After what was a whirlwind summer for Villa fans, maybe we should have taken that as a warning for what was to come in the season. Losing our captain, and main creative source, was a big blow and we were facing a massive transition ahead of the new season.
With Jack gone, the recruitment strategy turned very Moneyball-esque by trying to replace him "in the aggregate". Those recruits being Emi Buendia, Danny Ings, and Leon Bailey. There was actually quite a buzz before the season, with a common theme amongst the fanbase being that we were now a more balanced, well-rounded team. However, many still also pointed out we were short in some areas in the squad, one being the elusive defensive midfield spot that we are still yet to rectify.
Away from transfer business, pre-season brought about some okay performances, with Buendia shining on his debut against Walsall. Pre-season was unfortunately disrupted slightly, with a couple of cancellations, and a fixture against Salernitana being arranged as one alternative to help gain fitness.
With some fitness built up, a buzz about signings, and many different opinions on how we should line up with our new additions, us fans didn't expect that lacklustre performance at Watford away; first game of the season. That humbling certainly brought us back down to earth, and the harsh reality that this season was going to be much tougher came to light for many fans.
That loss at Vicarage road was followed up by a win and draw at home against Newcastle and Brentford respectively, both being very mediocre performances again. Our first really good performance of the season was ironically the 3-0 loss away to Chelsea, where Jacob Ramsey first showed real glimpses of what he had to offer. Most importantly however, that was the game Dean Smith chose to switch to a 5 at the back shape to match Chelsea up.
We then went on to beat Everton 3-0 at home, with Leon Bailey the star of the show, albeit with a 21 minute cameo. Next up was the massive 3 points, and impressive performance, at Old Trafford with a Kourtney Hause bullet header from a corner. And let's not forget Emi Martinez's mind games to put off Bruno from the penalty spot, following up with a dance Alan Pardew would be proud of in front of the bewildered United faithful.
Things seemed all rosy after 2 wins on the bounce, but a defeat via Tottenham, and throwing away a 2 goal lead against Wolves where they scored 3 goals in 15 minutes to snatch all 3 points at Villa Park, once again we were left scratching our heads.
A 3-1 loss to Arsenal, and a 4-1 drubbing by West Ham really piled the pressure on Dean Smith, who was slowly losing the support of Villa fans. Southampton away felt like a must win for Dean Smith's future at Aston Villa, and so it proved to be. A terrific early strike from Adam Armstrong put the Saints 1-0 up, and as much as Villa huffed and puffed, they just didn't have enough to get anything from the game. And so, that weekend Deano was relieved of his duties, and that fantasy of boyhood Villa fans as manager and captain was gone.
Over the coming days, many names were thrown about, and everyone had their view on who was the right man for the job. Slowly, Steven Gerrard became the leading man in the race for the hotseat, and was eventually appointed as the new manager. Although not the first option for many fans, and some pondered whether he had the credentials to take us to where we want to be, fans rapidly began to fall in love with the new gaffer.
His first 2 games were tough opponents in a well drilled Brighton side, and a new style Crystal Palace under Patrick Viera. Villa won both games, and looked a completely different team on the ball. The standout performer was none other than the Zimbabwean Pirlo himself, Marvelous Nakamba. Gerrard had managed to turn a player that many deemed just not good enough on the ball, into someone who was breaking lines with passes, and spinning his man to open up space. Jacob Ramsey and John McGinn were also beneficiaries of having one of the greatest Premier League midfielders of all time as their new coach, and both had taken creative and defensive responsibilities in the side.
Steven Gerrard's first big test came against Manchester City at home. The away side were 2 goals up by half time, and the boys in claret and blue hadn't really got going. Whatever Gerrard said to them at half time must have resonated, as they came out a completely different side and after a lovely Ollie Watkins finish, had the chances to equalise, and maybe even get more out of the game. Oh yeah, and Jack Grealish returned to Villa Park, greeted by jeers and an extremely rousing rendition of 'Villa til i die'. The fans left the game with their chests puffed out, and hope in their hearts.
Leicester were the next opponent to visit Villa Park, and despite Kasper Schmeichel's theatrics, it was another win in the bag for the Villans thanks to 2 goals from Ezri Konsa. Steven Gerrard made his return to Anfield just less than a week later, and just fell short thanks to a penalty from Mo Salah to give Liverpool a 1-0 win.
3 days later and another 'storyline fixture' where Villa came up against Norwich, with recently axed Villa boss Dean Smith at the helm. As expected Villa controlled the game, and if more clinical, could have ran away 3 or 4 goal winners. The pick of the 2 goals was scored by one of our own, Jacob Ramsey. He glided with the ball from the halfway line after a neat give and go with Ollie Watkins, shifted the ball onto his left foot in the box, and fizzed a shot into the back of the net. Scenes in the away end as the young lad from Great Barr celebrated with the travelling fans, kissing the hallowed crest on his jersey profusely.
Yet again, that good result was followed up by a bad one, and Villa were left searching for consistency in their performances once more. An early goal against Brentford via a tidy finish from Danny Ings gave us hope that a return to winning ways was on the cards. But Villa stopped playing with any intent after the goal, and consequently allowed Brentford back into the game, eventually losing to the Bees. The half hearted showing was lamented by a frustrated Gerrard post match, who blamed the loss on a lack of grit and hard work.
Another trip to Manchester was on the cards with a 3rd round FA cup fixture against Manchester United next up. But away from the pitch, excitement was at peak levels within the fan base as news emerged that Philippe Coutinho (yes, 3rd most expensive footballer in the world, Philippe Coutinho) was heading to Villa Park. The little Brazilian magician watched on in France, as Villa were eventually beaten 1-0 by the Red Devils, but not without a heap of controversy. What can only be described as a total VARce robbed Villa of an equaliser, and a much deserved one at that. The result left a sour taste in the mouths of the fans, and we sought revenge against them just 5 days later back at Villa park.
New signings Coutinho, and the French international Lucas Digne, gave us a new dimension to our game, and the game on Saturday just gone felt like a tasty affair in waiting. An early Emi Martines fumble, and a mistake by Villa gave United control of the game through 2 goals by Bruno Fernandes. Villa had looked good still, and the substitution of Sanson for Coutinho really rallied the supporters. Chukwuemeka entered the fray too with Danny Ings making way. Those 2 changes altered the game completely. Some lovely play by Chukwuemeka and Coutinho saw the ball fall to Ramsey who dispatched the ball past De Gea with his left foot. Then the real magic happened, Ramsey lost his man and ghosted into the box to receive the ball and slide a delicious pass across the box for Coutinho to cleverly tap home the equaliser. The Holte End was alive and roaring.
That brings us to now, with a more appealing run of fixtures ahead, and just under 2 weeks of the transfer window left. If Villa manage to get a defensive midfielder in, and maybe another centre back, this season might not be quite done and dusted yet. As a wise man once said, "Do you want to bet against us?"