Yesterday’s 3-2 home victory over Malaga concluded Aston Villa’s eight game pre-season programme in which the aims were both fitness and integrating the six new summer signings. So exactly what have we learned about Jed Steer, Jores Okore, Antonio “Tony Moon” Luna, Leandro Bacuna, Aleksandar Tonev and Nicklas Helenius?
The 20-year-old former Norwich stopper has made a handful of appearances and has impressed with his shot-stopping skills, with some very impressive reflex saves springing to mind during the tour of Germany in particular. Despite impressing on the whole, he has also looked shaky in certain circumstances and problems such as his composure and kicking in pressurised situations have been shown.
Verdict: Back-up to Guzan and will no doubt get some cup appearances against lower league opposition.
The 21-year-old (his birthday is today!) Danish central defender joined for £4.1m from FC Nordsjaelland after turning down a move to Chelsea during the winter window. Having been injured along with Aleksandar Tonev after just 45 minutes of action and only returning in the penultimate preseason fixture against Shamrock Rovers, it’s hard to judge him on this. He is highly rated as an aggressive and pacey ball-playing-defender and even though he scored an unfortunate own goal in yesterday’s 3-2 victory over Malaga, he was in a rather helpless situation and looked solid on the whole.
Verdict: First choice with Ron Vlaar but perhaps fitness won’t permit him to start against Arsenal, having only notched up 135 minutes of friendly action since his return from injury.
The 22-year-old Spanish left back arrived from La Liga giants Sevilla in a deal worth £1.8m and has featured prominently in Villa’s preseason schedule, perhaps more than he would have expected due to injury to last season’s first choice, Joe Bennett. He is an attacking full back and aggressive in his play, constantly looking to jump in front of an opponent to intercept and to set up a counter-attack and he is fast enough to recover when this strategy fails.
Verdict: Definitely first choice for the first few games due to Bennett’s lack of fitness and if his good form persists then he will undoubtedly keep his place.
The 21-year-old Dutchman arrived for around £900,000 from Eredivisie side FC Groningen and, in my eyes, will feature mainly as backup to Matt Lowton but perhaps also pushed further forward up that right-hand side if Lambert decides to play 4-4-2. He is renowned for his work rate and versatility and played in, by my reckoning, six different positions for his last club. He seemed to lack confidence to take on his man against Crewe when deployed as a right midfielder and mainly held the ball up and went backwards but looked the part when he switched to a right back later in that same game – scoring a stunning 20-yard thunderbolt with his left foot.
Verdict: Backup to the first team but his versatility will no doubt see him make a fair few appearances this coming season.
The Bulgarian winger, at 23-years of age, is the oldest of Villa’s summer signings and came in at the recommendation of club legend and countryman Stiliyan Petrov. Having been injured, like Okore, during Villa’s first game in Germany, he has lacked game time and thus lacks a little bit of fitness and sharpness. I was harshly critical of him during the Malaga game and despite wasting possession a few times, he also took the brilliant corner for Vlaar’s goal and his through ball set Benteke away to win the penalty. Quick out of the blocks, good with both feet and not afraid to shoot from distance, he will surely be an exciting acquisition to the squad.
Verdict: Backup, at least to begin with. You wouldn’t want to break up the trio of Weimann, Gabby and Benteke and I’d expect Lambert to go for a more solid, defensive midfield three consisting of El Ahmadi, Westwood and Delph for the first two fixtures (Arsenal and Chelsea away) at least.
The second Danish recruit of the summer, Helenius is a 22-year-old 6’5” forward who scored 16 league goals for Aalborg BK last season. He was mentioned in the media as Christian Benteke’s replacement but I think it’s clear to see by his playing style that this was never the case. He is far less physical than Benteke and, in my opinion, is a better number 10 option than outright striker. Having scored two headers in his first two pre-season games in Germany, you’d be forgiven for thinking that it’s a strength of his but over the past few seasons it’s actually been noted as his weakness. His creativity and clever footwork seem his best assets and he has played several defence-splitting through balls to great effect, notably in the 5-0 drubbing of near neighbours Walsall.
Verdict: I wouldn’t expect him to start the first few games but I think noting him as “backup” would be wide of the mark. He’s a different option from anybody else that we have now and could thrive in Villa’s three pronged attack with Weimann and Agbonlahor making runs from out wide into the channels.