Aston Villa: Which youth players will be ready to kick on in 2012/13?
Towards the end of last season there was little, if anything, to cheer about down at Villa Park. The football was unattractive, the players looked despondent and the club was on the brink of being relegated from the Premier League for the first time in its history.
One thing that gave fans a glimmer of hope was the emergence of its youth players whom, despite being called on to perform a minor miracles rather than being slowly blooded and allowed to feel their way into one of the toughest leagues in the world, allowed supporters to dare to dream of a brighter tomorrow.
With the 2011/12 season hopefully a distant memory the forthcoming campaign looks likely to be a very different challenge for Villa’s brightest prospects.
Looking at those vital points that earned Villa salvation you could argue the goal scored by Andreas Weimann against Fulham and even the hugely deflected rocket from Ciaran Clarke against Spurs eventually pulled Villa to safety.
But it was much more than that.
Towards the end of the season players were being called up left, right and centre and being asked to step in and perform at the highest level. It could be argued that was not even manager’s fault because the squad was so wafer thin – what was his fault was the fact the team had not been able to climb the table when the squad was more or less at full strength.
What came out of last year’s campaign was a Villa faithful who not once moaned at the youth players who gave their all. The question now, however, is which of players will be good enough to keep their place if Paul Lambert strengthens this season and some of the big name stars return?
Baker was assured every game at centre-half and I believe both he and Clarke will be rocks in a few seasons – plus they already seem to be shouting at team-mates to mark their men and pull players into position more than Richard Dunne and James Collins ever have.
It will be interesting to see how they develop over the next few seasons if given the right chance.
Lichaj, for me, is already our best full back. I’m not sure what that says for Stephen Warnock and Alan Hutton but I don’t think anyone would be too bothered if they went.
It will also be interesting to see if Enda Stevens is given a game this year. He wasn’t really used last season but that doesn’t necessarily mean he’s not good.
I think every Villa fan is praying last season has not damaged Gardener’s confidence. For the past three or four years he’s been touted as the next best thing and he did show glimpses and what he can do but all too often he was left chasing the ball around the middle of the park, unable to stamp any authority on the game.
If he can be played as one of Villa’s box-to-box midfielders with good support around him, there is still every chance he will be as good as we’re praying he will be.
Herd battled incredibly hard last season but with a few signings I’m not sure he’ll have that big a role this season, particularly as the holding midfielder, but he will make a great squad player and who knows, perhaps he’ll even make another step up this season and keep his place.
Weimann showed everyone his goalscoring talents and was always looking for the loose ball or hovering on the back of the last defender’s shoulder. I can’t see him keeping his place either but if we’re chasing a goal next season I also can’t wait to see him being paired up with Darren Bent and Gabby in three-pronged attack to see if we can actually go an equaliser or the winner.
Carruthers seems to be another amazing talent but obviously there is plenty of time for him to get his chance, along with Daniel Johnson.
Albrighton though has to perform this season. He had a great first season but last year his confidence was shot to bits. He seems to have the pace and talent, and when he’s on form running at a defender the crowd gets behind him and the whole team. His crossing was atrocious last season so hopefully he’ll been working on that in pre-season, once his fitness is back. I really hope he can start performing at the top level but the jury is still out I’m afraid.
As for Bannan and Delfouneso I’m really not sure. Bannan kept screaming to be given a chance last season and other than whipping the odd half decent ball in from a set-piece I can’t remember him making a contribution.
Delfouneso has been a rising star for more than four years now – now is the time to do something otherwise I think he’ll be heading for the exit.
Article by James Fisher
Calling all Villa fans: Which young players do you think will make telling contributions on the pitch this season? Is this a make-or-break season for Bannan and Delfouneso? Whatever your views, we'd love to hear from you.