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Aston Villa 2015/16 Premier League Season Preview

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After challenging the established top 4 under Martin O’Neil, Aston Villa have tumbled down the Premier League in recent seasons with fans now more accustomed to being in a battle against survival. Top scorer Christian Benteke and club captain Fabian Delph have both moved on to pastures new during the summer, meaning Tim Sherwood’s recruitment will decide the outcome of the Villains’ campaign.  Liverpool and Tottenham have both struggled to get new squads to gel in recent seasons where as Southampton flourished last year despite selling many of their major stars showing that Sherwood’s task is tough but nonetheless achievable.

Story of last season

Having endured dismal seasons under Gerard Houllier, Alex McLeish and Paul Lambert, last year was a new low for the Midlanders. Their negative approach saw the team score just 12 goals in their first 25 fixtures, a run that left them in the relegation places. With Lambert’s position coming under increasing scrutiny throughout the season, he was eventually relieved of his duties after a 2-0 defeat to relegation rivals Hull in mid-February. Tim Sherwood was brought in, a move that split opinion amongst fans and pundits.  It turned out to be a masterstroke though as Sherwood re-energised the players, guiding them to safety and the FA Cup final. The final ended in disappointment though as Arsenal ran out 4-0 winners.

Transfers In

Tim Sherwood has already brought in seven players during the transfer window as he looks to bolster a squad that has finished in the bottom six for the past four Premier League seasons and had some high profile departures over the summer. Scott Sinclair’s move to Villa Park has been made permanent following a loan spell at the end of last season. The flying winger impressed during his time in Wales with Swansea but struggled for game time under both Roberto Mancini and Manuel Pellegrini in a star-studded Manchester City squad. Villa fans will hope to see the Sinclair of old as the Englishman looks for increased game time to restart his career. Micah Richards has also swapped the Etihad for Villa Park after a largely unsuccessful spell at Fiorentina last year. The England international will add much needed Premier League experience to the Aston Villa back line and his versatility will also be a useful asset for Sherwood.

Scott Sinclair has made his loan move to Aston Villa permanent over the summer as he looks to kick-start his career.

Shay Given has moved to Stoke so Mark Bunn has been signed from Premier League new boys Norwich to provide competition to Brad Guzan. The American lost his place to Given at the end of last year but will expect to start the season as number 1 with Bunn waiting in the wings  for any mistakes, but likely being reduced to just cup appearances. Benin international Rudy Gestede has also been brought in from Championship side Blackburn Rovers after scoring 22 goals in league and cup last year. The 6ft 4in striker appears to be a direct replacement for Christian Benteke and will provide a focal point to Villa’s attacks.

With the price for British players being extremely inflated in the current market, Villa have followed Newcastle’s lead and looked to Ligue 1 for squad improvements. Defender Jordan Amavi , central midfielders Idrissa Gueye and Jordan Veretout and striker Jordan Ayew and have arrived from Nice, Lille, Nantes and Lorient respectively, all for undisclosed fees. 21 year old Amavi made his debut for Nice in the 2013-14 season having previously played for their B side whilst Gueye has had a similar rise through the Lille ranks after starting his career in his homeland with Senegalese outfit Diambars. French youth international Veretout has made 130 appearances in Ligue 1 for Nantes, despite only being 22 years of age. The diminutive midfielder has represented France at U18, U19, U20 and U21 levels but has yet to be selected by the senior team so will be hoping a move to the Premier League will see him representing Les Bleus. Ghanaian Ayew rose to prominence during 5 year spell at Marseille but was loaned to Sochaux for the second half of the 2013-14 season before signing for Lorient in the summer. Ayew has made 28 international appearances, winning his first cap 6 days short of his 19th birthday and boasts Champions League experience from his time with Marseille so will bring more much needed experience to Villa Park despite being just 23 years of age.

Villa’s have also signed 28 year old fullback Jose Angel Crespo, who has played all of his club football in Spain and Italy to date. The former Sevilla academy graduate has already played for 7 clubs in a sporadic career and will be hoping to settle down for a longer period with the Midlanders.

Key Players

Ashley Westwood – With club captain Fabian Delph moving to Manchester City and Tom Cleverley’s loan spell ending, Westwood is the only surviving member of Villa’s main midfield axis last year. The 25 year old plays a crucial role in linking defence and attack and if Villa are to utilise the pace of Gabriel Agbonlahor and Scott Sinclair on the counter attack then Westwood’s distribution could be key to their success.

Micah Richards – Ron Vlaar has left meaning Aston Villa’s defence is extremely youthful. Richards will provide much needed experience to the back line and be the leader of the defence, a role he should be suited to at the age of 27. Richards’ performances could be key to Villa’s survival and Sherwood will be hoping he brings control to a defence that conceded 57 goals last year.

Gabriel Agbonlahor – Agbonlahor has flattered to deceive in recent seasons, but 2015-16 is shaping up to be an important one for the Englishman. With Andreas Wiemann leaving in addition to Benteke, he is the only remaining member of Villa’s attack from the past two seasons. Although that was a strike-force that stumbled and stuttered at times, Agbonlahor will be key as new signing try to find their feet. In the second half of the season, the pressure and reliance on him may be reduced but it appears the Aston Villa academy graduate will need to be on top form at the season’s start. If Agbonlahor fails to get out of the blocks quickly, he may find his place in the side under threat, so needs to start the season strongly on a personal note too.
Aston Villa - Football tactics and formations
It seems unlikely that Sherwood will throw too many of his new signings into the fray immediately, particularly those without any Premier League experience. Therefore, it appears he will stick with the 4-3-3 formation favoured by Villa in recent seasons to begin with, although the players at his disposal provide flexibility. With the absence of a dominating midfielder, Villa could find their defence under continual pressure, as occurred last season. Other defensive options include Kieran Richardson, Nathan Baker and Jose Angel Crespo, who could rival Amavi for the left back spot at the start of the season. Leonardo Bacuna, Jordan Ayew and Idrissa Gueye will provide plenty of competition in more advanced roles as Sherwood looks to try and keep the whole squad happy.

The arrival of Gestede means the manager will have the option of switching to a 4-2-3-1 formation with Sinclair, Grealish and Agbonlahor playing behind the striker. Villa have also been heavily linked with Emmanuel Adebayor, someone with previous Premier League experience who would also be able to play the lone striker role.

Manager

Tim Sherwood will believe in his own ability but faces a tough task to make all of Villa’s new signing gel together.

For all the criticism he has received whilst at Spurs and Aston Villa, there is no doubt Sherwood has done a good job at both clubs. The Villains looked destined for the Championship when he took over last season but his positive persona rubbed off on the players as he guided the club to safety. This season will be a much greater test though with the need to become more tactically astute and not just giving the players a short three month confidence boost. The losses of Benteke and Delph will undoubtedly make the task more difficult but Sherwood will believe in his methods and his side and look to guide Villa through a less troublesome season.

First Six Fixtures

Villa open the season away to Premier League new boys Bournemouth, a fixture that most clubs would want to avoid. There will be a party atmosphere on the south cost and Sherwood would probably settle for a point to open the campaign. Fixtures at home to Manchester United and away to Crystal Palace follow in a tough opening to the season that could easily see Villa pointless after three games. However the following three fixtures are the ones that will define Villa’s season. The Midlanders face Sunderland and West Brom at Villa Park with a trip to Leicester in between, three clubs that could well be finishing around them in the final League table. If they can take a point from their opening three games and a further seven in their next three, then an eight point return would represent a good start for Sherwood and could set Villa up for a more promising season. Less than six and it could be another gut-wrenching season for the Holte End faithful.

Final Standing Prediction – 14th

A lot will depend on how Villa’s new signings settle and Sherwood’s ability to get them to gel. Despite the losses of Benteke and Delph, the incoming Richards and Sinclair both bring Premier League experience to the club whilst the numerous youngsters have another season under their belt. After his breakthrough at the end of last season, the impressive Jack Grealish can expect more game time as he looks to help his boyhood club push on up the league table. With Sherwood’s positivity, The Boot Room expect Villa to improve from last season and finish towards the top end of the relegation battlers.

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I'm a recent University of Bath graduate and was a regular contributor to the university newspaper including being Sports Editor in my final year. A Liverpool season ticket holder with ambitions of becoming a Sports journalist.

Aston Villa

Why the FA Cup weekend provides a big opportunity for Aston Villa

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Aston Villa
Photo: Reuters

It was the best of times. It was the worst of the times. It was panic mode. It was ‘don’t worry’. It was December. A month, for Aston Villa, that does not bring many gifts.

In the twelfth month of the year, it is usually the time of the football season where you can expect Villa’s hopes to collapse. Of course, the club have ironically lead league tables before November eroded into December. After Christmas the club is usually lucky to have a hand on the top half of the table!

And again, that’s almost how it went for Aston Villa in 2017. A blown two goal lead, a draw, a defeat and another loss. Steve Bruce’s reign at Villa has been defined by streaks. A stint of winning, coldly sandwiched between two barren spells.

After a Boxing Day bashing by promising coach Dean Smith and his plucky Brentford side the tide seemed to be turning against Steve Bruce for the final time. Booed off rather viciously by an angry pack of away fans at Griffin Park, the 57-year-old head coach was quick to defend himself.

He was even quicker to do so when he escaped Middlesbrough with three points a few days after, and by the dawn of the new year – after taking six points against two very good sides, including a resounding 5-0 win against Bristol City – he was more than happy to take the plaudits.

Now, after a barrage of cold surf, Villa’s manager now seems to be riding a waves of optimism into 2018.

Villa’s first match post New Year’s Day is a FA Cup 3rd round tie against League One outfit Peterborough United. These matches are usually dismissed by those who are too quick to get down to the business of the league.

However, while the FA Cup might not offer glory, it certainly offers opportunity to teams like Aston Villa, who would do well not to turn their nose up at England’s oldest club football competition.

The FA Cup? For Villa, it’s an opportunity for rebirth. It is not a throwaway fixture at Villa Park in any sense of the world. Why? It allows the team to experiment, rotate and try out new things that they may be too scared to implement in a league fixture.

It also allows them to give extremely talented youngsters like Jake Doyle-Hayes, Easah Suliman and Callum O’Hare some valuable first-team game time. What is more, it allows an erratic side to settle into form, with a big chance for a win on offer.

Scott Hogan will likely be allowed a full ninety minutes of football to continue his decent spell, and a few goals will do nothing but help him along.

Among other things, it also gives Villa a look at a decent League One side. Many clubs are chasing Jack Marriott, who leads the line for the Posh. Seeing a ready-made replacement for any departing striker can do the Bruce’s team no harm. Well, as long as he doesn’t bang a few goals past Jed Steer.

The flip side of this? It is also a good way for the Birmingham side to put second-stringers and reserve players in a shop window. Especially considering it is very much a ‘sell-to-buy’ situation for the club this January.

Villa and Steve Bruce would be wise to pay close attention to Saturday’s fixture, as it represents a massive chance for this side to grow and really galvanise their season.

It has been a stop-start campaign so far and a good win against a talented Peterborough side in the FA Cup certainly won’t hurt Villa. In truth, it could be a really good opportunity to learn a lot more about Bruce’s current squad.

Villa won’t win the FA Cup, but a good run will only boost their season. Ignoring fixture congestion and other intangibles of which we cannot measure the impact, any match where a loss is not of huge detriment can only help one of the Championship’s most exciting, talented and erratic teams grow.

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Aston Villa

Exclusive: Aston Villa’s Conor Hourihane on his creative prowess and the Villans’ season ahead

Jake Jackman

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Conor Hourihane

Aston Villa have had a challenging start to the season and are in 10th position after eight matches. This is three places higher than the position they finished in during the 2016/17 campaign and supporters have grown frustrated at the club’s inability to establish themselves at the top of the division. However, their struggles underline how difficult the Championship can be. Reputations mean nothing and it won’t be easy for the Villans to return to the Premier League.

The squad upheaval hasn’t helped, as they have signed 22 players since relegation. The individuals that have been brought in won’t all be seen as good deals for the club, but Conor Hourihane is one that Steve Bruce will look to build the team around this season.

In a period of transition, it took time for the midfielder to earn himself a regular starting place. He has managed to do that now after a good start to the season in front of goal. The 26-year-old has five in the league, which included an excellent hat-trick against Norwich City. He revealed his delight at his own start of the season, before moving on to address the club’s results to date:

“Yes, it was great, a great feeling. It was my first hat-trick. “

“They have been up and down, we’re starting to find our feet a little bit now and are unbeaten in a few games, we’ve had a few draws in a row that could have gone either way but overall it’s been an average start.”

It is clear that the players understand the frustration of the supporters, but the four draws could have gone Villa’s way and if they had done, they would be in a healthier position now. The Championship is a tight league, which is why Hourihane is a key player for Steve Bruce’s side. He can unlock defences and win points for his team, as he has proven on a consistent basis since arriving in the Championship.

Last season, he finished top of assists in the Championship with 14 spread across his time at Barnsley and Aston Villa. He created a chance every 41.3 minutes throughout the campaign, but Hourihane was keen to stress that he is a complete midfielder, rather than one that focuses on attacking contribution:

“I suppose that’s what the stats show but for me I’d like to think I’m a bit of an all-rounder who can do bits of everything. Last year it went well for myself from that point of view but I think if I don’t get as many assists but we are playing well as a team and up there at the top of the league I will take that any day of the week.”

It is refreshing to hear that Hourihane isn’t letting last season’s personal success affect his aims for the coming season. Aston Villa need to develop a strong mentality if they are to challenge for promotion, with the team needs going before that of any individual. If the Villans can return to the Premier League this season, it would be a far more enjoyable achievement for the midfielder.

There were many reasons why Aston Villa were relegated and it was a result of a decline across a number of seasons. The recruitment policy didn’t help. In the summer of 2015, the majority of signings came from Ligue 1 and the club no longer had a British core. Their motives may have been more self-oriented, which is why the above comments from Hourihane are very encouraging. The team is beginning to become one that supporters can connect with and they should be a lot tougher as well. This is a trait every promotion-winning team needs to have.

Barnsley were the surprise package of the Championship last season and Hourihane’s performances for them were the reason why Aston Villa wanted to bring him in. During the first half of the season, he contributed six goals and 11 assists.

There wasn’t a shortage of interest in his services during the January window, with Sheffield Wednesday being heavily linked. However, it was Villa that won the race and their ambition played a key role in persuading the midfielder to make the switch. When asked what attracted him to the Midlands, he responded:

“The size of the club, the history and the where the club wants to take itself.”

It isn’t surprising that Aston Villa were an attractive club for Hourihane. The 26-year-old has had to work his way up from the lower leagues and will see his current club as his best chance of completing the journey into the top-flight.

Every good football career starts off with a failure and Hourihane’s is no different. The midfielder failed to make a first-team appearance for either of his first two clubs, Sunderland and Ipswich Town. That will have been a huge blow for the player at an early stage of his career, but he showed an impressive mentality to go down the leagues and forge a career on his own terms.

At Home Park, he improved year-on-year and his final season with the club saw him score nine times. A move to Barnsley followed and it was in Yorkshire that he made a name for himself, as he was a regular scorer with 23 across two seasons in League One. In his final full season with the Tykes, he was an integral figure as they won the Football League Trophy and gained promotion through the play-offs. Hourihane believes that his career to date has prepared him well for Aston Villa:

“It’s probably given me a different education to the lads that are here, a lot of them started off higher and have found themselves at Aston Villa and I’ve started off lower and ended up at Aston Villa right now and myself and the players have met in the middle and hopefully that would be a good mixture to take us up the table and ultimately where we want to be and get promoted.”

The make-up of the Aston Villa squad is a point of interest, as they have players like Hourihane with no top-flight experience playing alongside a Champions League winner in John Terry. In the Championship, the experience and know-how possessed by the midfielder is equally, if not more, important than that of the former England captain.

The 26-year-old’s main focus will be helping Aston Villa return to the Premier League, but he also wants to establish himself in the Republic of Ireland team. He has been capped eight times and that has certainly whet his appetite for more in the future.

Yes, I’m hoping so, I’ve been involved in a few squads now for the last six months, made another appearance recently so hopefully if I keep playing well for Aston Villa that will only benefit my international career.”

The next few weeks are crucial for Aston Villa as they try to make up ground on the leading pack. They have matches against Burton Albion and Bolton Wanderers coming up in the next two. No match is easy in this division, but Steve Bruce will be looking to take six points.

It is early in the season, but Hourihane is the team’s current top-scorer. Although he is unlikely to finish the campaign with the most goals, the 26-year-old will be key to their promotion chances.

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West Ham’s Robert Snodgrass set to join Aston Villa on loan – what would he bring?

Rob Meech

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Snodgrass

He only joined West Ham United in January, but Robert Snodgrass looks to be on his way out of the London Stadium.

Sky Sports are reporting that ambitious Championship club Aston Villa are in “advanced talks” with the Hammers about taking the Scotland international on loan.

Snodgrass has been told he is surplus to requirements at West Ham, who signed the midfielder for £10.2 million in a three-and-a-half-year deal from Hull City in the previous transfer window.

What would he bring?

Snodgrass’s expertise from set pieces is his biggest asset. He has an uncanny ability to deliver pinpoint crosses and is a real threat from free-kicks and corners.

The Scotland international’s form in the first half of last season earned him a high-profile switch to West Ham, but the move has been nothing short of a disaster.

Although he made 15 Premier League appearances, the 29-year-old never looked comfortable in a Hammers’ shirt and is no longer in Slaven Bilic’s plans.

Despite his struggles in the capital, Snodgrass remains a classy player who could certainly do a job at Villa, where he would be reunited with Steve Bruce.

Snodgrass played under Bruce at Hull and was an influential figure in their promotion to the Premier League back in 2015/16.

He became a real fans’ favourite at the KCOM Stadium, scoring 14 goals from just 45 appearances in all competitions – a commendable return for a winger.

With several eye-catching signings already rubber-stamped, Villa have signalled their intentions in their quest for promotion back to the Premier League.

Specifically, Bruce appears to be targeting players with top-flight experience.

Their audacious move for former England captain John Terry stunned the world of football, while Bruce has also snapped up Christopher Samba, Glenn Whelan and Ahmed Elmohamady.

Sndograss would complement these new arrivals and bring additional quality. His quality from set pieces could be invaluable in a league that is notoriously difficult to get out of.

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