Aston Villa and Hull City couldn’t be separated on the first day of the Championship season as the two teams played out a 1-1 draw at Villa Park.
There is a lot of expectation on the hosts to push for promotion back to the Premier League this year after the transfer business that they completed over the summer. They have added experience to their already talented squad, but they didn’t have enough to overcome the recently-relegated Tigers, despite dominating the match for long periods.
Here are three things that The Boot Room learnt…
Aston Villa’s season could rest on Jonathan Kodjia
During the first half, the home side were good and created several clear-cut opportunities, but they only had one goal to show for their efforts. Scott Hogan led the line and he didn’t impress, leaving many to question whether he was worth the significant outlay earlier this year.
At Brentford, he was excellent, but he hasn’t transitioned well since his transfer and this was another disappointing performance. He didn’t look confident in the final third and his decision making was poor, as underlined by his lowly pass success rate of 50%.
Although this will be a disappointment for Steve Bruce, it isn’t the end of the world, as Villa do possess a reliable goal-scorer at this level. Jonathan Kodjia is favoured by the bookmakers to be the top scorer of the league this season and for good reason. He has scored 19 goals in each of his last two seasons at this level and at the age of 27, it is now time for him to emerge as one of the best players in the division.
The Ivorian will miss the next few matches through injury and it is important that Villa find a way to win without him. On this evidence, their promotion hopes could lie with last season’s top scorer, as their play in the final third was slow and lacking a focal point.
Kamil Grosicki could be a star at this level
A number of players have left Hull City and their squad is lacking in quality as a result, but one player that could thrive at this level and push the Tigers to a top-six challenge is Kamil Grosicki. The Poland international impressed in the Premier League and he was excellent on Saturday, as his movement and quality on the ball caused problems for Aston Villa.
During the match, he made five key passes, which was more than any other player on the pitch. The 29-year-old also got the assist for the equaliser.
It will be difficult to keep hold of the winger as he still has international ambitions and to achieve them, he may need to play at a higher level. There will be a number of Premier League and European clubs that would be open to taking Grosicki, especially given the situation at Hull. He could leave, but if he stays, he could be one of the best players in this division.
The Tigers’ number seven is intelligent and rarely makes a wrong decision when he has possession of the ball. That was on show at Villa Park and he played a major part in his side earning a point.
Steve Bruce is already showing his limitations on day one
There is no doubting his pedigree at this level, but the Championship is becoming a more competitive division. The division has become more tactical with the likes of Slavisa Jokanovic, Carlos Carvalhal and Jaap Stam leading the change. This summer, that has continued with the appointments of Nuno Espirito Santo, Daniel Farke and Leonid Slutsky.
Some of these managers have managed in the Champions League and that shows how the division has developed.
Steve Bruce was seen as a good appointment last season, but he hasn’t been a great success to date and this performance showed his flaws. Towards the end of the game when he was looking for a winner, he chose to bring on Chris Samba as a striker. That is a desperate play and he has already made it on the first day of the season.
Conor Hourihane was sitting on the bench and he was one of the most creative midfielders in the league last season, but the Villa boss opted for an ageing centre-half playing as a forward. The league will be tight this year and small gains through substitutions and tactical changes could prove pivotal. On this evidence, Bruce won’t be able to transform many matches in his side’s favour.