of players go which meant they had to bring in so many players. It was more a case of bringing in numbers of quality. They spent £150m on getting players through the door and only just stayed up. But fast-forward to this season and yes, they’ve spent money, but they’ve added quality.
West Brom have added to their team as well; I really like Conor Gallagher, Matheus Pereira and Grady Diangana – I think they’re three quality players. But I don’t think they’ve strengthened enough since their promotion and if you stand still in this league, everybody is going to overtake you.
Everybody is constantly spending money and improving their squad and West Brom maybe haven’t had that kind of backing. It comes down to whether or not owners are going to take the risk to spend big amounts of money to stay in the league.
On Aston Villa’s season so far
If you look at how last season went, I think Aston Villa were lucky that West Ham had done the business and secured their Premier League status before that last game of the season because it meant they didn’t really need anything from the game so it probably made it a little bit easier for Villa to get the point that they needed and thankfully they got it.
I think this year is completely just a credit to Dean Smith. It looks very much like his team now. Obviously they got rid of their Sporting Director, Suso, who I didn’t think had done the best of jobs at the club, and they’ve gone for quality over quantity which they needed to do. All of their signings have been fantastic.
I think John Terry is absolutely focused on the task at hand and helping Aston Villa achieve their goals for the season, but at the back of his mind he knows he wants to be a manager in his own right and he’s got all of the qualities to do just that.
He scrutinises everything and he was a great person to work with. I’m sure he’ll be keeping a close eye on clubs and managers leaving but I know the type of guy he is and he’ll want to make sure it’s the right fit for him to best increase his chances of hitting the ground running.
If Villa can finish mid-table I think they would be more than happy. I know they’ve had a great start to the season and you can look at games in hand and it’s easy for fans to get carried away, but you have to remember they stayed up on the last day of the season last time out, so anything around the mid-table mark is a great campaign in my opinion.
If they can maintain this level though, you wouldn’t write them off an eighth or ninth-place in the league. It’s all about progression, and they’re doing much better than they were last year, so they need to keep at it and look at kicking on again next year.
I understand the fans have waited a long time for their team to be consistently in the top half of the league but you have to be realistic about these things as well and while their starting XI is very strong, I think they need to add more strength in depth and that will take them to that next level. One of the main positions at the moment that’s up for grabs is that right-hand side of the front three.
You’ve got Bertrand Traore and Trezeguet, I think they’re very good players but they float in and out of games, and you need consistency from your top players if you want to challenge at that top end of the table. I think there are a few places Villa can strengthen; they’ve lost Ross Barkley at the moment in the middle which has given a great opportunity to Jacob Ramsey.
I think it’s a case of building out the squad now. You look at the full-backs and you’ve got Matt Targett and Matty Cash as your number ones. But behind that the back-up players are getting on a bit now so there are a few areas of the pitch which could be bolstered and I’m sure Dean Smith will know that.
They’re always going to be the biggest team in the Midlands in my eyes, obviously. You’ve got some great teams around the area though. Wolves have done brilliantly over the past few years and West Brom are back in the Premier League. I don’t bother talking about Blues, if I’m honest. Just forget about them.
On Jack Grealish
I must admit I did think Jack Grealish was a goner in the summer; I thought someone would’ve come in for him. I wasn’t sure where he’d have fitted in at Man United but I knew that a lot of top teams were monitoring his situation.
If you look at the knock-on effect Grealish’s decision to stay has had on the team though, I think it was a real turning point for the club moving forward. It was a statement for the owners to sign him to a big contract and that led to other key players extending their contracts; Tyrone Mings and John McGinn being two.
It no doubt helped them get Ross Barkley through the door. I think if Jack Grealish doesn’t sign that contract back in the summer, then a lot of players follow suit and move on; that’s the power that he’s got. He drags people along with him as well and wants his teammates playing at his level which is so good to see.
He has to be one of the best players in the league at the moment. You look at the performances he’s putting in at the moment, they’re right up there with the best. And you have to remember we’re talking about a lad doing this for Aston Villa, who I think will finish mid-table.
If you put this guy in one of the top teams in the league; could you imagine what he’d be capable of? We’ve watched him tie and time again stand up and perform when there’s been a lot of pressure on him. He’s an outstanding talent.
Obviously there comes a stage in your life where you have to grow up though. He’s captain of Aston Villa and he’s now a full international player for England so the spotlight is going to be on you and I think that’s something he needs to get used to.
He’s obviously still a young boy and he’s still learning but I think he needs to understand that he’s now in a position where everything he does is magnified and he needs to get to grips with that. If he goes out in London, everyone is going to know him, because he’s Jack Grealish.
He’s had a few downfalls recently but I’m sure he’ll learn from them. He just sees himself as a young boy playing football for the team that he loves. He doesn’t seem to understand the amount of focus that’s actually on him.
If he does eventually move on from Villa, you’re talking £100m at least. If you go back a couple of years, I remember a time where I think Tottenham were interested in him and they didn’t want to spend £25m on him. If you look at the player he is now, they must be kicking themselves.
On playing without fans
I don’t know whether it’s a case of the lack of fans, or the festive period and subsequent fatigue already starting to kick in but I have found it a really strange season so far. All of the top teams are playing in Europe and there’s a congested domestic fixture pile-up, as well as the international breaks we’ve already had. It’s natural there’ll be a lot of fatigue problems this season.
The lack of crowds has massively impacted results. Going into away games should usually be quite an intense situation, but with no fans in stadiums a lot of teams are going to places feeling no pressure and we’re seeing some freak results.
There’s an argument that it’s not completely fair for reverse fixtures to have fans when certain teams have been able to go to certain grounds earlier on in the season without having to play in front of a stadium full of fans. But I’m trying to look at it from the other side, and I’m just thinking are 2,000 fans in an 80,000-seater stadium really going to have an impact? I don’t think so. I don’t think it would affect me that much travelling to an away game with 2,000 home fans. If you’re going to a game and the stadium is packed out it can be quite intimidating and it can impact your performance, but that’s not the case at the moment.
Me being a full-back, I’ve always been used to hearing abuse at away games, but I loved it. It got me wound up and it made me want to try harder. That’s just the kind of person and player I was. If I’m going to an away ground and getting abuse, then I’d think to myself ‘right, I’m going to use this to spur me on’, so it wouldn’t be a problem for me. Aston Villa play West Brom this weekend and I’ve had some moments in that fixture over the years, I must admit. I always seemed to get a yellow card in that game.
There’s a tackle on Shane Long that springs to mind. It’s just one of those things, though; it’s a derby. I loved all that. I grew up playing in Rangers v Celtic games and I always took that mentality with me wherever I played. I loved those local games. I knew the Villa fans liked me, and I loved that the West Brom, Blues or Wolves fans hated me. I loved it. So when I went into those games, I was up for it. I didn’t really have to try to work myself up for it. If anything the away fans used to help me. I’d get absolutely slaughtered by them all game but I used to just try and feed off it.