Aston Villa had a tough time in the Premier League last year. The Lions were fighting to avoid relegation all season long, finishing 15th, only five points away from relegation. Playing near the danger zone all season must not have helped Paul Lambert in his first season in charge of The Claret and Blue. After not much improvement last summer, Lambert is determined to make quality signings and make the team look like a real Premier League club. With the emergence of Christian Benteke and Ashley Westwood along with a series of new signings, the atmosphere at Villa Park is different already.
At the end of October, Aston Villa had one win out of their first nine games. They were in 17th place, one spot away from relegation. Things didn’t improve much. During February and March, Aston Villa spent a lot of time in the relegation zone and not much was going their way. One thing that was holding the club together was their joint support for captain Stiliyan Petrov, who was battling leukaemia. Villa Park would give a standing ovation at the 19th minute of every home game (the number 19 is Petrov’s jersey number). April was the turning point, Villa beat relegation candidates Stoke 3-1 and Sunderland 6-1 and steered clear of relegation. The one positive from the season was the play of some young players Aston Villa can build around, such as Christian Benteke, Ashley Westwood, and Andreas Weimann. These players have a bright future ahead of them and Villa should look to keep them if they want to improve from last season.
The most interesting fact in this section is that most of these players were signed last season by Paul Lambert. The new manager has made great additions to the team and if he can reproduce a fairly similar summer this year this team will have a bright future ahead.
Christian Benteke – Here I have to start with Christian Benteke. Benteke joined Villa last summer for a fee said to be around £7m. That turned out to be a great investment as the striker went on a scoring spree, scoring 19 league goals, 23 overall. He is wanted by a series of top English clubs but Villa have set a high price in hopes of keeping him as he will only get better.
Andreas Weimann – Weimann is another striker for Aston Villa who has a bright future ahead of him. He scored 12 goals last season but has been steadily improving and recently signed a new three year deal that will keep him at Villa Park.
Ashley Westwood – The youngster signed last summer and has shown huge improvements since coming to Aston Villa. He had the most starts of any Villa midfielder and the third most for the club. He led the team with six assists. His work ethic has been praised by Villa coaches and at age 23, he will certainly continue improving.
Ron Vlaar – Another new signing, Ron Vlaar started the year poorly but showed major signs of improvement towards the end. His play could be credited for Villa’s exit from the relegation zone and their new look towards the end of the season. Expect him to improve further next year.
Matthew Lowton – Lowton has been Villa’s most consistent player, leading the team with 37 starts. He would have probably played every game in the Premier League if he didn’t suffer an injury late in the season.
The players here are getting the boot, as Paul Lambert has shown he will only accept hard work and stellar consistent performance from his team.
Stephen Ireland – Ireland was told he can leave Aston Villa by manager Paul Lambert. The midfielder hasn’t played since December and it’s obvious he will not be playing for Villa any longer. The question is whether Villa might be able to get some money for his services or if they will have to let him go for a minimal fee.
Shay Given – Given only had two starts all season and has also been told he can leave. Brad Guzan has done a good job of replacing him and has signed a new contract this summer. Villa have also signed goalkeeper Jed Steer and it will be interesting to see who wins the starting job.
Darren Bent – Bent is another outcast at Villa Park who has been told to find a new club. The good news for Bent is that Newcastle are interested and he will have the opportunity to be their main striker if they can land him.
The number one priority at Villa Park must be to retain Christian Benteke, who has established himself as a superstar in the Premier League. These positions must also be addressed if Villa are hoping to make a major improvement from last season:
Playmaker – One of the biggest problems for the Lion last year was their lack of chances. A quality attacking midfielder would be ideal in this situation, but anyone who can create opportunities would be welcomed at Villa Park. They have Ashley Westwood in a holding role, so someone who can play in front of him would be ideal.
Winger – Aston Villa already signed Bulgarian winger Aleksander Tonev, who can play on both flanks. They probably need another quality signings to improve the position, as last year they lacked players who can create chances.
Left Back – Joe Bennett is an average left back who may not be good enough to be a starter in the Premier League. Aston Villa have already signed Spanish left back Antonio Luna, who should be able to replace Bennett and improve the position.
Experience - Paul Lambert has signed many youngsters to this team and the squad now lacks experience. If Villa can afford it, they should look to sign a few veterans that will provide much needed mentoring and experience to this squad.
Hiroshi Kiyotake – Kiyotake can solve a few of Villa’s problems. He is an attacking midfielder who can act as a playmaker at Villa Park and play in front of Ashley Westwood. He is young but also experienced, having played a year for FC Nuremberg and has 18 national team appearances for Japan.
Nacer Chadli – Another player who fits the Villa model. Young and experienced, the 23 year old is wanted by a series of top English clubs. He has 16 goals for FC Twente last season and his creativity and speed on the wing will provide a nice sidekick to Aleksander Tonev on the opposite side of the field.
Gareth Barry – The 32 year old defensive midfielder has already played for Villa and the rumor is that Villa want him to provide experience to their young core. Manchester City are willing to part ways with Barry but Villa must find the right price.
Do you think Aston Villa can improve from last year and finish in the top ten? Will Christian Benteke stay?