The 2013- 2014 season was eventful to say the least for Aston Villa. Another season of struggle and off the field uncertainty continued to plague the Midlands club. Paul Lambert’s young squad went into the season with low expectations and they proved their critics right producing some baffling results along the way, both brilliant and downright awful at times.
The Villains beat Arsenal at The Emirates on the opening day of the season, Manchester City and Chelsea at Villa Park, as well as coming from two goals down to beat local rivals West Bromwich Albion. Results like that may provide Villa fans with some optimism heading into the 2014-2015 season. However, being knocked out of the FA Cup by League One side Sheffield United, the second time in consecutive seasons the Villains have been knocked out of a cup competition by lower league opposition, and disappointing losses to fellow strugglers in the league, still makes for alarming reading for Paul Lambert and the Villa faithful.
The Villains cause was not helped by injuries to key players throughout the season. Christian Benteke failed to stay injury free and defender Jores Okore and midfielder Charles N’Zogbia both had lengthy spells on the sideline. Benteke’s strike partner Libor Kozak, fresh from a £7million move from Italian club Lazio, broke his leg in training ruling him out for the remainder of the season. Villa will hope for better luck in the season ahead.
Last season: 15th
In: Phillipe Senderos (Valencia, free), Kieran Richardson (Fulham, free), Joe Cole (West Ham, free).
Out: Nathan Delfouneso (Blackpool, free), Yacouba Sylla (Erciyesspor, loan), Nicklas Helenius (Aalborg, loan), Marc Albrighton (Leicester City, free), Jordan Bowery (Rotherham United, undisclosed).
Ex-Manchester United hard man Roy Keane has been brought in to replace former assistant manager Ian Culverhouse after himself and Head of Football Operations Gary Karsa were sacked amid accusations of bullying within the club. The appointment of Keane as Paul Lambert’s right hand man will certainly spice things up at the Bodymoor Heath training ground and will play a major part in attracting new talent to the club.
New players include Joe Cole, Phillipe Senderos and Keiran Richardson all on free transfers. Towards the rear end of last season Paul Lambert was crying out for players with Premier League experience, and that is exactly what this trio has to offer with over 100 Premier League appearances each to their name. Senderos and Richardson respectively will add some much needed quality and know how to Villa’s leaky defence.
The return of Aston Villa’s ‘bomb squad’ will be seen as fresh faces at the club; record signing Darren Bent, Charles N’Zogbia and Alan Hutton were all frozen out by manager Paul Lambert last season; N’Zogbia’s absence being put down to ‘injury’. There has been some speculation as to the reasons for this, some say they were never in Paul Lambert’s plans from the very beginning, others say it may be due to financial reasons, with all three players on high wages. However, the trio have all featured heavily throughout the pre-season campaign after owner Randy Lerner put the club up for sale.
When Christian Benteke is on form, Villa win football matches. When the big man is injured, Villa struggle. Simple.
Since his £7million move from Belgian club Genk in the summer of 2012, Christian Benteke has arguably kept Aston Villa in England’s top flight. The 6′ 3″ Belgian international suffered a serious injury in March last term and was ruled out for the remainder of the season as Villa limped over the safety line.
In a weird way, that injury may have been good news for Villa fans in hindsight as it has deterred clubs from making offers for him ensuring he will be an Aston Villa player until January 2015 at least.
He is set to miss the start of the season but if Villa can keep him fit, he may be a player to bag at least ten goals by January with the creativity that Charles N’Zogbia and new boy Joe Cole will be able to offer him.
One to watch
This may come as a surprise for non-Villa fans. To many, he is that unpolished youngster from Leeds United that Villa paid a fortune for back in 2009. But in the last couple of years, Villa fans have noticed a difference from this supposed unassuming central midfielder.
Fabian Delph has become the heart and soul of Villa’s midfield. Producing performances last term that arguably merited a spot for him on the plane to Brazil for the World Cup.
His mazy, lung-bursting runs down the centre of the pitch have often had many opposition players reeling and his no nonsense, tough tackling approach adds a bit of steel to an otherwise lightweight Villa midfield.
Goals against Chelsea and Southampton last season earned him some well-earned media attention but more of the same in the upcoming 2014-2015 season will certainly earn Fabian his long awaited England call-up.
On paper, Aston Villa look so much stronger with the additions of experienced campaigner Kieran Richardson at left back, the return of Jores Okore to partner Ron Vlaar in the heart of Villa’s defence and Charles N’Zogbia out on the wing.
With a few more fresh faces expected in the coming weeks, competition for places will be at a level not seen in a few years at Villa Park. Expect to see promising youngsters Callum Robinson and Jack Grealish continue to fight for first team spots as well.
A potential new owner before the end of the transfer window may change the whole approach to the new season with heavy investment but for now, all the Villa faithful will ask for will be a drama-free, mid-table finish.
BPF Prediction: 16th
Written by: Jack Furness / @Jack_Furness