Why Villa won't make the top-six…
Since relegation to the Championship, Aston Villa have signed six attack-minded players: Ross McCormack, Jonathan Kodjia, Albert Adomah, Scott Hogan, Conor Hourihane, Henri Lansbury. Each of them arrived with the reputation of being one of the most creative or clinical performers in the second tier.
On paper then, the result of them playing together should be goals galore. In fact, the Villans netted just 47 last term, only three teams scoring fewer. Of the six players mentioned, only Kodjia was a success, because he had the individuality to score without much help.
The other five had generally played in expansive teams that passed through the midfield, allowing them to develop their confidence and technique in possession.
The direct tactics Steve Bruce employs require a different mould of player. His 2012/13 and 2015/16 Hull sides were all about power in central areas, much like his promotion-winning teams at Birmingham before that. Those methods have brought success in the Championship, but the league is ever-evolving and we are increasingly seeing a higher standard of footballer.
Old-school managers in a similar category to Bruce, such as Mick McCarthy and Neil Warnock, can still do a job in the Championship when it comes to keeping a team in the division. However, to get a big-budgeted club like Aston Villa out of it, tactical flexibility is required and the lack of which could be the Geordie's downfall.
Chairman Dr Tony Xia has the right intentions, but what he does not have is a coherent plan. His logic is that if he appoints a manager with a track record of promotion and spends a lot of money players with the best goal/assist record, that will automatically result in promotion.
While those two things can help, promotion also requires a coherent plan which ensures that the players signed are in line with the tactical approach that the team is likely to take.
Villa are evens (SkyBet) to miss out on the top-six, which is a bet worth taking because, while there is money at Villa Park, there isn't a plan.
More Misery for the Millers?
Rotherham finished their 2016/17 Championship campaign 28 points adrift of safety. There hasn’t been a second-tier team in post-war history that has finished further away.
The man who was in charge for 28 of those 46 games, Paul Warne, has been given the manager's job on a permanent basis. Warne has admitted publicly his own insecurities about his capability as a manager.
While such openness makes him one of the more likable figures in the game, it also calls into question his suitability to a position that requires strong leadership skills.
The 44-year-old has not made bad signings so far, with forward David Ball joining after a good season with Fleetwood and Darren Potter adding experience in midfield. The quality of player added should not be underestimated, but nor should the scale of the slump they look to arrest.
Seventeen players remain from last season, a list which doesn't include top scorer Danny Ward or Player of the Year Tom Adeyemi. Only two defenders have joined a back-line that shipped 98 last term – one of them, Michael Ihiekwe, played in the National League last season while the other, Semi Ajayi, has played just 38 senior games in his five-year career.
The 5/6 (William Hill) on offer for Rotherham to finish in the bottom half is worth taking because, quite simply, you don't get over the pain of 33 defeats in one season without major structural change.
Don't trust the Imps
My prediction for Lincoln City to finish 14th this season has not gone down perfectly with some supporters, so I will take this opportunity to expand.
Firstly, the whole club deserves immense credit for a historic 2016/17 campaign, which saw them deservedly win the National League title and become the first fifth tier side to reach the FA Cup quarter-finals in 103 years. For that, congratulations to all involved.
But… It seems a little premature to judge them as immediate promotion contenders based on one great season.
The six players who started over 40 games for the Imps last season – Nathan Arnold, Luke Waterfall, Sean Raggett, Sam Habergham, Paul Farman and Alex Woodyard – have played just 30 Football League games between them over the last eight years.
While those players should undoubtedly go up in our estimations after last season, we also shouldn't completely forget where they have been in their careers previously. Indeed, Matt Rhead still has something to prove in League Two, his two full seasons at this level seeing him score a combined nine goals, part of a porous Mansfield attack.
Matt Green, who has partnered him before, is a good signing if consolidation is the aim, but arrives a little out of form with one goal in his last 13 starts. Defender Michael Bostwick and midfielder Billy Knott are positive additions, but even the latter arrives hampered by injury, having started 40 games combined for three different clubs over the last two seasons.
While the favourites have signed several players League One clubs want on big wages, Lincoln are in a slightly different market, which suggests the expectations placed on Danny and Nicky Cowley should be tempered a little.
Imp-mania has seemingly engulfed the country, yet seven of the last 10 promoted teams from the National League have finished in the bottom-half. Punters should take advantage of the 12/5 (Paddy Power) available on Lincoln to follow suit.
Championship – Aston Villa to finish outside of the top-six (1/1 SkyBet)
League One – Rotherham to finish in the bottom-half (5/6 William Hill)
League Two – Lincoln to finish outside of the top-seven (12/5 Paddy Power)
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