Club Focus – Aston Villa – Villa reinforces defence

When the transfer window finally closed on Tuesday, Villa had successfully completed their sixth and seventh signings of the summer period both of which were centre backs. The first signing was James Collins from West Ham United who signed for the Villans on a £5 million deal. The second signing of the day and undeniably the most important signing of the day came in the form of ex-Manchester City captain, Richard Dunne who completed a £6 million move to Villa Park.

James Collins, the 26 year old Welsh international is sure to provide some much needed Premier League experience at centre back for Villa. O’Neill was quick to realise the weakest aspect of his squad and rightly so he increased numbers in his defensive ranks. Collins not only sees the contribution he can make to the squad – but he can also see the benefits playing for a new club on him as a player – “I have come to Aston Villa to improve as a player and hopefully improve their team. I’ll be looking to do that straight away.” However, one of the most talked about signings on the transfer deadline day was Richard Dunne’s move from Man City. Ever since Martin Laursen was plagued with injuries towards the end of last season, Villa never looked like the team they were at the start of the campaign – a team which were strong favourites to break into the top four. Even at the beginning of the current Premier League season, his presence as well as his defensive ability was sorely missed as Villa’s campaign started off poorly.

Dunne who has captained Manchester City side for some time is the perfect player to replace Laursen. O’Neill stated that “he is just the kind of person we are looking for,” in terms of character and leadership. If Richard Dunne performs for Villa then O’Neill’s season may have just taken another positive turn. Dunne upon signing for the club stated that his main ambition was to “be part of a squad to challenge for a Champions League spot.” After two more additions to the Villa squad, it is difficult to rate their chances in pushing for a top four spot this season. With Tottenham Hotspur and Manchester City both beginning their seasons convincingly with straight victories, Villa will have to maintain a winning streak, beating teams such as Spurs and City on the way.

Taking the squad into account, Brad Friedel is undoubtedly one of the most experienced and best goalkeepers in the Premier League and with an improved and sturdy defence – Villa could prove to be difficult to break down. The midfield is the strongest aspect of the squad with Styliyan Petrov slotting in perfectly in the defensive midfield position and Reo-Coker or Sidwell taking up the role of playmaker. The wingers, Ashley Young and James Milner complement the midfield with intelligent and dynamic wing play. If the midfield can provide more service to the strikers and they make their chances count, then Aston Villa by December could be in a very promising position in the Premier League. Certainly, this is if Villa remain injury free for much of the season. Wilfred Bouma and new signing Stewart Downing are still both out injured and Curtis Davies is looking to be sidelined for up to five months with a dislocated shoulder. O’Neill’s defensive signings have proved to be even more important as Villa were left with only one fully fit central defender in Carlos Cuellar.

The international break is well and truly underway and Ashley Young, Emile Heskey and particularly James Milner will all be looking to make an impact for England against Slovenia and Croatia in order to keep their place in the national squad. However, Villa’s young midfielder, Fabian Delph has been forced to pull out of Stewart Pearce’s England Under 21 squad due to a minor injury. During the break, O’Neill has plenty of time to analyse his current squad and work out how to incorporate his new signings into his plans. After a few Premier League games, it will be evident whether or not O’Neill has finally solved his perpetual defensive problem.

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