Welcome to the latest blog post covering my FM21 save. After guiding Aston Villa to safety in the Premier League  last season I am now embarking on my first full season in the West Midlands. I thought that I would bring you up to speed with the save so here goes. 


It was always going to be a very busy Pre-Season either clearing the decks after a relegation or like I am doing now rebuilding the club from top to bottom to prepare for another season in the Premier League. Looking back over the duration of my save I noticed that Villa had been relegated at the end of the 2021-2022 season before returning to the top tier a season later after finishing 2nd in the Championship. Since the return Villa have finished in the bottom half of the table ever since and have also let their youth squads deteriorate so now it’s time to put things right. 

I started off with an overhaul of the backroom staff from the coaching department through the scouting department and ending with the medical department. There are too many new faces to name here but here are the three members of staff that will set the tone of the Villa Revolution amongst the backroom staff.

Assistant Manager

To work under the top 3 staff members I have assembled a coaching team that is in the top 3 in the country, a scouting network that is in the top 3 in the country and a medical team that is 2nd best in the country. This is a platform that we can now strive to build to make us the best in the country. In addition to the staff rebuild I have got the board to agree on (A) improve the Junior coaching  (B) Improve the Youth facilities and (C) improve Youth recruitment. By doing this I hope to create a clear pathway for our youngsters to come through our youth development system and in to the first team. 

The set up at Villa below the 1st team had definitely been neglected mainly because the clubs vision was to buy players for the 1st team squad and to buy players to sell for a profit. This is an area of the club that I feel that needs to change, whilst I don’t mind signing players for the 1st team I think the club really needs to be developing players to both cut down on the millions spent in the transfer window and to enable us to develop home grown players in line with foreign player regulations. 

We are now scouting around the World for young talent with all scouts now on assignments across the globe looking for that rough diamond that we can polish in the West Midlands. 

Unfortunately the squads like I said earlier are not producing the quality that I require to reach the 1st team squad so I have had no choice but to go in to the transfer market and search for the players that I think can take us to the next level. When I say next level the board will settle for a mid table finish however my eyes are set on qualification for European competition. The benefits of European football will allow us to grow in the following areas:

  • Financially (Speaks for itself)
  • Reputation ( Makes us a more desirable club to players both young and experienced) 

The Transfer Market 

The board have made £53m available for transfers and £1.9m a week available for wages. We had a number of players leave the club freeing up space within the squad and wages, the following players left the Villa and where not part of my plans to take the club forward:

  • Tyrone Mings 
  • Kourtney Hause
  • John McGinn 
  • Wesley 
  • Matt Targett 
  • Anwar El Ghazi 
  • Lamare Bogarde 

I decided that the following players would be the ones to bring in to the club and that will form part of the Villa Revolution :

  • Tommy Doyle 🏴󠁧󠁢󠁥󠁮󠁧󠁿 Central Midfield from Manchester City 
  • Wahid Faghir 🇩🇰  Forward from AC Milan 
  • James Garner 🏴󠁧󠁢󠁥󠁮󠁧󠁿 Central Midfield from  Manchester United 
  • Billy Koumetio 🇫🇷 Central Defender from Liverpool (Free Transfer) 
  • Erik Thijssen 🇳🇱 Forward  from Willem II (Free Transfer) 
  • Emmanuel Bustamante 🇨🇴 Central Defender from Once Caldas 
  • Fernando Ruggiero 🇦🇷 Central Defender from River Plate 
  • Shola Shoretire 🏴󠁧󠁢󠁥󠁮󠁧󠁿 Left Winger from Manchester United (Free Transfer) 
  • Alvaro Fernandez 🇪🇸 Left Back from Manchester United 

With the transfer business done early I could now focus on the training and tactics starting with our Pre-Season schedule that will run for 5 weeks with the goal of getting our squad up to fitness along with our Pre-Season friendly games. During the few months that I was at the club last season I implemented the 442 system that I used at Willem II  and whilst I was happy with how we played I thought we looked vulnerable in defence so I knew that I wanted to tweak the 442 system to make us more compact and tighten us up at the back whilst remaining clinical up front in converting and creating chances. The main changes at the back was the roles that I was asking our back four to play changing the Inverted wing backs to orthodox wing backs on support and changing the ball playing defender role to a central defender. Last season I saw the ball playing defender give away possession too many times. 

The 442 system that I use is inspired by Arrigo Sacchi and his Milan side of the late 80’s however I have noticed that we play very much like José Luis Mendilíbar 442 system that his Eibar side have been successful using and can see the Sacchi Influence in the Basque clubs system. The 442 system is almost always associated with the English game however a vast number of clubs on the continent have and are using a 442 variant (not to be confused with a Covid 19 variant) but like the bastard of a disease the 442 has spread around the globe. A point to remember about the Basque region is that their is a big English influence. 

Pre-Season Matches 

We jetted off to France for our opening two warm games with the first one being at En Guingamp for an evening kick off at the The Stade municipal de Roudourou in the small town of Guingamp in the North West of the country. I picked the following XI Martinez, Aguilar, Markovic, Koumetio, Fernandez, Doyle, Douglas-Luiz, Cash, Shoretire, Thijssen and Watkins to start the game in a 442 formation. 

We got off to a good start with both Central Defender’s playing nice short passes instead of taking the risks that we were taking last season giving us a more controlled base. Matty Cash playing on the right flank gave us an early lead with a left foot curler after cutting in from the flank with Aguilar creating the space for Cash with a well timed overlap. We were soon 2-0 in front when new signing Tommy Doyle found Erik Thijssen with a defence splitting pass allowing the Dutchman to find the back of the net. 

At the break I made a few changes bringing on Wind, Burgess, Garner, Buckley, Konsa and Bustamante to replace in order Thijssen, Cash, Doyle, Douglas-Luiz, Markovic and Koumetio. We continued to play well in the second period despite allowing our hosts get a consolation goal rounding the game off with a 2-1 win but at a cost with Forward Ollie Watkins picking up a long term injury that will sideline him for four or five months. 

A massive blow losing last seasons top goalscorer who scored 27 goals but it gives one of Thijssen, Wind, Burgess and Faghir the opportunity to step up. 

We then travelled to the city of Saint-Etienne to face Ligue 1 club AS Saint-Étienne for another evening kick off at the Stade Geoffroy-Guichard. A starting XI of Bazoen, Konsa, Bustamante, Markovic, Fernandez, Gaynor, Gojak, Burgess, Grealish, Wind and Faghir. Playing in our 442 formation with Burgess playing on the right flank and Grealish playing on the left in an inside forward role. 

Like a few days earlier we started well with the midfield four controlling and threatening the hosts backline with Burgess looking good on the right flank. It was Burgess who created the opening goal for Gojak who thundered his shot past the despairing keeper in the 11th minute. Danish forward Jonad Wind put us two goals to the good with a deft finish in to the left corner of the goal in the 36th minute. Playing well and dominating the game we grabbed a third goal on the stroke of half time when Emmitt Burgess rounded off a good first half showing with a well taken strike. 

The second half was pretty uneventful with us looking pretty solid defensively running out 3-0 winners. With morale on a high we got on the plane back to Birmingham with a week to prepare for our invitational tournament at Villa Park played over the next weekend in tribute to Ron Saunders the former Villa manager who was at the helm from 1974 until 1982. Winning the title in 1981 Saunders passed away in 2019. 

We had invited three teams for the tournament they were RB Leipzig, Gent and Nac Breda. The draw was made and the Semi Final  paired us with Germain club RB Leipzig who we would play in the 2nd game game at Villa Park on Saturday evening. We we sat and watched Belgian side Gent beat the Dutch club Nac Breda in the first Semi Final 3-0. 

We lined up against the Germans as follows Martinez, Aguilar, Markovic, Koumetio, Fernandez, Traore, Douglas-Luiz, Garner, Shoretire, Wind and Faghir. The two Danes leading our frontline had very little service in a first half display that I can only say was nothing short of embarrassing with Leipzig going in at the break 3-0 to the good….. 

Although this is a friendly the performance was unacceptable and I let them know it….the same XI started the second half and instantly we looked up for it and when Billy Koumetio headed home from a Shoretire corner in the 51st minute we came alive and got a second goal courtesy of Wahid Faghir in the 65th minute and the comeback was complete just 1 minute later when Shola Shoretire thundered a shot past the despairing keeper 3-3 and we were now on top of our guests. Leipzig were hanging on and just when it looked like the game would go to penalties Wahid Faghir popped up with a winner with 5 minutes of the 90 left on the clock, what a comeback a 4-3 win and definitely a good run out for the side.

The Final against Gent 24 hours later gave me the opportunity to select a different starting XI Bazoen, Konsa, Bustamante, O’Hare, Chrisene, Cash, Doyle, Gojak, Grealish, Thijssen and Burgess. Unlike the game 24 hours ago we come out of the traps flying and instead of being 3 down at the break we lead 3-0 with goals from Erik Thijssen 2nd,22nd minute and Matty Cash 13th minute. The second half was us knocking the ball around looking like a 3-0 victory until in the 86th minute Gent got one back that turned in to two on the full time whistle meaning a 3-2 win for us which was a lot more superior than the scoreline suggests. 

We followed up with a 2-0 win against Norwich City before destroying Greek Super League club PAOK 14-0 at Villa Park in our final warm up game ahead of the season opener away at Arsenal. 

Pre-Season 2026-2027

Well a good Pre-Season behind us it is time for us to see if we can compete at the higher echelons of the Premier League.

Thank you for reading

Van Skidder

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