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Can Villa Stay Ahead of the Curve?

September 16, 2009

ASTON VILLA V WIGAN ATHLETIC

For Villa fans, last season was a joy to behold. Under relatively new management and ownership the club flourished, rising from mid-table obscurity to credible contenders to break into the ‘Big 4’.

Of course, they didn’t. Despite some prudent buying and sound tactics, Villa just couldn’t maintain the momentum they’d built so strikingly in the first half of the season. The squad depth was minimal and sadly they couldn’t maintain their stamina whilst vying for the fourth spot (which became the fifth spot toward the latter stages of the season) in the greatest league in the world as well as trying to carve a recent run in the UEFA Cup.

Ultimately, Villa finished sixth; 1 point shy of Everton in fifth and ultimately ten points behind Arsenal in fourth.

This season, despite a good performance last year, most (and I was of these) expected things to get worse. The ‘big 4’ seemed unbreakable as ever, Everton again had a strong team on paper and with emergence of big spending Man City and flourishing Tottenham, maintaining their stature in the top half of the table seemed something like a uphill battle. Add to this losing arguably their best player, Gareth Barry, to one of their immediate rivals and the dim outlook on the new season prior to the first kick off is somewhat understandable. But what really did it for me was the lack of transfers.

As mentioned previously, the squad depth was an issue last season I expected that to worked upon, especially with selling Barry to City, Zat Knight going to Bolton  and our leading centre-back Martin Laursen retiring due to injury. But O’Neill didn’t develop much at all in the way of transfers (pre-season at least). The only interesting buy he made was Stuart Downing, but why buy another left-winger when Villa already have the superlative Ashley Young playing in that position. And I really couldn’t understand why O’Neill went into the season with only two established first-team centre-back’s in the squad.

The decision baffled me, but then he brought in Collins, Dunne and Warnock and relived my doubts a little but not entirely. To me it still seems like we’ve got a hole in our centre midfield, with Reo-Coker being Villa’s best option in my own opinion. I don’t think Petrov can really shine at this level and Delph is frankly too young and lacks Premiership experience to be all that effective.

And when Villa lost their opening game of the season against Wigan and at home no less, I really felt like our season was over and with the odds stacked against them, Villa would struggle to get a place in the top half of the table, never mind be a threat to the ‘Big 4’.

Then things picked up – considerably. Defying the odds, Villa picked up a well-fought victory against Liverpool at Anfield, following up by a home win against last season rivals Fulham and then picking up a victory against local rivals Birmingham at St Andrews.

With a game in hand, Villa stand at the brink breaking into a top 4 once again, but this early in the season it doesn’t mean a whole lot and the question becomes can Villa stay ahead of the curve?

Honestly, I don’t think so. Although Everton are having a torrid start to the season, both Man City and Tottenham are flourishing and will be hard to beat this season. Also, Villa haven’t solve the squad depth. I believe they are relatively strong at the back now, with Dunne, Davies and Cueller become a particularly good combination, but as I highlighted before, Villa are still weak in the centre and that could become costly in some of the more hard-fought matches of the season.

Why do I think they’ll finish? As it stands, my money rests on 7th place but I will not be all that surprised if we fall beyond the 10th and enter the realms of the lower half of the table.

Here’s hoping the Villa superlative away form continues…

By the way guys, for all of you who love your Fantasy Football you should join the FootyBanter.co.uk Champions League Fantasy Football Private League and have the chance to win £25! (or currency equivalent payable via paypal) Obviously, it’s free entry!  View more details.

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3 Comments leave one →
  1. September 16, 2009 9:37 pm

    With City and Spurs improving alot this year i think Villa will scrap it out in mid table..the league is so tight that they could be anywhere from 6th-12th. But i think more like top 8

    Problem is that they havent strengthened anywhere near enough. Dunne is past his best i feel. However i think Delph is a brilliant signing. In a couple of years he will be knocking on the international door. Young, Milner, Gabby and Carew will still give you the edge against many sides, but the squad doesnt really have much depth. I thought Learner had some cash but i hear he is tight as!

  2. September 17, 2009 2:10 am

    was rooting for aston villa to get the fourth spot in the expense of a certain london team last season. oh boy, did they disappoint me.

    as both you and rob pointed out, the problem is the depth of the squad. in fact, the squad is still paper thin. would say top half finish this season.

    btw, you need to check your email.

  3. September 17, 2009 5:22 am

    The issue of Villa’s paper thin squad has always been an issue even in Graham Taylor days! The only exception was when David O’Leary brought his ‘quantity not quality’ antics at the helm did they have a large enough squad.

    I suspect it is more to do with a belief or some sort of upper management cry to develop young players that hold them back.

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