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Aston Villa 2015/16 Premier League Season Preview

The Boot Room

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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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Aston Villa

Aston Villa’s play-off final is vital regarding the future of Jack Grealish

The 22-year-old has matured significantly under Steve Bruce this season.

Josh Kerr

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Photo: Getty Images

Aston Villa’s day of destiny awaits, and the future of Jack Grealish could also hang on this crucial Wembley fixture.

The 22-year-old has been in wonderful form for The Villans this season, and he showcased his talent in the play-off semi-final over two legs.

Villa edged past Middlesbrough 1-0, with Grealish playing a starring role over and club’s supporters will be desperate to keep their star man.

However, the future of the Solihull born youngster could hinge on whether Steve Bruce’s side gain promotion to the Premier League with a number of clubs set to swoop if Villa don’t reach the top-flight.

According to the Birmingham Mail, Grealish was recently offered a big money move to Leicester but opted to instead stay at Villa Park.

However, if Aston Villa were to fall at the final hurdle at Wembley then it may be difficult for Grealish to focus on another year in the Championship especially if the Premier League comes knocking once again.

The attacking midfielder has blossomed under Bruce this season and has been central to the club’s promotion hopes.

He has really matured over the year and his performances on the pitch have continued to impress those who once doubted whether he would fulfill his potential.

According to reports from the Mirror, Villa will need to cut costs if they fail in the play-offs and Grealish would be one of the club’s more saleable assets.

Grealish would be a huge loss to Villa, but the Midlands side will be full of confidence going into one of football’s richest fixtures.

They will know full well that a win could be the factor that ensures the club are able to withstand elusive offers for some of their top players.

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Aston Villa

Aston Villa’s James Chester comes back to haunt former manager Tony Pulis

The Welsh defender came back to bit his old boss in the play-off semi clash.

Max Cohen

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James Chester
Photo: Getty Images

Tony Pulis’ Middlesbrough side were expertly stifled by Aston Villa in their play-off semifinal, as the Villans held Boro to 180 minutes of scoreless football.

Villa centre-half James Chester was a constant rock at the back, revealing to Pulis that his former boss was wrong to sell him when the two were together at West Bromwich Albion.

Chester signed for the Baggies from Hull City in the summer of 2015, after five impressive seasons for the Tigers. The fee was reported to be in the region of £8 million and many expected the Welsh international to excel in the back four under Pulis.

Yet, frustratingly for the centre-back, Chester made only 13 league appearances for the Baggies in the 2015/16 campaign. The Welshman started just nine Premier League matches all season, as Pulis clearly did not consider him as first-choice at the Hawthorns.

After just one year at West Brom, Chester was sold to Championship side Aston Villa in 2016.

(Photo by Michael Regan/Getty Images)

In the following two seasons at Villa Park, the centre-back has enjoyed tremendous success, making over 75 appearances and establishing himself as an indispensable presence at the back.

This season, Chester has struck up a formidable partnership with former Chelsea captain John Terry.

The airtight defensive combination was on full display during the two matches against Middlesbrough, as Chester and Terry stifled the high-octane Boro attack.

Featuring the likes of Britt Assambalonga, Adama Traore, Stewart Downing, Patrick Bamford, and Rudy Gestede, the Teesiders’ star-studded frontline was held scoreless due to Villa’s superb defense- led by James Chester.

As Tony Pulis watched his side run out of ideas and fall to a 1-0 aggregate defeat, he will surely be ruing his 2016 mistake.

Allowing James Chester to be sold to Aston Villa truly came back to haunt the Boro boss, as the Welsh international delivered Pulis a dramatic reminder of his abilities and cost the Teesiders a spot at Wembley.

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Aston Villa

Aston Villa should at least take a look at Carles Gil this summer

The Spaniard spent the season out on loan from Aston Villa at Deportivo La Coruna.

Mathew Coull

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It looks as though Carles Gil will be leaving Aston Villa this summer. The Birmingham Mail reported this week that the Spaniard has no future at Villa Park, with the club looking to offload him in the summer.

An apparent obligation on the part of his current loan club Deportivo La Coruna to bring him in permanently has now been denied in the Spanish press. Marca now claims the permanent deal is void, after Depor’s relegation from La Liga.

It comes after a difficult season for Gil, in which he suffered a hernia problem and was eventually frozen out by new manager Clarence Seedorf.

But ask any Aston Villa fan and they will tell you that Gil is immensely talented. In fact, many would like to see him get another chance in England.

So should he?

Aston Villa paid Valencia a fee of around £3.2 million for the player, according to BBC Sport. It came after two excellent seasons out on loan at fellow Spanish club Elche.

Therefore, retrieving such a fee for the player would surely not be a difficult task for the club. But he clearly still has something to offer, especially if Villa remain in the Championship.

(Photo by Laurence Griffiths/Getty Images)

Gil was one of only a few players to come away from Aston Villa’s relegation campaign with any semblance of dignity and in his first half season at the club looked a real talent.

At just 25-years-old there is also still plenty of scope for him to improve. If Villa stay down again this season then major investment in recruitment is bound to diminish. So having a player with the talent of Gil still around at the club could be like a new signing for Villa.

It certainly seems as though Tony Xia and Steve Bruce want to banish any memory of that awful Aston Villa side that was relegated to the Championship. However, Gil might be one of the very few from that squad with redeemable qualities.

At the very least, it is worth keeping him through pre-season and seeing what he can do. If Bruce does not like what he sees, he can give Gil the boot before the transfer window shuts.

But if he does? Well, Gil could easily resurrect himself a decent career at Villa Park.

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