Premier League: 15th
FA Cup: Fourth Round
League Cup: Semi-finals
Ahead of what looks set to be a very competitive Premier League season, supporters of Aston Villa should have plenty of reason to be cheerful. For the first time since 2009, the club begin a season with the same manager who finished the last, Paul Lambert, who guided the club to safety despite numerous setbacks.
Villa have been one of the more active clubs in the transfer market during the summer, with six players signed. All of them are young and ambitious, and with the exception of goalkeeper Jed Steer, players who have gained some valuable top-level experience in other countries and look set to make an impression in England, with Lambert seemingly the right man to nurture them.
Despite the addition of Nicklas Helenius and Aleksandar Tonev, amongst others, the main story surrounding Villa this summer has been the Christian Benteke saga. For a week it seemed as though his departure was just a matter of time but Lambert managed to convince him to stay, which represents a major boost to the club’s chances on improving on last season.
The only negative aspect this summer for Paul Lambert has been the difficulties he has experienced in his attempts to offload several senior players who have been made available, taking up a considerable portion of the wage bill. Of the frustrated contingent, only Brett Holman has left, with Darren Bent, Shay Given, Alan Hutton, and Stephen Ireland all still at the club with very little chance of first-team action. Lambert will be very keen to remove them before the transfer deadline.
The first objective would be to stay up, something that looks within Villa’s capability. Players such as Matthew Lowton, Ashley Westwood and Joe Bennett have all adapted to the Premier League fairly well, and the experience that they have gained will be invaluable going into their second season in the top-flight. Andreas Weimann also impressed after becoming a regular starter.
That experience, along with the players who have arrived, leave Villa looking well equipped to achieve mid-table safety. While the likes of Sunderland, Norwich City and Southampton are also looking stronger, Villa might carry their momentum from their impressive finish to last season over to this, and the chances of a run such as the one they had over the Christmas period, where they lost three games and conceded15 goals without reply, look far less likely.
However, the fixture list could not have handed Villa a much more difficult start, with a trip to Arsenal on the opening day, followed by a visit to Stamford Bridge to face Jose Mourinho’s Chelsea, before they take on Liverpool at Villa Park. And it remains quite tough on paper until November.
But overall, while a top-half finish would be a tough ask, Villa look capable of staying clear of danger. The squad can only continue to improve, and the supporters will get behind them. They will need greater consistency than last season, but the team showed at times in 2012/13 that they can be a match for anyone on their day. Do not bet against them making steady progress.
Manager – Paul Lambert: Since taking over last summer the Scot has stamped his mark on Aston Villa, signing several young players to replace the existing experience. He has placed immense faith in his team and he will be looking for progress in his long-term project, and he did his bit in helping to keep Christian Benteke.
Key signing – Christian Benteke: Despite signing six players, securing the future of the Belgian striker was the most important development of the summer. He looked set to leave the club after persistent rumours, and he made provocative comments to the media, but to Villa’s relief, withdrew a transfer request to sign a new contract.
Key sale – Richard Dunne: The Irishman is one of very few first-team players to leave Villa Park this summer, joining Queens Park Rangers after spending the whole of last season sidelined by a groin injury. It is a sale that represents the swift changing of the Villa guard by Paul Lambert.
Keep an eye out for…Matthew Lowton: The youngster, who was signed from Sheffield United, was very impressive in his first top-flight season, and turned out some superb performances towards the end of the campaign. This season he can go from strength to strength – if the team does too.
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