Aston Villa’s great season last year went hand in hand with the brilliant form of former captain Jack Grealish, but it wasn’t just him.
Villa were on course for a European challenge before the pandemic took hold of their squad and Grealish’s injury coincided with a poor run of form that saw them crash down in the table.
The likes of Ollie Watkins, John McGinn, Douglas Luiz, Ezri Konsa, Matty Cash and Anwar El-Ghazi all played their part too at both ends of the pitch as Villa bounced back from escaping relegation on the final day of the previous season to a mid-table finish.
One of the main aims of the summer transfer window of 2020 was to get Grealish some much needed help, and they found that in former England international Ross Barkley on a season-long loan move from Chelsea.
Barkley started the season relatively well playing as the number ten behind Watkins and being given some attacking freedom alongside Grealish, with the team set up to protect their creative instincts.
Upon returning to the team, the attacking midfielder scored just once in eight games before being relegated to the bench and that would turn out to be his final goal contribution for the season. It was only January but Barkley had already shown that on a consistent basis, he wasn’t the answer to the problems Dean Smith and Aston Villa had been suffering with the previous year.
His presence was barely missed and as questions were raised about whether or not he’d be signed permanently, it became clear that the club were thinking twice.
His poor form saw him labelled as a “liability” by journalist Gregg Evans and ultimately it was decided that the £110k-per-week loanee wasn’t worth the investment. Villa have since put their money to good use, signing all of Emiliano Buendia, Leon Bailey and Danny Ings in the forward positions this summer while also promoting youngster Carney Chukwuemeka to the first-team fold.
It’s turned out to be a stellar decision by the club and board, with Johan Lange ultimately finding a better solution for the club’s issues and also creating a pathway for youngsters to make it into the senior side. It’s safe to say ignoring a permanent switch was a masterclass.
Since returning to Stamford Bridge, Barkley has been restricted to just 270 minutes of football across eight appearances in all competitions with zero goal contributions to his name. Chukwuemeka, by comparison, has featured for 250 minutes in the Villa first-team and has earned plaudits throughout the year too.
Chelsea don’t want or need him, but neither do Aston Villa and that’s credit to the decision making last summer. They certainly struck gold in that department.
AND in other news, John McGinn could be Steven Gerrard’s new Jack Grealish.