It may only be a few games into the new Premier League season, but Aston Villa currently find themselves second in the table and with a game in hand on table-topping Everton.
To put it simply, you just couldn’t have scripted a better start for Dean Smith’s side. And as if to underline that point, their remarkable, and truly historic, 7-2 dismantling of reigning champions Liverpool on Sunday night, just made a mockery of the fact that they survived relegation by the skin of their teeth on the final day of last season.
The Villa boss deserves enormous credit for the work he has done, not only for staying up last season or their incredible beginning to this one, but also for getting them promoted in the first place. But whilst he’s someone who of course is always going to be in the public eye, there’s another key man behind the scenes who needs just as much of that love: Johan Lange.
Recruited from FC Copenhagen earlier in the summer to become Villa’s new sporting director, and thus replacing Jesus Garcia Pitarch, Lange had the unenviable task of trying to ensure the Midlands club didn’t just repeat the same mistakes of the 2019 summer transfer window, but also move the team forward.
Villa splashed the cash last summer in the hope of really taking the Premier League by storm, but in end, it was really hit and miss. Tyrone Mings and Ezri Konsa have formed a rock-solid partnership at the back, but then there were some absolute duds in there too, not least Jota, who left the club just a year after joining.
This summer has seen Villa be far more co-ordinated, structured, and ruthless about their transfer planning and negotiations. Areas that needed strengthening were quickly identified, and reinforced, whilst players who weren’t cutting it – like Jota for example – were moved out with no room for sentiment.
Villa have made five new signings in this transfer window, and all of them have already had moments of brilliance. Emiliano Martinez with a penalty save on his debut. Ollie Watkins with the perfect hat-trick against Liverpool. Even Ross Barkley getting in on the act on his debut too. Things have been far smoother sailing at Villa Park, and their dealings in the market have a lot to do with Lange.
So whilst Smith will rightly get most of the praise, some love needs to be shared with Lange too.