View from the opposition: Steve Bruce struggling to get his message across at Villa Park
- Credit: Paul Chesterton/Focus Images Ltd
Q It's not been the start Steve Bruce wanted has it?
A Errr, no. One point from three games, capitulation at Cardiff and key players injured in what looks like an unsettled, ageing squad – pick the bones out of that, Brucey. It's easy to scaremonger after just three games, but even at this stage there must be big questions about whether there is the quality and the desire at Villa Park to launch a serious push for promotion.
Q Bruce has been busy changing things – has he gone too far down the Dad's Army route with experienced players like John Terry and Christopher Samba?
A I think it's been difficult for Bruce because he inherited a squad devoid of leaders. For years, Villa thrived (and then survived) because of players who'd drive the team on with a mixture of passion, professionalism and good old hard graft. Think Mellberg, Petrov or soon-to-be Premier League record appearance maker Gareth Barry. Di Matteo tried to address this with Elphick, Chester and Jedinak. Bruce has gone further, gambling on whether JT still has any fire in his belly. He's definitely keen to blend that sort of experience with youth. Even Gabby Agbonlahor, the club legend whose touches over the last couple of seasons seem to have come mainly from kick-offs, is back in the fold. It all looks like a bit of a punt – in fact it's about a 16/1 punt at the moment if you still think Villa have got enough to win the Championship.
Q Most attention (particularly of a certain TV station) has been on Terry – but who should City be wary of today?
A The real teeth in the Villa attack are in the treatment room – Kodjia and now Hogan. Young Josh Onomah has looked bright since arriving on loan from Tottenham and Conor Hourihane enjoyed a good day against the Canaries last season. Terry, Samba, Chester & Co should (hopefully) make sure Villa are a threat at set-pieces this season – and I'm sure that's something Bruce will be targeting against City. All in all, though, not exactly a terrifying prospect.
Q If you were Steve Bruce, who would worry you in the City line-up?
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A That chap Wes can play. It's not too long ago that Paul Lambert was trying to nab Mr Hoolahan in the January transfer window to boost a stuttering Premier League campaign in 2014. He's a proven match winner and I expect his trickery to cause Villa all sorts of problems - particularly if he gets to play alongside Maddison and Vrancic, who also look like they're going to be big creative forces this season.
Q Are Villa, historically a big club, set for a quick return or an embarrassingly long stay in the Championship?
A Steve Bruce's record speaks for itself, but I wonder if the challenge of getting Villa up this season is too tough, even for him. It's going to be very competitive up the top, with a few sides doing a very good job of strengthening this summer. It's hard not to be impressed by how the Wolves down the road have started and the ambition shown by splashing the cash on a player with the quality that Ruben Neves seems to have. The play-offs might well be the best we can hope for this year – but even that looks a long way off unless there's a drastic change in performance. Bruce could also use a bit of luck. So much depends on the fitness of Kodjia, and with Hogan and Grealish now joining him on the sidelines, I think goals might become an issue.
Q And finally, what's your prediction?
A Despite all the moaning I've just indulged in, it's still no easy task going to Villa Park (which is a good job because their away record makes for grim reading over the last few seasons). But Villa are depleted, lacking in confidence and there for the taking if the right Norwich City turn up. A scrappy draw, for me, 1-1 with Villa burgling one from a set-piece.