With the season now a month away and the World Cup over, fans all over the country are starting to think about club football again. Villa were never really out of my mind: even during the World Cup I was hungry for Villa news. It’s been a reasonably interesting summer at Villa Park. We have signed three players so far, albeit on the cheap, and put seven players up for sale. Then of course there is the ongoing uncertainty surrounding the ownership of the club, which has already seen the much maligned Paul Faulkner depart. Another Paul (Lambert) remains and it looks as though he will be managing the team for the foreseeable future.
Presuming that the owner and management remain in place, these are the five things I’d like to see this season:
1. Tie up the key three
Whatever happens this summer, it is imperative that Ron Vlaar, Gabby Agbonlahor and Fabian Delph all sign new deals or, at the very least, we attempt to negotiate with them.
All three have one year left on their contracts and, along with Benteke and Guzan, I would argue that they are our most important players. I can’t understand why we have been putting off discussions due to the uncertainty at the club yet we have continued to sign new players. Had we started discussions with Vlaar pre-World Cup, we may have been able to agree a deal with him. He’s now had a storming tournament so could possibly ask for more money and could also have had his head turned by another club.
Delph has just come off the back of his best season in claret and blue, scooping our player of the year award. I’d like to think he will show us some loyalty after we stood by him through his injury troubles but unless we start negotiations we are running the risk of continuing the ‘curse of the player of the year award’. James Milner, Stewart Downing and Stephen Ireland all won the award and departed shortly after. We simply cannot afford to lose our dynamic midfield man.
Gabby seems to split fans’ opinions but he has scored so many important goals over the years and remains a key player due to his pace and power. Of the three, he is the most likely to stay but is he the one we could afford to lose the most? I would hate to see him go: for me he is a club legend.
2. Get Gabby and Andi firing again
Sticking with Gabby, like Andi Weimann, he was on fire in 2012-13, scoring twelve goals. Last season, the pair only managed ten between them and we looked a different side without their goal input. People point to them playing wide when they are naturally strikers but they played the majority of the 2012-13 season in those positions and it didn’t stop them scoring. In fact, those two working with Benteke in the second half of that season led us to having high hopes last time round. In 2012-13 they were both making a lot of inward runs from wide positions, which really caused defenders problems. Last season I felt as if they were not making runs from deep or wide enough so they became much easier to mark. I’m hoping the addition of a creative player like Joe Cole playing in between them will help and that they will both fire again. With Benteke missing at the start of the season, a lot of goal expectations lie with the two of them and possibly Darren Bent.
3. Make a Ki signing
This week we have been heavily linked with Ki from Swansea City. Ki spent last season on loan at Sunderland and he was man of the match in my book when Sunderland visited Villa Park. The South Korean international is a signing I would be very pleased to see because he is a player I have rated since he first broke onto the scene with Celtic. Ball retention has long been a problem for us and the losses of Gareth Barry and Stan Petrov have not helped in this respect. Signing Ki would give us another player whose best attribute is passing. Westwood, someone I rate highly, is the only player we currently have who is a very good passer of the ball. With one year left on his contract, Ki shouldn’t cost the earth so I am really hoping this move materialises.
4. Home comforts
I don’t mind losing, I really don’t, but I expect the players to give absolutely everything for ninety minutes of every match. Last season I didn’t always feel that way, especially at Villa Park. For too long now we have been pushovers at home and this really needs to change. I’ve said before that I don’t think Villa Park is a particularly easy place for our players to play: the atmosphere can quite often turn nasty and it is sometimes a poisonous place to play your football. It’s a two way street though: players respond to the fans but the fans also respond to what they see on the pitch. The Hull game last season showed what Villa Park can be like when everyone comes together. In these difficult times at the club it’s imperative that we have a positive atmosphere and some positive performances.
5. Injury woes subside
Last season, we did suffer some horrendous injuries. I know every team gets them but we had more than our fair share. Gary Gardner suffered all season – for the second season running. Okore and Kozak were purchased to improve competition for places but they missed the majority of the season. Ron Vlaar missed the Christmas period again, which really hurt us, and Christian Benteke suffered two serious injuries in 2013-14. My main hope is that these players don’t return as shadows of their former selves. I also hope that we remain relatively injury free in general after the bad luck of last season. We don’t have the biggest squad in the world so injuries hurt us more than most. Even though I think in terms of quality the squad is better than this time last year, injuries to key players still need to be avoided. I’m excited to see what Okore can do as I was impressed by his early performances. If anyone deserves a bit of luck it’s Gary Gardner.
What are your realistic hopes for next season? Let me know by commenting below.