15) ASTON VILLA
Pts: 21 (5-9-6)
Preseason Prediction: 9th
Accuracy: Off, but so was everyone
Believe it or not, I actually like Martin O’Neill and Villa, they’re a welcome change to the bigger clubs, but the realistic side of my brain is telling me that their squad depth is just not good enough to warrant a spot near the top of the table. Villa fans take heart: the realistic side is not always correct.
O’Neill was able to survive without Gareth Barry, but I think what last season proved is that James Milner was actually more valuable than Barry, and someone at Manchester City was paying attention to that. Or, City just wants to buy every player in the league and buy the title that way.
The bottom line for me is that a lot of teams, particularly in the middle of the table, have gotten better and Aston Villa hasn’t. They have too much talent to not be in the top half of the table, but that’s probably about as far as I can go.
But, be aware that when Manchester City has to cut its roster at the end of the month, O’Neill will be the first one in line to grab someone. And don’t be surprised if it’s someone that helps him jump a place or two in the table.
My rationale makes sense, the big change obviously being that O’Neill bailed just before the season, and Gerard Houllier took charge, and obviously there was some adjusting for everyone. The biggest problems have been on defense, where Villa have allowed the most goals (37) in the Premiership. Houllier seems to be in between playing youth, even sitting guys like Richard Dunne lately. That, and the fact that Stephen Ireland – arguably Manchester City’s best player two years ago – has made only 6 starts despite being healthy for the most part. Ashley Young has 5 assists, but only 2 goals, and Gabby Agbonlahor has been able to make 7 starts due to injury. They won’t get anywhere near where O’Neill had them (Europe), but Villa should be on the way up.
Preseason best new signing:
Marc Albrighton – I admitted it was a stretch, but that was before Villa signed Ireland, and they hadn’t really done anything. Albrighton has been stellar for a 20-year old, making 14 starts and scoring 4 goals. He’s destined to be a star and Villa has a few young players that will be good. But can Villa keep them?
Preseason key player:
John Carew – Injuries have limited Carew to only 9 appearances and he hasn’t recorded a single goal or assist. Safe to say that hasn’t helped matters much in the Villa camp, although – again – the bigger problems seem to lie with the defense.
Key player now:
Richard Dunne – It’s hard to see how Dunne’s form has dropped so much in just a couple of months. Houllier went back to him in Villa’s last game against Chelsea, and although they allowed three goals, he seemed a little more comfortable. They need Dunne in good form if they’re going to make a move up the table.
Inside the numbers:
29 – Difference in fouls suffered between Ashley Young (47) and second most on the team, Albrighton (18). Second-place, 8, which is the number of yellow cards Stephen Warnock has accrued.
You have to think Villa’s worst days are behind them. Agbonlahor is back, Ashley Young looks healthy, and they can’t be as bad as they have been in the back, can they? I don’t think they can.