Football writer Alex Davis looks at how the season has started for sides in the West Midlands.
1. Villa look set for a tough season following the summer departures of Fabian Delph and Christian Benteke
This season always looked set to be a tough one for Aston Villa and so it has proved so far. The summer transfer window was cruel to the Villa as the club was deprived of its two star performers in recent times; Fabian Delph and Christian Benteke. Within three July days the pair had left for new pastures, heading to Manchester City and Liverpool respectively. Villa did however manage to recoup £40.5m for the duo and Sherwood didn’t hesitate to spend the money, splashing out £44.1m on new players. However, thus far the Villains have struggled to kick on from last season’s promising ending. Sunday’s heart breaking 3-2 defeat to high flying Leicester City made it 3 losses in 5 league games and it seems that the city’s most successful club could well struggle without the quality of Messrs Delph and Benteke.
2. If you’re good enough, you’re old enough
All too often you hear ill-informed pundits tell us how a player is ‘too young’ and therefore unable to do x, y or z on a football pitch. Try telling Adam Armstrong that. The highly rated 18 year old joined Coventry City on loan from Newcastle United during the summer transfer window, and has set League One alight. With five goals to his name already, Armstrong is showing that being on the youthful side does not mean you are any less able to succeed. Indeed this notion was exhibited on the grandest stage of them all when West Ham defeated Arsenal 2-0 at the Emirates Stadium in August. 16 year-old Reece Oxford was the star of the show that day and it all goes to show that if you’re good enough, you’re old enough.
3. Walsall could do better than expected
With one of the league’s smaller budgets, Walsall were expected to find themselves around the mid-table mark in League One this season. Of course, they may well still find themselves in that position come May, however the Saddlers have made a storming start to the campaign. Perching in the heady heights of second position at the time of writing, Dean Smith’s men have approached the campaign in a style reflective of their points tally. Tom Bradshaw has continued his form from last season, netting seven times already while the hugely talented Romaine Sawyers and Sam Mantom have been showcasing their talents to the detriment of their opposition. Not only have the Saddlers accrued 16 points from their seven league games but they are also looking forward to welcoming Premier League champions Chelsea to the Banks’s stadium in the League Cup, having seen off Nottingham Forest and Championship table toppers Brighton and Hove Albion. It’s early days still, but Walsall look set on causing a stir in League One this season.
4. The new Premier League television deal could shift the balance of power
In February of this year, the Premier League sold its television rights for a whopping £5.136bn; an increase of 71% on the deal signed three years previously. While the deal provides another nail in the coffin of lower league football, it has at least meant that in the Premier League the top clubs may not have their pick of players like before. With the security of millions and millions of pounds entering the bank just for competing in the Premier League, clubs are now less reliant on player sales to fund incoming transfers. Reported offers of up to £40m for Everton’s John Stones were rejected and here in the West Midlands we saw a similar story prevail. England and West Brom striker Saido
Berahino was subject to a series of bids from Tottenham Hotspur leading to a rumoured final offer of up to £25m, however the Baggies kept hold of their man where previously their head may have been turned. The saga was handled fairly badly by all parties involved, highlighted by a rather ill-advised tweet from Berahino himself. However, the Baggies still have their man thus suggesting that perhaps the smaller clubs now possess more power in the transfer market.
5. Birmingham City’s progression under Gary Rowett shows no signs of stopping
When Gary Rowett was appointed Birmingham City’s manager in October of last year, things were looking bleak for Blues. Lying 23rd in the Championship table and left licking their wounds after a humiliating 8-0 home defeat to Bournemouth, Rowett was tasked with the job of restoring some pride back into the side and leading a march up the table. He duly obliged and Blues registered a wholly respectable 10th placed finish. This season Rowett’s men seem intent on being one of the key players at the top end of the season and currently lie in 7th place with a game in hand on all of their main promotion rivals. Add to that progression into the League Cup third round and a tasty encounter with local rivals Aston Villa and things are looking a lot more exciting at St Andrew’s than they were 12 months ago.