The Villans will travel to Leicester on Sunday as the Premier League returns after the international break. The Foxes are flying at the moment, unbeaten in their opening four matches and carrying on where they left off at the end of the previous campaign. A change of manager doesn’t seem to have upset the apple cart at all, as the likeable Claudio Ranieri has continued to get the best out of Leicester’s players and has made some decent additions to boot. I do not think a relegation battle will be on the cards for Ranieri’s team this season, although, as we found out after a good start to last season, these things can change!
A key player at the back end of last season for then Leicester City manager Nigel Pearson was former Villa academy graduate Marc Albrighton. In fact, when he came into their side results started to turn and they went on their incredible run. Albrighton has started this season in incredible fashion as well, with a goal and three assists in the opening four games. Albrighton looks to be back to the form he enjoyed when he burst on to the scene for Aston Villa in the 2010-11 season.
Albrighton’s first season was an undoubted success: six goals in thirty-seven appearances is a healthy return for a wide player. After fast becoming a fans’ favorite, Albrighton fell away in the following seasons when a mixture of playing in a poor side, injuries and a loss of confidence led to his downfall. The more attacking football of Gerard Houiller suited ‘Super Marc’ whereas Alex McLeish and Paul Lambert’s general preference for safety first football never really suited the Tamworth-born winger.
Something that was unthinkable a few years ago has been mentioned in the last few weeks – an England call-up – but would Albrighton get near the Villa team nowadays?
Last season I think he could definitely have been utilised, especially when Tim Sherwood took over. Albrighton is very much a confidence player and the kind of player I could imagine Sherwood getting the best out of. You only have to look at the marked improvement in Cleverley’s game when the shackles came off. He strikes me as another confidence player and Sherwood certainly revitalised him.
The positions behind the central striker have been a problem for Aston Villa over the last few seasons. I believe that is now a thing of the past and, arguably, now our strongest area. If we were to line up with a 4-2-3-1 formation, I think that, currently, Sinclair, Grealish and possibly Traore would be the most dangerous three to operate behind the central striker. We also have Gil, Ayew, Bacuna and Cole to come in. That is without mentioning the fact that Agbonlahor, at a push, can play wide and that N’Zogbia is still registered with us. That is incredible depth, especially after seasons of square pegs in round holes in these positions.
It seems strange to say but I genuinely don’t believe that one of the Premier League’s form players would get into our team: Albrighton would be a good squad option for us but no more than that, in my opinion. The Foxes may well finish above us, with Albrighton having a stellar season, but I think at the moment he is benefitting from playing in a settled team that is high on confidence. The Villans are yet to find their rhythm, which is understandable given the number of new faces in our squad. What this has made me realise is that I am very excited about our options and the direction our squad is heading in.
Aston Villa Football Club has made progress with the squad already this campaign. For the first time in what feels like eternity we have options and as the season goes on I think that we will be wondering what damage our players can do rather than fretting over how the opposition can exploit potential weaknesses in our side.
I like to see any academy graduate who came through at Villa do well. Many go on to have good careers after being released like Steven Davis and Peter Whittingham. Others, like Gary Cahill, come back to haunt us. I don’t believe Albrighton will ever fit into the Cahill category. He will probably be more like the first two players mentioned. He is definitely having a purple patch and will be a dangerous player who the Villa boys will need to contain on Sunday.
It was terrible business to lose Marc Albrighton on a free but, thanks to Tim Sherwood, I don’t think it will be a loss that we will look back on with major regrets.