The Villans will play their final pre-season friendly tomorrow afternoon against Nottingham Forest at the City Ground.
Aston Villa Football Club has had many connections to Nottingham Forest over the years and former Villan Eric Lichaj is still plying his trade at The City Ground.
I spoke to James from Nottingham Forest Football Club Stats about the encounter.
1) It has been a quiet summer so far for Nottingham Forest. Are you concerned?
Not especially. Given the transfer embargo and Financial Fair Play constraints we’re under, it was always likely to be a much quieter window than the lavish spending we’ve seen over the last few years. However, I don’t think that’s a bad thing. It’s forced us to work within our means rather than recklessly throwing money at troubled areas. Jamie Ward, Matt Mills and Ben Hamer have been brought in, all of whom are solid Championship players, as well as Dan Pinillos following a trial period. In terms of outgoings we’ve, so far, managed to fend off interest in Michail Antonio and Henri Lansbury, arguably our two most valuable players, which is important. We’ve also shifted out some expensive dead wood to make room in the squad and have tied down a number of academy prospects who are pushing for first team action. We’re still lacking a centre forward but, all in all, I don’t think we can have too many complaints given our restrictions.
2) Dougie Freeman wasn’t the most popular appointment at Forest. What do you make of him?
I have to admit, I was slightly underwhelmed by his appointment. He really hit the ground running, winning seven of his first ten games before ending the season with an eight game winless run to see us finish a pretty miserable fourteenth. In fairness to him, he has grown on me. He’s straight talking, understands the constraints the club is under and is continuing to work hard to stay within them. He’s continued Stuart Pearce’s good work in terms of nurturing academy talents and promoting them to the first team where possible. His powers of persuasion have certainly been put to the test in terms of player recruitment, but as I said before, he’s done a reasonable job on that front so far.
3) What are your thoughts on Tim Sherwood?
I think he’s a decent Premier League manager. A cup final and Premier League survival can’t really be scoffed at given how miserable Villa were under Paul Lambert, especially when you consider some of talent that was in the squad. From the perspective of an outsider looking in, it looks like Sherwood will really be tested after losing Benteke and Delph and having to bed the likes of Amavi, Gueye and Ayew in to English football. I do think Richards is a great signing though.
4) Who is the man Villa fans should watch out for on Saturday?
We don’t seem to have had a stand out player in pre-season so far but I’ll go with Michail Antonio. He scored fifteen goals and provided twelve assists from left wing last season and at times was simply unplayable. His power and pace are incredible and he often just barges through defenders like they aren’t even there.
5) Gary Gardner impressed Forest fans last season. Do you think he deserves a chance at Villa?
He was terrific for us last season. Gardner made his debut in a frantic East Midlands derby and wasn’t fazed in the slightest. He looked a class act in holding midfield and scored some absolute crackers as well. I wasn’t surprised Sherwood wanted to have a close look at him in pre-season. I’d say he definitely deserves a chance. Unfortunately for him, it looks like an injury has held him back slightly. If he doesn’t quite break into first team contention, we’d welcome him with open arms!
6) How is Eric Lichaj doing?
He’s doing fantastically well. I really do love Eric Lichaj. Towards the end of last season he could have been picking up man of the match awards every week; he’s that consistent. Even when he was made to slot in at left back, he was as solid as ever. He probably doesn’t offer as much in an attacking sense as some modern day full backs but he rarely makes a mistake and seldom has a bad game.
7) How can you see your season panning out?
I can’t see us making any real push for a top six spot this season. In all honesty, I think we’ll do well to get a top half finish due to our thin squad and the rigorous nature of the Championship. Britt Assombolonga is out until January at least so finding a consistent source of goals will be our big issue. We always tend to get at least three major injuries to key players. Chris Cohen and Andy Reid have both been out since September, which leaves big voids in our squad, so keeping players fit will be key. Seeing some more young players establish themselves in the way Ben Osborn did last season would be nice. With the club set to have to embargo lifted next summer, keeping the club on an even financial footing should also be the aim. With Forest, there is always drama, so who knows?
8) What is your match prediction?
By all accounts we put in a decent performance in a 1-1 draw against Swansea last weekend. I’ll go for another score draw.
9) Football Manager or Fifa?
I’m a Fifa man.
10) Jäger or vodka?
Thanks to James for participating in this edition of the opposition view. You can interact with him on Twitter.