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Why the FA Cup weekend provides a big opportunity for Aston Villa

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Photo: Reuters

It was the best of times. It was the worst of the times. It was panic mode. It was ‘don’t worry’. It was December. A month, for Aston Villa, that does not bring many gifts.

In the twelfth month of the year, it is usually the time of the football season where you can expect Villa’s hopes to collapse. Of course, the club have ironically lead league tables before November eroded into December. After Christmas the club is usually lucky to have a hand on the top half of the table!

And again, that’s almost how it went for Aston Villa in 2017. A blown two goal lead, a draw, a defeat and another loss. Steve Bruce’s reign at Villa has been defined by streaks. A stint of winning, coldly sandwiched between two barren spells.

After a Boxing Day bashing by promising coach Dean Smith and his plucky Brentford side the tide seemed to be turning against Steve Bruce for the final time. Booed off rather viciously by an angry pack of away fans at Griffin Park, the 57-year-old head coach was quick to defend himself.

He was even quicker to do so when he escaped Middlesbrough with three points a few days after, and by the dawn of the new year – after taking six points against two very good sides, including a resounding 5-0 win against Bristol City – he was more than happy to take the plaudits.

Now, after a barrage of cold surf, Villa’s manager now seems to be riding a waves of optimism into 2018.

Villa’s first match post New Year’s Day is a FA Cup 3rd round tie against League One outfit Peterborough United. These matches are usually dismissed by those who are too quick to get down to the business of the league.

However, while the FA Cup might not offer glory, it certainly offers opportunity to teams like Aston Villa, who would do well not to turn their nose up at England’s oldest club football competition.

The FA Cup? For Villa, it’s an opportunity for rebirth. It is not a throwaway fixture at Villa Park in any sense of the world. Why? It allows the team to experiment, rotate and try out new things that they may be too scared to implement in a league fixture.

It also allows them to give extremely talented youngsters like Jake Doyle-Hayes, Easah Suliman and Callum O’Hare some valuable first-team game time. What is more, it allows an erratic side to settle into form, with a big chance for a win on offer.

Scott Hogan will likely be allowed a full ninety minutes of football to continue his decent spell, and a few goals will do nothing but help him along.

Among other things, it also gives Villa a look at a decent League One side. Many clubs are chasing Jack Marriott, who leads the line for the Posh. Seeing a ready-made replacement for any departing striker can do the Bruce’s team no harm. Well, as long as he doesn’t bang a few goals past Jed Steer.

The flip side of this? It is also a good way for the Birmingham side to put second-stringers and reserve players in a shop window. Especially considering it is very much a ‘sell-to-buy’ situation for the club this January.

Villa and Steve Bruce would be wise to pay close attention to Saturday’s fixture, as it represents a massive chance for this side to grow and really galvanise their season.

It has been a stop-start campaign so far and a good win against a talented Peterborough side in the FA Cup certainly won’t hurt Villa. In truth, it could be a really good opportunity to learn a lot more about Bruce’s current squad.

Villa won’t win the FA Cup, but a good run will only boost their season. Ignoring fixture congestion and other intangibles of which we cannot measure the impact, any match where a loss is not of huge detriment can only help one of the Championship’s most exciting, talented and erratic teams grow.

Aston Villa

Aston Villa making move for Lewis Grabban is shrewd planning

The 30-year-old striker has demonstrated great form for Aston Villa this year.

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In January Aston Villa made a shrewd move by bringing in Lewis Grabban on loan from Bournemouth. The talented striker had spent the first half of the season on loan at Sunderland. Despite his good form for the club, scoring 12 goals in 19 Championship appearances for the Black Cats.

With Sunderland looking doomed to their eventual relegation, Grabban was open to joining a different Championship team in the winter window. He did just that by heading to Aston Villa.

It has been an unbridled success so far for the 30-year-old striker. He has been in fine form for Villa since arriving at Villa Park, scoring seven goals in 13 appearances for Steve Bruce’s men.

Now, it is being reported by Birmingham Live, that Aston Villa are looking in to making his loan move a permanent one.

The report claims three loanees, Sam Johnstone, Robert Snodgrass and Grabban, will be targeted on permanent deals this summer.

Making a permanent move for Grabban would certainly be a wise move for Aston Villa, regardless of which division they end up playing in next season.

(Photo by Michael Regan/Getty Images)

In the Championship there are not many strikers who can claim to be as big a threat as the Bournemouth loanee. He has proven that this season, with a combined tally of 19 goals for both Sunderland and Aston Villa this season.

Of course, Bruce’s side is also chasing promotion. The Midlands side are assured of a place in the end of season play-offs and will be hoping to return to the Premier League.

Grabban is still to prove himself in the Premier League and if Aston Villa were to be promoted he could find himself with the perfect opportunity to do just that.

When Bournemouth signed Grabban from Norwich City it cost the Cherries a fee reported to be in the region of £8 million by the Daily Mail. Given his form this season, the Premier League side will be looking to recoup as much of that fee as possible. However, with just over a year left on his deal on the South Coast, Aston Villa will surely be able to get him for a bargain fee.

Doing so would be a good piece of business for Aston Villa. Finding someone to score you goals is never easy and, in Grabban, Aston Villa have just that.

They should not let him go.

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Aston Villa will be rewarded for their patience by holding onto young defender

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Photo: Getty Images.

Signed in January on loan from Manchester United, it’s fair to say that Axel Tuanzebe has not quite lived up to expectations at Villa Park with only five league appearances since moving to Birmingham.

The full-back has completed 90 minutes only once since his loan signing and is yet to impress Steve Bruce sufficiently to earn a regular spot in the side, having made back to back starts only once.

Despite that, The Sun say that it is likely that regardless of whether the Villans are promoted or not in the summer, Tuanzebe will remain on loan at Aston Villa next season.

The reports suggest that he will join Manchester United for their pre-season tour of the US for Jose Mourinho to re-evaluate the defender, who he gave a Premier League debut to in May 2017, before opting to send him out on loan.

(Photo by Nathan Stirk/Getty Images)

That a host of top flight and second tier clubs are still interested despite him not convincing for Villa says a lot about Tuanzebe’s potential. Steve Bruce is a good judge of player potential too, and if he is keen to retain his services then it is for a reason.

Strong in the tackle yet quick, Tuanzebe did not look out of place among the elite when he made his United debut against Arsenal and has not many any clear errors whilst on loan at Villa either.

By sticking with their man, Villa will reap the rewards in the long-term. At Championship level with a full pre-season and regular football behind him, Tuanzebe could easily stake his claim and begin to fulfill his potential.

If Villa are promoted, it’s hard to see how Tuanzebe will become first choice, but he will come cheap and is certainly an interesting option to have amongst the ranks.

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Top Aston Villa talent Easah Suliman is struggling on loan at Grimsby Town

The Aston Villa talent is currently out on loan at Grimsby Town.

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Aston Villa have plenty of young talent coming through of whom the hope will be a future in the first-team. One such player is central defender Easah Suliman. The 20-year-old is a highly-rated local lad who has been considered a top talent for a number of years now.

His reputation is built mainly on his excellent credentials with the England youth teams. The defender has played for his country from under-16 level and has even captained the side at under-16, under-17 and  under-19 level.

At the under-19 level, he helped England win the European Championships last summer and he is now a part of the very successful England under-20 unit, playing six games and scoring two goals at that level.

So Aston Villa are right to have high hopes for his future.

However, he is not currently at the club and has been struggling to make a name for himself during his current loan spell.

Suliman, who has previously been on loan at Cheltenham Town, joined League Two side Grimsby Town on loan until the end of the season back in January.

(during the 8 Nations Tournament match between Italy U20 and England U20 on October 5, 2017 in Gorgonzola, Italy.

It was supposed to see him get a chance of first-team football but he has so far been used sparingly at Blundell Park.

Suliman has played just 58 minutes of first-team football for the Mariners since heading to the League Two side in January.

Aston Villa will undoubtedly be disappointed to see that Suliman has not managed to have an impact in the lower leagues. The problem with a player of Suliman’s style, a confident ball-playing defender, is that in League Two such qualities are not always what a club is looking for.

Suliman is under contract at Aston Villa until 2019 and next season the club need to find him a more suited loan spell if he is to get the first-team football he requires. In the long run, the youngster has all the attributes necessary to be a first-team player at Aston Villa.

But he will need to learn from his tough Grimsby experience and come back to Bodymoor Heath stronger in the summer.

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