We asked life long Villa fan James Quigley about the Villains’ prospects for the coming season.
Follow James on Twitter @JamesQ1986
Looking back at the season, it has to be said that he did very well. We were close to relegation but with the young players he has brought in we should continue to improve. He stopped a rot that was beginning to set in at Villa Park. Since Martin O’Neill left six days before the 2010/11 season began Villa have struggled. This season was different as despite the struggles we looked like we’d come out of it stronger.
Lambert has improved the style of play, he has moved to a much more attacking style and is pulling together a young and exciting side. He also sticks to his guns, persevering with Christian Benteke over Darren Bent despite criticism in the press, a decision that was justified at the end of the season.
Most of Lamberts signings were inspired too, Benteke, Westwood and Lowton all slotted into the team like they’d been Premier League players for years. Sylla and Vlaar proved important, although this was more evident when they weren’t playing.
It wasn’t all perfect from Lambert. The attacking football saw us lose a number of games heavily. The best example being the 8-0 defeat at Chelsea. Even when Villa were 5 and 6 down Villa were still pushing forwards, rather than keeping the scoreline down.
He also showed tactical naivety during the cup defeat to Bradford. He threw on numerous strikers in order to grab a winning goal, but it resulted in pumping the ball forward and playing straight into Bradford’s hands.
It speaks alot for how bad Villa have been that in Lambert we have the most popular manager for a long time despite narrowly avoiding relegation and being knocked out of a cup semi final against league two side.
Are you satisfied with your progress over last couple of years?
Last couple of years is hard to judge because we took a big backwards step under McLeish. I don’t think it was all his fault, he never stood a chance. I am happy with the giant leap we have taken in the past year.
While this might not be reflected in the league table, on the pitch it’s a different story. The young squad are playing decent football in an attacking way. We have given up signing Spurs and Man City rejects and have put focus on the policy of bringing in young, hungry players most of which have no previous premier league experience. While this strategy is risky, it makes a nice change from over priced, over paid Top 5 rejects.
The fact that the club has quickly moved to tie up the contracts of their top performers including Christian Benteke, despite his transfer request, shows more positivity.
The feeling amongst Villa fans is that things are definitely moving in the right direction.
Were you playing the right formation?
It took Lambert a while to figure out his best team, starting with 4-4-2 with a diamond in midfield. He moved to 3 at the back with 5 in midfield, but eventually we started playing 4-3-3 with Agbonlahor, Weimann and Benteke up front. This is when pur results really started to pick up. Particularly away from home when the pace, power and movement up front caused problems for most sides, particularly away from home.
What’s the priority this term?
The immediate priority for Lambert is to get rid of the deadwood. Stephen Ireland is a waste of space, Alan Hutton has been absolutely shown up by Matt Lowton, Darren Bent doesn’t fit into Lambert’s style of play and Shay Given is not going to play ahead of Brad Guzan. These players are earning more money than any of the players that are currently in the side.
In terms of the whole season I think as long as the side are showing progression fans will be happy. Realistically mid-table is the best we can hope for however I think most fans will be happy aslong as the football continues to improve, we avoid a relegation battle and we don’t repeat embarrassment’s of last season like the 8-0 defeat to Chelsea or Semi Final defeat to Bradford.
How do you rate your summer signings so far?
It’s hard to say due to the fact that I’ve heard of none of them. Jores Okore is rumoured to have rejected Chelsea and is a Denmark international at the age of 20. Hopefully he is the big strong centre half we need. Antonio Luna should provide competition for Joe Bennett, for whom the jury is still out.
Bacuna and Tonev are labelled as wingers, but Lambert doesn’t tend to use wingers so it will be interesting to see what happens. Helenius is another tall, strong striker. He scored a lot of goals in Denmark so it’ll be interesting to see if he can make the step up to the Premier League. Jed Steer has joined from Norwich at the end of his contract, he will probably act as back up to Brad Guzan once Shay Given departs.
While it is hard to rate our signings I can say it is an exciting change for Villa. We are usually lumbered with overpriced overpaid British players. Most of these either comprising of Spurs and Man City rejects or picking off players from relegated teams. Going into the season with 6 players with no idea what to expect of them is a relatively new phenomenon for Villa. Our signings were similar last year although there was always a feeling that we needed a few more. This season it feels like we are adding to an already fast improving squad.
Where might it all fall apart?
The squad is even younger than last year. The squad was already a very young one but Richard Dunne has been replaced by Okore who is 20. Darren Bent will leave and be replaced by 22 year old Helenius. We showed our experience on more than one occasion last season and that could be our undoing this season too.
During January especially after the hammering from Chelsea we then lost 4-0 to Tottenham and 3-0 at home to Wigan, you could see the young players had absolutely no answer to it. Even after a couple of battling points at Swansea and Albion we still continued to lose to Southampton and Newcastle at home.
The other is Benteke. If he gets injured or even fails to replicate his form we may struggle. The problem for Villa is we simply cannot defend and at times needed to score three goals just to draw a game. If Benteke’s goals dry up Villa could struggle to pick up results.
Who are your main rivals to finishing higher than last season?
I do think the bottom of the premier league will be quite interesting this season.
If you look at the teams that finished around us last season. Newcastle have yet to improve their squad but a side with the quality of Cabaye, Cisse and Ben Arfa should never have finished that low and I doubt they will again. Sunderland like Villa have filled their sides with a number of unknown players, which could realistically go either way. Norwich and Southampton have made some very good signings.
If you look a little higher, West Ham have had to cough up £18million to keep last season’s team the same and they don’t appear to be doing much else. West Brom have had lost Lukaku and replaced him with an ageing Nicholas Anelka who I think will score goals, but only if he gets the service. Lukaku has the ability to create and score a goal all on his own. Stoke shouldn’t be as direct as they have been in recent seasons but this could be to their detriment.
How do you rate the strength of your main rivals?
All the sides around Villa have different strengths, but in reality all are pretty similar in what they will be expecting from this season, which is mid-table safety.
Newcastle have quality which Villa do not, but they certainly don’t have the team cohesion. West Ham, Stoke and Fulham are very hard to beat at home, but a different prospect away, Villa really need to be stronger at home in order to push up the table.
Albion have a set of players who have been together for a long time in most cases.
Norwich and Southampton are signing players with a clear strategy to push themselves into a mid-table side.
I think that Villa will finish below some of these sides, probably Southampton and Newcastle, it will be close between Villa, Sunderland, Stoke and Norwich but I think we will finish above Albion, Fulham. I do think Cardiff might be in the lower reaches of this group too as I do think that will be a tough place to get a result.
Where will you finish (one word)?