helsea have spent more money than any other Premier League club in the transfer window this summer, signing Hakim Ziyech, Timo Werner, Ben Chilwell, Kai Havertz and Édouard Mendy among others at a cost of £225m, but they are not the only side who have done exceptional business. Tottenham, who knocked them out of the League Cup on Tuesday night, have made some smart additions, upgrading their full-backs while also bringing Gareth Bale back for the season. Everton have improved their midfield dramatically with the acquisitions of Abdoulaye Doucouré, Allan and James Rodríguez.
Nevertheless, Chelsea continue to look unconvincing defensively and we will have to wait and see how well Mendy settles; Tottenham look short in the centre of defence and up front; and Everton would probably like to add a goalkeeper, a right-back and a centre-back in an ideal world.
Aston Villa, however, have made remarkable strides in this transfer window, signing Matty Cash (£16m), Ollie Watkins (£28m), Emiliano Martínez (£20m) and Bertrand Traoré (£17m). The club also agreed new long-term contracts with Tyrone Mings and Jack Grealish, who will delighted to see their fellow England international Ross Barkley join for the season.
Signing a Chelsea squad player may not be the coup of the century but, for a club that only returned to the Premier League last season and stayed up by the skin of their teeth, it’s a big signing, even if only on loan. Barkley has 33 caps for England and he remains in Gareth Southgate’s thinking for the Euros next summer for a reason.
He did not cement a place at Stamford Bridge, but he has impressed in the chances that have come his way. Over the last two seasons only one current Chelsea player has set up more goals in the Premier League than Barkley (Cesar Azpilicueta, who has 12 assists to Barkley’s nine) – despite the fact that Barkley only started 26 of the club’s 78 league matches in that time. Over that spell, Barkley is one of only 12 players in the entire league with a pass accuracy in excess of 90%, and he is comfortably the most attack-minded of that group of players.
Barkley is the statement No 8 that Villa needed and he joins the club alongside a new goalkeeper, right-back, right winger and striker. Martínez has already made his mark between the posts, saving a penalty on his debut and going on to become the first Villa keeper to record back-to-back clean sheets in the Premier League since Brad Guzan in 2014.
Cash has put in two assured displays. He made seven tackles in Villa’s 1-0 win over Sheffield United on Monday – more than any other player in the league over the weekend. Bertrand Traoré enjoyed an impressive debut in the Carabao Cup against Bristol City, even getting on the scoresheet. Watkins has done even better, scoring in both rounds of the cup. He will be desperate to get off the mark in the league, but his movement and tireless work ethic have already helped Villa play 10 yards higher up the pitch and alleviate pressure on the defence. It’s very early days but the signs are hugely encouraging for Villa, who may yet try to add one more player before window closes.
As it stands, however, the club’s new first XI is a massive improvement on a side that was just about good enough to stay up last season. Martínez has replaced Pepe Reina in goal; Cash is now first choice over Frédéric Guilbert; Barkley will likely come in for Conor Hourihane; Traoré will compete and should displace Trézéguet in time; and Watkins comes in for Ally Samatta, who has joined Fenerbahce. No other club in the league has improved in as many areas of the pitch.
After four wins from four to start the season – albeit against modest opposition – the club have gone from third favourites for the drop before the season to seventh favourites to be relegated now. The bookies are now offering the same price for Villa to finish in the top half as in the relegation zone.
Time will tell, but Villa seem to be heading in the right direction and the owners have made their intentions clear. The club has statured and now it has renewed financial backing. Having watched on as Burnley, Leicester, Wolves and Sheffield United finished in the top half of the table last season, Aston Villa have serious ambition once again.