On the eve of a new Premier League season, we have the luxury of hope, expectation and the promise that maybe this year will be better than the last?
Where will we, Aston Villa, end up?
Case For Progress
Villa have recruited strongly throughout the summer, bringing in many fresh faces, largely from across the continent, in an attempt to completely revitalise the bare bones of Villa squads of old.
There is certainly cause for discreet optimism; Jordan Amavi, Jordan Veretout and Idrissa Gueye were amongst genuine rising talent in Europe last season. Villa, for once, stole a march on the competition and got the deals done.
Further, Villa acted swiftly, Micah Richards joined from Man City (via Fiortentina) and takes up the role of Captain. The prospect of Richards’ presence, desire to remind the England boss who he is & winning mentality are a welcome addition to the squad. Further, the prospect of having a central defensive partnership of Richards + Clark/Okore is only reassuring.
Then there are the decisive purchases of Gestede & Ayew. A mix of braun, potential and flair. Most will worry about the loss of Benteke’s goals, but we have taken steps to try and offset this in two very promising players indeed.
Out With The Old
I, like many, was genuinely worried about what the close season would hold. The season was scary enough and the FA Cup final sent a firm reminder about exactly where we were at as a football team.
After watching the unexpected rehabilitation of Tom Cleverley, it felt certain he would join Villa. Cleverley’s decision to opt for Everton hurt at the time & sent a shockwave of genuine concern that we couldn’t sell ourselves to a man virtually unwanted by all a matter of months prior.
Then there was the debacle of the deceitful £8m transfer of Fabian Delph to Manchester City which made Cleverley’s exit seem miniscule by comparison. Villa sought to act quickly to replace our Captain, but the wounds will be very hard to heal indeed.
The inevitable departure of Christian Benteke capped a depressive mood. After seemingly putting off all comers by placing a huge release fee on the Belgian’s head, it was eventually activated by Liverpool. I am still staggered that Benteke regards Liverpool as genuine career progression, and should he succeed this season at Anfield this season, it’s only foreseeable that he will move on to achieve desired honours.
Villa also took out the trash and recycled everything else.
Given switched to Stoke, Darren Bent & Andreas Wiemann joined Derby County. Fullback Matthew Lowton moved back north, joining relegated Burnley. Aly Cissokho has been loaned to Porto & Antonio ‘Tony’ Luna released. “Pants Down” Helenius returned to AaB. Even Yacouba Sylla found himself a new home at Rennes…
Ron Vlaar, another Captain who was desperate to jump ship, finds himself without a club having rejected the offer of an extension with Villa. Vlaar will likely be hampered significantly owing to an injury which will keep him out until at least the new year. Karma? Fate?
Not an easy task.
I take the view that we cannot be much worse than last year. We cannot afford to be, that’s for sure. We have been bad, verging on atrocious for at least 2 years. The three years prior to that we were in a freefall to where we are, predictably, now.
Had we not invested, I genuinely think we would have been absolute certainties for the drop.
Instead, we are faced with the much improved task of worrying about players “gelling”. Not a phrase many could honestly recall being a problem worth worrying about at Villa Park.
Sherwood appears to have set about targeting pace, flair and invention across the side. The capture of Amavi for example, who will occupy the left back role, signals a departure from Villa of old. A slick, technically gift and attack minded fullback. We just don’t go after this type of player ordinarily.
Villa will also go from being awfully predictable to having surprise packages across the team. This is certainly a departure. Benteke was a fine striker for us, but if you stopped him, we simply didn’t score or even look like scoring.
Whilst his goals have to be replaced, we at least have recruited figures who are forward thinking and an unknown quantity in the Premier league. This carries risks, but that’s something we are just going to have to live with.
But where might we end up?
It’s sad to want to long for the security of mid-table obscurity. However, a season to lay the foundations, and frankly, be anonymous would be quite nice. Would you honestly mind not being overly bothered going into the April / May fixtures? Just for one season, perhaps.
Another cup run would be nice – if it could be done with the shambles of a team thrown together last year – then we must stand a chance this term. League Cup, FA Cup, Chocolate Teapot; I don’t care.
The league – anywhere from 10th-14th for me – is an acceptable progression from the trapdoor hovering which we have become so adept at.
As mentioned above, this may read as a disappointing “non-season”. Many might take it, and others will rightly demand more. We are Aston Villa, we have won great honours, but, we have endured years of damaging under-investment.
Under-investment that has left us needing to radically overhaul in the manner that we have and to start a longer term vision which may yet see us out in the footballing wilderness for a number of years to come.
After the recent seasons that we as Villa fans have tolerated, the 2015/16 year will surely mark the turning point? It has to.
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