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Friday, 26 July 2013

Aston Villa: Can Lambert's men improve on last season?

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Pre-season – a time to let the mind wonder as football fans dream up any number of scenarios for their team.

Being a Villa fan it would be easy to once again get carried away following a few signings, but it would be equally as easy to be thinking of doom and gloom following the past two seasons which have seen Villa just avoid relegation.

The omens are beginning to look better under Villa manager Paul Lambert following a more than shaky start and, if you cast your mind back to the second half of last season, we were actually playing pretty well.

So, what will the new season bring?

BentekeVilla were straight out the blocks this summer signing six new faces. Lambert’s stuck rigidly to his policy of just signing young players – most of which have not been heard of in England – but going on his signings last year you’d have to back him. The manager brought in Matthew Lowton, Ashley Westwood and Christian Benteke, who were revelations in an otherwise pretty poor season. Yacouba Sylla and also Ron Vlaar played well, plus he seemed to get the best out of Fabian Delph and Andreas Weimann. Joe Bennett and Jordan Bowery didn’t exactly set the world alight, but they’re still very young.

New signings include Jores Okore, Aleksander Tonev, Antonio Luna, Nicklas Helenius, Leandro Bacuna and Jed Steer. I wouldn’t pretend to know how any of those players are going to perform in the Premiership, but it’s been a busy summer of change and all Villa fans are excited about the new season. However, perhaps the most crucial move by Lambert this summer has been shoring up all Villa’s best players on new long-term contracts, while showing the door to those who have not performed.

Everyone at Villa breathed a huge sigh of relief when Benteke finally agreed to stay, but before him goalkeeper Brad Guzan, defenders Ciaran Clark, Nathan Baker and Lowton, midfielder Westwood and forward Weimann also pledged their futures to Villa. Meanwhile goalkeeper Andy Marshall, defenders Richard Dunne, Derek Williams and Eric Lichaj, and midfielder Brett Holman were all shown the door, while Alan Hutton, Nathan Delfouneso, Stephen Ireland, Darren Bent and Barry Bannan were told their services would no longer be required.

Lichaj is the only player out of that bunch who I feel was a little unlucky, plus Bent did well when given the chance but just fell out of favour, but those on high wages really have to justify their squad numbers these days.

Paul-Lambert 3It also shows Lambert is prepared to stamp his authority and, although Villa have a lot of fresh faces, the backbone of the team will be the same as last season. Having had a whole season and another pre-season together that can only bode well for the future.

The main problem facing Villa is their defence, which has to stop leaking goals this campaign. It was easily their weakest area last year and I just hope Villa fans do not get too carried away before the first ball is kicked.

Even mid-table would be a good finish this year – it would be boring, but at least it would stop us worrying about going down all season.

Pre-season hasn’t gone exactly swimmingly and Villa’s opening Premier League fixtures – against Arsenal and Liverpool – will tell us a lot more about how the team is shaping up.

It’s going to be another extremely tough season, with promoted sides fighting hard, last season’s surprise packages out to prove a point, mid-table clubs looking to push on for Europe and the top clubs having splashed the cash over the summer.

It’s pretty much impossible to predict where Villa will finish this season but hopefully with the whole young squad being a year wiser, the new faces adding competition for places and Lambert having been able to get a proper pre-season in with his whole squad, perhaps we can start to dream of a brighter future.

Article by James Fisher

Calling all Aston Villa fans: How confident are you ahead of the new campaign? Has Lambert's signings and decisions impressed you? Can Villa move away from a relegation fight this season? Whatever your views, we'd love to hear from you.

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