Last Season Finish: 15th
Want to hear a joke?
How come Aston Villa does not have a website?
Because they can’t string three “Ws” together.
Such is the blight of Aston Villa, which has failed to climb past sixth place for the last 17 years. The glory days when they were contenders to take the top of the table were over 20 years ago as they found themselves flirting with relegation last season.
There are several factors that led to Villa’s 15th placed finish last season. Their leading scorer, Christian Benteke, was out of form in the first half of the season and ruptured his Achilles tendon in the second half. Moreover, Aston Villa didn’t have any other option up top who could finish like the Belgium International as the club scored a total of 39 goals the entire season. On the otherhand, Liverpool’s Daniel Sturridge and Luis Suarez scored 52 goals combined. Lastly, the club’s lack of quality wingbacks damaged their defense entirely, as their exposed flanks caused the entire defense to collapse, resulting in 61 conceded goals.
What does Aston Villa have in common with a grizzly bear?
Both of them hibernate in the fall.
The club’s lack of willingness to purchase new players has kept them locked up in the bottom of the table, but fortunately they have had enough talent to ensure their survival in the EPL. Like fellow middle dwellers Newcastle and West Ham United, it’s hard to see Aston Villa ever get demoted to the Championship. It wouldn’t hurt if this club made some key transfers to change their fortunes, but they have been prudent to say the least as of late.
Manager Paul Lambert will do his best to keep Aston Villa afloat with the weak collection of players he currently has. With newly hired assistant Roy Keane by his side, Lambert has a stern leader who can demand respect and focus from the players. Can these two get their squad to overperform or will they dawdle around in 15th place once again?
Aly Cissokho (Valencia CF, £2.2 million)
The French international didn’t seem to pan out for Liverpool during his loan spell there as he only amassed 15 caps at the Merseyside club. Despite being a speedy and hardnosed battler at left-back, Cissokho doesn’t have much quality moving forward to make a solid contribution on the attack. More often than not, fans will see Cissokho booting the ball out of the danger zone more often than making a composed pass or starting a run from the flanks. Still the 26 year old is certainly an upgrade over Joe Bennett.
Kieran Richardson (Fulham, Free Transfer)
The former Fulham left-back will compete with Cissokho for the starting position. While he may not have the quick legs like Cissokho, Richardson boasts a more eye-opening resume than the French internationl. Currently 30 years of age, the grizzled veteran used to play for Manchester United and scored six goals for them back in the 2005-2006 season. He was one of the more consistent members of Sunderland from 2007 to 2013 and played for England in the 2010 FIFA World Cup. Richardson does not only bring a wealth of experience to Aston Villa, but also versatility as he has some experience playing left wing. The English international can be compared as a poor man’s Maicon, and that’s exactly what Villa needs to bolster their flanks.
Philippe Senderos (Valencia CF, Free Transfer)
The Swiss international will provide much-needed muscle at the center back position for Aston Villa. Alongside Ron Vlaar, Senderos will help Villa deliver one of the strongest center back pairings in the EPL. What makes Villa’s backline look intimidating is that both Vlaar and Senderos are bald and rugged, traits that make the two resemble those thuggish henchmen from a James Bond film. Although the pairing looks decent on paper, coverage will be Aston Villa’s biggest issue coming into the season. Neither Vlaar nor Senderos are known for having quick feet and can easily be exposed by speedy forwards and crafty midfielders.
Joe Cole (West Ham United, Free Transfer)
Joe Cole provides fanciful footwork and great decis….oh wait this isn’t 2005. It’s been a while since I heard Joe Cole’s name, given that he fell into anonymity after his departure from Chelsea back in 2010. He had a solid season at West Ham, scoring five goals in 32 matches, but it’s questionable how he can be of much help to Aston Villa this upcoming season. Cole is already on the wrong side of 30 and should have made a move to MLS to prolong his career, but instead he’s going to dwell in Villa where he can provide some depth at the wings and midfield.
Loaned out – Aleksandr Tonev, Antonio Luna, Yacouba Sylla, Nathan Delfouneso.
Predicted Starting XI (4-3-3)
GK: Brad Guzan
DF: Matthew Lowton, Ron Vlaar, Philippe Senderos, Kieran Richardson
MF: Fabian Delph, Ashley Westwood, Karim El Ahmadi
FW: Gabriel Agbonlahor, Christian Benteke, Charles N’Zogbia
– Defensive Midfield
Aston Villa is blessed to have a pair of steel curtains in front of the defense; Ashley Westwood and Fabian Delph. Westwood has flashed glimpses of Michael Carrick’s last season, winning the ball effectively and making plays from deep. Contrary to his height (5′ 9″), Fabian Delph has been absolute brute, battling against opposing midfielders with his industrious work rate. The two have been menaces towards the opposition and have won back the balls at a solid rate. Expect the two to become a more recognized name in the EPL next season.
Roy Keane has been Villa’s most underrated hiring during the offseason. The newly hired assistant coach did a marvelous job seven years ago when he led Sunderland to promotion in the EPL, but has struggled to keep them in the league. Keane is still learning the ins and outs of managing a football club, but there’s no doubt that he is a great motivator and can push a club to perform at a high level. Manager Paul Lambert still has a relatively young club before him, so having the stern “Keano” besides him to keep the squad focused will be a major help. From November to December, expect the club to triumph a series of must-win matches as their schedule eases up with low level clubs.
– Where Will the Goals Come From?
There are questions on how Christian Benteke will perform after rupturing his achilles last season. Even with Benteke fully healthy, Aston Villa lacks quality and depth to find the back of the net. Darren Bent provides valuable experience, but last season he experienced a dip in form and doesn’t look to return to what he once was. Libor Kozak doesn’t seem like the answer given his lead-footed pace and lack of killer instinct. While national hero Gabriel Agbonlahor is beloved by Villa fans for his work ethic and brutal tackle on One Direction’s Louis Tomlinson during a charity match, he doesn’t deliver results on a constant basis.
My fellow co-writer Ross Bramble says it best. “That decent back four is like an egg – squeeze it from top to bottom and you can’t break it. Squeeze it from right to left and it’s all over the place…all a matter of how you play against Villa. If you go direct, Vlaar’s got you all day long. Starting getting clever and it crumbles like Riveta.”
Fullbacks Matthew Lowton and Kieran Richardson are capable of holding their ground at the fullback position, but you cannot expect them to defend the flanks flawlessly. Once one of them gets exposed, the lead-footed Senderos or Vlaar will be left marking the dribbler, leaving the defense disorganized. You don’t have to be a world class manager to figure out how to break through Aston Villa’s defense.
This team will play better than last season, but it won’t be a significant jump as the club will finish 12th next season. Although their defense may be a bit slow, their current personnel is better than anything they had last season. Moreover, they have a rich pool of midfielders for Lambert to rotate through as the club juggles the EPL with FA Cup and League Cup matches. By the world’s eyes, Aston Villa will be a poor team, but not poor enough to get relegated. You live this time Villa.