Premier League Preview - Aston Villa
Premier League: 16th
FA Cup: 4th Round
League Cup: 3rd Round
After a dismal season under Alex McLeish Aston Villa fans can now look forward to the Paul Lambert revolution as they approach their first game of the Premier League season away to West Ham on the 18th of August.
Villa recorded their lowest points total in their Premier League history with only 38 points from 38 games last season, and also the worst home record in their entire 138 years, managing only 19 points out of a possible 57. McLeish and several of his staff were sacked as a result of this disastrous campaign, and Lambert has been installed to bring the club back to their former glories.
It did not take long for Lambert to get his transformation underway, bringing in his own staff and several new players to build on a squad which struggled to survive in the Premier League last time out. Karim El Ahmadi from Feyenoord was the first in after Australian forward Brett Holman had agreed to join the club during McLeish’s tenure. Villa fans can expect a ball playing and tenacious defensive midfielder in El Ahmadi, something the Villa team has lacked for quite a while.
Right-back Matt Lowton has been brought in from Sheffield United to replace Alan Hutton who looks set to leave the club after a disappointing debut season. Ron Vlaar has also been brought in from Feyenoord to help improve an ageing defence, and his strength and power will not go unnoticed by Villa fans.
Several players have also left the club during the summer months, something Villa fans are much more used to than arrivals. Emile Heskey, Carlos Cuellar and Brad Guzan were all given free transfers at the end of the last campaign after McLeish judged they had not done enough to earn new deals.
Lambert disagreed with one of McLeish’s choices, offering Guzan a chance to not only re-sign for the club, but also challenge for the goalkeeper’s spot with current first choice Shay Given. Guzan accepted the offer and the Villa faithful can expect to see much more from that talented young American ‘keeper this time out.
James Collins has been sold back to West Ham having spent the previous four years at Aston Villa. Although a lot of Villa fans were not convinced by his performances, his experience and leadership were crucial in helping the club survive under McLeish, and his efforts and determination for the cause will be missed. With Hutton and Jean Makoun also looking likely to leave, August should prove a busy month for Lambert as he continues to build rebuild the squad.
Not only will Villa’s fans have a new manager and a few new faces to watch out for this season, they can also be assured that the style of football will be vastly changed. McLeish’s rigid defensive policies will be replaced by more attacking football that a change which is sure to bring the fans back to Villa Park and begin to make it the fortress it once was.
Manager - Paul Lambert: Lambert has already become a fans’ favourite at the club despite not yet managing in a competitive game. McLeish had become almost a figure of hate for most Villans, and with his departure Lambert’s appointment has brought in a wave of optimism as he looks set to turn round the fortunes of a club that has declined in the two previous campaigns.
Key Signing - Karim El Ahmadi: Although the tenacious Moroccan will not be a household name in England, his time in Dutch football with FC Twente and Feyenoord has shown him to be a top quality defensive midfield player. El Ahmadi holds many attributes that the Villa midfield have desperately lacked in recent years.
Key Sale - James Collins: Collins was a key figure last season in helping prevent Villa’s relegation to the Championship. In a team that was rocked by injuries to senior players and was forced to field youngsters throughout the campaign, his experience and organisation helped guide Villa to safety. If hit by a similar injury crisis this season, Collins’ sale may prove a mistake in a squad that is already stretched thin.
Keep an eye out for…Gary Gardner. The younger brother of Craig Gardner, the Birmingham-born midfielder was finally given his chance in the Villa first team towards the end of last season. The youngster flourished in the Villa youth system, and now at age of 20, will be looking to establish himself as a permanent fixture under the new manager.
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