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Friday, 02 August 2013

Aston Villa: What can we make of our pre-season so far?

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Every year there seems to be less and less of a gap between the end of one season and the start of a new one – which is not a bad thing for those starved of football during the summer.

But what it also means is there are far more games played before the start of the season proper and also more time for the manager to tinker with their squad. 

 Villa appear to be playing completely different sides for the first 60 minutes and final 30 minutes. That makes it extremely difficult to see who manager Paul Lambert sees as his preferred starting 11. Then again, he might have less of a clue than the fans at this stage.

Villa have hardly set the world on alight during their warm-up games, drawing their first four and then losing and winning one. Having said that, 10 goals in their last two games – plus a clean sheet – cannot be sniffed at.

LAmbertThe pre-season tour of Germany seemed to do the team good and although SV Rodinghausen, SC Paderborn and VFL Bochum can hardly to be classed as the cream of Europe, to come away undefeated was a good achievement.

The majority of Villa’s new faces got a run out and it was great to see new signing Helenius score on his debut and then grab another, perhaps already justifying taking the number nine shirt from Darren Bent, who looks to be on his way.

Andreas Weimann, fresh from signing an extended contract, also got on the score sheet during one of the three 1-1 draws.

Following that was a fourth straight draw away at Wycombe and again there were positives to take from the game as Ashley Westwood and Matthew Lowton – two more young players with bright futures tied down to new contracts – also scored.

There was quite a severe blip when, with Christian Benteke returning for the first time since back-tracking on his transfer request, Villa went down 2-0 away to the not so mighty Luton Town.

It was certainly time for a performance when the side travelled back to Westwood’s former club – and they didn’t disappoint running out 5-1 winners against Crewe Alexandra, with Benteke giving a tantalising glimpse of his form returning, bagging a hat-trick during the first half rout. Another new signing, Leandro Bacuna, also opened his Villa account with Weimann scoring his second of the pre-season. 

Then there was there was another five-goal display, which saw five different scorers, against local rivals Walsall. Fabian Delph and Gabby Agbonlahor opened their accounts, while Benteke added another. But perhaps the most eye-opening goals came through youngster Gary Gardner – who missed most of last season through injury – and 17-year-old Villa fan Jack Grealish, who also got on the score sheet.

Gardner has been touted as a star of the future for a few seasons now, so it’s so promising to see him getting his form back. Grealish is another potential star of the future and it shows Villa’s conveyor belt of young talent is not likely to stop anytime soon.

With Gabby Agbonlahor returning to full fitness along with Helenius, who was briefly sidelined following his blistering start, Villa are looking very good going forward.

The midlfield, whichever combination Lambert has chosen, seems to be finding the attackers with some nice through balls, as well as chipping in with a few goals. It also bodes for the season opener so many forwards are vying for possibly three starting positions.

That obviously depends on whether Lambert sticks to his 4-3-3 formation, which to me was the best, but perhaps with the new signings he’s looking at a new set up.

However, despite all the positives, the most worrying trend of this Villa side seems to have continued from where it left off last season – they still struggle to keep a clean sheet.

Looking at the first seven games, Villa have conceded eight goals – and that’s against teams who could hardly be put in the same bracket as those in the Premier League. 

If Lambert does not sort out the defence Villa are going to struggle.  Despite a two recent strong performance it’s vital the side continues to not give so many goals away. We suffered a few horrendous defeats last season, which nearly cost us our Premier League status. It would be such a shame if Villa were to throw away any chance of a promising start by leaking goals.

The midfield looks to be moving in the right direction and the forward line, which was good last season, has also been improved.

Pre-season doesn’t usually give too much away but what it’s shown at Aston Villa is the defence is still open, the midfield can battle and the forwards can finish. We knew all that at the end of last season so let’s hope with a few games left errors can continue to be ironed out before the team takes on Arsenal, Chelsea and Liverpool in Premiership.

Article by James Fisher

Calling all Villa fans: What have you taken from the pre-season games so far? Are you confident of a successful season ahead? How pleased are you to still have Benteke in your squad? What are your targets for the new campaign? Whatever your views, we'd love to hear from you.

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