The season has now come to an end for Aston Villa with a competitive 2-2 draw away to Wigan Athletic in a match which could have carried far greater significance.
As it was, the relegated Latics still exposed defensive vulnerabilities with a headed goal by Emmerson Boyce while Nathan Baker’s own goal cancelled out Darren Bent’s opener on a rare start for the striker. Ron Vlaar’s excellent half-volley secured the point, but in all honesty Villa were relieved to be playing this game with no real pressure.
Attention now turns to player recruitment over the summer. Manager Paul Lambert has already warned that there will be no major transfer activity in the close season, although this could change if they are forced to sell Christian Benteke, who has been linked with Arsenal and Borussia Dortmund amongst others after such an impressive first season in the English top flight.
The 2-1 defeat to Chelsea last weekend highlighted how important Benteke is to the team, as the visitors took charge after his dismissal and came back to win. Villa have been no stranger to selling key players in recent years, with Ashley Young, Gareth Barry, Stewart Downing and James Milner all leaving the West Midlands for bigger things. With the form Benteke has showed, it wouldn’t be much of a surprise to see the Belgian move and continue that trend.
Elsewhere in the team there is plenty of depth, with several players who can fill the central midfield roles, and a variety of central defensive pairings have been used this season. The expected return to action of Richard Dunne will certainly go a long way to helping Villa concede less next time around with the team having failed to keep a clean sheet since Stoke’s visit to Villa Park back in December.
Dunne will provide some much needed experience to what is, on the whole a very young team who, through no shortage of effort, have struggled at times on the big stage. But they have also shown at other times why they are capable of playing Premier League football, and Paul Lambert knows that they can only improve and go from strength to strength next year. The Irishman’s return to partner Vlaar could create a very strong partnership next season.
Lambert may also be looking at the possibility of trimming the squad a little. There are some fringe players – like Stephen Ireland, Shay Given and most notably Darren Bent – with big reputations and high wages who, if moved on, would free up some funds. Other players with youth on their side who have not been first choice might just be given another opportunity to fulfil their potential.
With Wigan’s relegation confirmed and safety secured, Paul Lambert has his mind set on building a team capable of finishing higher than 15th in the league next season. But with little backing from owner Randy Lerner, he will be aware that most of his signings are likely to be more promising youngsters from below the top division. There are few better managers to nurture them.
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