Paul Lambert was always Villa fans first choice to succeed sacked Alex McLeish as Aston Villa manager, when after Villa’s final league game in May against Lambert’s former employers Norwich City, both sets of fans come the final whistle were heard singing ‘There is only one Paul Lambert’. One set of those fans will be expectantly singing this when the season starts again in August away at West Ham.
So what has Paul Lambert exactly inherited from Alex McLeish’s reign of terror whilst he was somehow manager of Aston Villa Football Club; a mixture of experience and youth, whose full potential, was non-existent under McLeish. No doubt the squad contains experienced players who are capable of challenging the likes of Spurs, Chelsea and Newcastle for a top 4 place, Shay Given, Richard Dunne and 24 million man Darren Bent, just to name a few.
If past achievements are to be repeated, Villa’s current playing squad is urgently in need of a review. Villa aren’t the 4th most successful team in English football and only one of five English teams to of won the Champions League for nothing, but to see similar successes again, Lambert will need to bring in 4-5 new players and move any deadwood out. He has been given between 20-30 million by Randy Lerner, plus any player sales to rebuild Villa into a club challenging for the top four; with the wage bill significantly lowered by new contracts not being offered to the likes of Emile Heskey, Carlos Cullear and Brad Guzan.
The two areas of focus of Villa’s current playing squad currently sticking out like a sore thumb for improvements are the state of the current defence and the absence of a workload and craft in the engine of the midfield in Stiliyan Petrov’s absence. Looking at the current squad from top to bottom, Shay Given in goal is one of the best keepers in the Premiership, but without a solid back four in front of him, even the world’s best keepers are going to feeling slightly vulnerable.
Taking a look at Villa’s current back four, in a recent survey done by the Birmingham Mail of fans would most likely want to see leaving Villa this summer, two of the top three were two of Villa’s starting back four last season; right back Alan Hutton (72%) and centre back James Collins (40%) were seen by fans hopefully not playing for Villa next season. Add that to the loss of Carlos Cullear to Sunderland, Lambert is in need of 2-3 defenders to protect Shay Given’s in-between the sticks.
Additions such as Nathaniel Clyne, Daniel Ayala and Douglas Costa, would steady Villa’s shaky defence for the upcoming season. Nathaniel Clyne currently playing at Crystal Palace is one of the most talented upcoming right backs in English football, his speed, tackling and attacking promise left defences in tatters last season. Daniel Ayala, who worked under Lambert last season at Norwich, would be a great addition to the Villa back four as well, with his height and speed to help dominate the Richard Dunne dominate the Villa 12 yard box.
Villa’s other problem was who replace would captain Stiliyan Petrov, who was sadly diagnosed with leukemia half away through last season. That question was answered in the purchase of playmaker Karim El Ahmadi from Feyenoord for just over two million pounds. El Ahmadi was considered by Feyenoord supporters one of their best players last season and was only sold due to the club’s widely known financial problems. He is capable of running the game from central midfield, with his array of passing and tireless work rate, something Villa miss without Petrov. To date nothing has been said if John Makoun, who was out on loan at Olympiakos last season will be a Villa player come August.
Then Villa’s attacking options, 24 million England forward Darren Bent is a 20+ goal striker and would have easily reached that mark if he wasn’t injured for 3 months last season, but needs the supply from his fellow attacking players. Winger Bret Holman has been signed from AZ to help bolster the width options and Lambert will be hoping he can revive the confidence Marc Albrighton had before McLeish’s arrival. The jury is still out on Charles N’Zogbia and Steven Ireland’s futures at Villa Park. There have been also unconfirmed reports Manchester City are prepared to let England winger Adam Johnson leave for 10 million, which would brighten Villa fan’s eyes if Paul Lambert was able to secure his signature, but he would face stiff competition from other clubs for it.
With just over a month until the new season starts Villa fans will keenly keeping tabs on Sky Sports News to see what players will be arriving into B6 and which players will be told they are no longer in Paul Lambert’s plans. Villa fans though can’t expect to see a repeat of when they were challenging for top 4 under Martin O’Neil within a season, it will probably take 2-3 years until Aston Villa Football Club are back where they should be, challenging for European Football.