With one game left of pre-season, a home clash with Middlesbrough on Saturday, should Villa fans be excited or more level-headed about what they have seen so far?

Many people will tell you that pre-season is not about the results; it is about the workout, about getting fit and in the best shape for the long season ahead.

Remaining unbeaten though, especially after last season’s prolonged horror show, can only improve the morale and mindset of the players in the squad.

Sometimes when a new manager comes in, it can take a while for him to impart his philosophy yet it seems that the players have adapted to the way Di Matteo wants to play and they have taken to it like a duck to water. This has to be taken as a huge plus as the season draws nearer.

A week on Sunday, the Villans will travel to Sheffield Wednesday to start the long, hard slog that is the Sky Bet Championship season, but how much have we learned about the group this time around?

The majority of the squad are players who got the club relegated last season. Whether they will still be with us on September 1st or not is unclear but many will play a huge part in the squad until their futures are decided.

Whether fans agree with it or not, some players will be given second chances to prove themselves and dig the club out of the hole that they helped to create.

It will be to no surprise to the Villa faithful though that most of the stars of pre-season so far have either been youth team graduates who were nowhere near the side in the Premier League last season or new signings.

In my opinion, the stand out performers so far have been Joe Bennett, Rushian Hepburn-Murphy, André Green, Gary Gardner, Aaron Tshibola, Pierluigi Gollini, Tommy Elphick, Jack Grealish and Jordan Ayew.

Only one player on that list made any notable impact for the club last season – Ayew. He was perhaps the only bright spark in a very dull season so his name is not a surprise inclusion.

Gollini has been assured and commanding, something that was needed after the confidence was stripped from the back line last season. If the Italian continues on build on his promise, he will easily be a top, top goalkeeper in the future. It is no wonder that Juventus was rivalling Aston Villa for his signature in the summer.

André Green and Rushian Hepburn-Murphy have shown raw pace and talent that should be utilised throughout the season, although they may not become automatic starters just yet.

Grealish has looked back to his best, producing scintillating footwork to manoeuvre past two or three defenders at a time.

For me, the man who deserves the most credit right now is Joe Bennett. Isolated by Paul Lambert and Tim Sherwood and spending time on loan at AFC Bournemouth and Sheffield Wednesday last season, he could have turned his back on the club. Instead the twenty-six-year-old has rolled up his sleeves and has taken his chance brilliantly, with Jordan Amavi still not fully recovered from injury.

Bennett has proven that he would be a worthy starter in the season opener against his former club. Having improved his defending, which many will say could not get much worse, he has also proven himself as a massive attacking threat and even turned himself into a free-kick specialist.

What all this means for the season ahead is hard to say. There are still evident gaps that every Villa fan thinks need to be filled. Alan Hutton at right-back is one that divides opinion on the terraces. Hard hitting and no nonsense, he is one of only a few that finished last season thinking he could probably hold his head a little bit higher than the rest. We certainly know what we will get from him – and that is complete commitment. He may be caught out of position at times and his balls into the area are not immensely impressive but he is one who can be relied upon. Whether this is enough for him not to face competition from Jordan Lyden or maybe even a new signing is still to be seen.

Another place in the side that fans believe needs strengthening is in attack. Rudy Gestede and Scott Sinclair have come under fire from the Villa faithful and Libor Kozák is lucky if he even steps foot off the fitness table.

Gestede and Sinclair are mysteries, myths even. Neither ever appear to play a main part in a game but, given opportunities, they have proven that they are good enough to hold their own in the Championship.

Gestede scored thirty-two goals in sixty games for Blackburn Rovers in the league before Villa signed him. That kind of ability does not just disappear. Confidence does though.

It could be said that the same thing may have happened to Scott Sinclair. He left Swansea City for a big money move to Manchester City and he has not been the same since. In the season that Swansea City got promoted to the Premier League, Sinclair netted twenty-seven goals in fifty appearances.

If the pair’s confidence can return then Di Matteo could already have the striking talent that he will need to mount a challenge for promotion back to the Premier League at the first attempt.

Only time will tell what happens over the long forty-six game league season but one thing that is for certain: it will be one bumpy ride.


  1. If we don’t sign a proven striker or two we will not bounce back, it seems we haven’t learnt any lessons from last years disaster. No strikers, no goals, no wins.
    Our new owner promised us new strikers with 9 days to go where are they ?
    I begin to fear the worst.

  2. Remember some American geezer coming to Villa Park with his wallet making all sorts of promises and predictions? I have a sense of deja vu here.

  3. Wing-back my eye! Leicester played with two backs last season and made sure of a strong defence with no possibility of being caught on the break. Last season we were caught on the break so many times and late in the matches and it continues this season with Middlesborough. Change the system please and have wingers that are wingers and backs that are backs and may be this will give the centre forward some service as well?


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