This is my second preview of Fulham's opponents in the English Premier League. Aston Villa have been a solid team in the English Premier League. The last three seasons Aston Villa has finished sixth in the English Premier League.
Aston Villa Football Club is located in Birmingham England. They play at Villa Park which has a capacity of over 42,000. Their current owner is Randy Lerner who also owns the Cleveland Browns. Their manager is Martin O'Neil and is considered by many as a top manager. He has been in charge at Villa Park since August of 2006. Players to watch include James Milner, Ashley Young and Stiliyan Petrov.
For my preview on Aston Villa I wanted to get help from people who know the club very well. Aaron Campeau and Kirsten Schlewitz are co - editors and writers of 7500 To Holte. If you are a fan of Aston Villa this is the site for you.
Before coming to coming to Sbnation.com with 7500 to Holte, Aaron and Kirsten had their own blog on Wordpress. They are both very passionate fans of Aston Villa. They don't shy away from how they feel about their club. All you have to do is go to their website and see at the top of the explanation of what this website is about. Right at the top it states" 7500 To Holte - A Football Blog With An Unashamed Aston Villa Bias."
I asked Aaron and Kirsten many questions about the club they follow. They gave me many great answers that I am happy to share. I think he will help shed some light on Aston Villa. Below is my Q and A with Aaron Campeau and Kirsten Schlewitz of 7500 To Holte.
Q: Were you happy where Aston Villa finished in the Premier League last season?
Aaron Campeau: At the time it was a bit disappointing, but ultimately yes. I think that looking at the squad coming into the season and looking at their competition, sixth is a solid result and while there was some hope for a while that fourth might be attainable, it's hard for me to be upset with where things ended up. Of course there were results that I think should have gone Villa's way, but there were an equal number of pleasant surprises as well.
Q: What are your thoughts on the job that Martin O'Neil has done as manager of Aston Villa?
Aaron Campeau: When Martin O'Neill came to Villa they were in serious danger of being relegated from the Premier League for the first time, they were lacking in scouting and youth development and in general the club was a mess. After finishing 11th in his first year Villa have placed sixth three consecutive years.
O'Neill has an eye for young talent and a gift at developing it; Villa have had the PFA Young Player of the Year twice in his four years at the helm. There are some things about his style of doing things that I don't particularly care for; while his transfer window strategy of waiting until the last possible moment to make any sort of moves has been somewhat successful, it makes me exceedingly nervous. He's a very conservative in-game manager, preferring a fairly conventional 4-4-2. There are times it appears as though he has tunnel vision where adding to the squad is concerned.
On the whole, however, I think Martin O'Neill is a tremendous fit for Villa at this time. Randy Lerner appears to have opted for a gradual approach to success; stay competitive in the Premier League, invest in youth and player development, don't trade future stability for a chance at short-term success. It's a strategy I agree with for the most part, in particular given the current economic climate and the call for more financial stability in European football, and with those aims in mind it's hard to think of someone more well suited for the position than Martin O'Neill.
Q: What are your general feelings on the state of Aston Villa as the season is about to begin?
Aaron Campeau: Right now? Terrified. But we'll see where I'm at once the transfer window closes.
Kirsten Schlewitz: Also terrified, but mostly because I tend to be intensely paranoid before every match, to the point where even a game against West Ham will have me hyperventilating. I'm pretty nervous that any new transfers won't have time to gel, and that we have so many defenders with injuries.
Q: Which Aston Villa players are the keys to your success this season?
Aaron Campeau: I don't think any one player's performance is more important than Stilyan Petrov's and that is in large part why I'm so worried about the upcoming season. A lot of the focus last season was on James Milner and Richard Dunne, and rightly so. But more than anyone else, Stilyan Petrov's performance dictated the effectiveness of the attack and Villa's ability to maintain possession. The troublesome thing about that is the fact that Petrov's performance degraded notably as the season went on and in the limited time I've seen him so far this pre-season he doesn't appear to have regained his old form.
If Stilyan Petrov is Villa's center-spoke holding midfielder, he's going to need to get back to where he was early last season. If he can't, he needs to take a diminished role. Since he's the captain and Martin O'Neill thinks so highly of him, that might be a difficult proposition.
Aside from Petrov, Gabby Agbonlahor and Ashley Young are obviously hugely important. This team struggled to score for much of last season and the attacking contributions of those two will be a huge key in making sure that doesn't continue. If James Milner stays, he's going to be an important part of Villa' success, without question. The heart and soul of this team, however, is at the back; Richard Dunne and James Collins were the best center defensive pairing in England (and possibly the world) last season, and how well they're able to retain that form going forward will be key. Stephen Warnock is beyond solid at left back.
Right back is still a big concern; Carlos Cuellar is the incumbent, and while he's tremendous defensively he offers very little going forward. Luke Young is slightly better on the attack but is a huge downgrade defensively. But with Dunne and Collins/Cuellar in the middle, the team is counting on being at the top of the table in terms of goals allowed. If there's a decline in their performance, things could get ugly.
Q: Who are some of the young players of the future for Aston Villa?
Aaron Campeau: Marc Albrighton has been a revelation so far in the pre-season and he should be expected to make an impact on the wing as early as this season. Fabian Delph is still probably Villa's most promising prospect, but he's recovering from an ACL injury and isn't expected back until November. Reports on his progress have been extremely promising, but ACL injuries scare the daylights out of me.
My personal favorite Villa youngster would have to be Eric Lichaj; his natural position is RB, which fills a huge need on the squad and he's an American, so I'm naturally slightly more interested in his progress than I might otherwise be. With that said, I've fallen in love with the kid because of the way he's played in the pre-season; he's looked incredibly dangerous on the attack and though he's nowhere a finished product as a defensive player he's got great instincts and doesn't seem prone to making mental mistakes or being overly aggressive.
My rational side thinks he can be a solid contributor in Europa, the League Cup and some earlier F.A. Cup round matches while holding down a spot on the first team for league play and thinks he could very well be a quality player within the next few years. My irrational fan side expects him to defend like Richard Dunne and score goals like Roberto Carlos. I try to be rational about him as often as possible, but it's tough.
Kirsten Schlewitz: If we're not seeing Albrighton starting at least some of the games, I'll be extremely upset. I love that we're seeing a bit of flexibility in our typical 4-4-2, with Ashly Young being used behind John Carew, thus giving space for Albrighton on the wing. This sort of play will drive defenses mad--we've seen it drive them mad in preseason--so I'm all for bringing in more of Albrighton.
That being said, don't let the secret get out. We're rather tired of losing our bright young stars.
Q: What style of play would you say Aston Villa feature?
Aaron Campeau: Bunker and counter. Villa's strength is at the back and they're generally content to let the opposition come to them and attempt to score on the counter. They have a tremendous amount of speed up front and they aim to take advantage of that as often as possible.
It's not hoofball; Villa will clear long a lot, but they're not just aimlessly pounding the ball from the back towards the middle and hoping someone tall can get to it. There are those that find Villa's style of play boring, but it's a huge part of why I fell in love with them. I love defense and when you know Gabby Agbonlahor is just sitting there waiting to turn on the jets with Ashley Young not far behind is exhilarating. If their optimal strategy isn't working Villa will switch things up and play a possession-heavy, deliberate style that, when it's working, will drive opposing defenses insane.
Q: What are the strengths of Aston Villa?
Aaron Campeau: Defense, speed and Ashley Young's left foot.
Q: What are the weaknesses of Aston Villa?
Aaron Campeau: Depth, attacking ability from the fullbacks and the lack of a true holding midfielder.
Q: Which players were key acquisitions so far for Aston Villa?
Aaron Campeau: Next question please.
Q: Which players were key losses for Aston Villa?
Aaron Campeau: I'm kind of bummed about Wilfred Bouma leaving but it's tough to call that a key loss. So far so good.
Kirsten Schlewitz: I wouldn't say that we've had key losses; rather, we've failed to lose players that could bring us at least a bit of spare change--primarily Steve Sidwell and Luke Young.
Q: What positions do you think Aston Villa still need to strengthen up before the end of the summer transfer window?
Aaron Campeau: I would love to see a true right back brought in, but to me the bigger key is the midfield. If Petrov's issues are due to fatigue (and I suspect that's a lot of it,) he'll need to get some time off. If Milner ends up somewhere else, at least two players will need to be brought in to replace his contributions. Depth is a concern everywhere except goalkeeper and perhaps forward.
Q: What are your thoughts on James Milner and him possibly leaving Aston Villa?
Aaron Campeau: I absolutely adore James Milner. He's my favorite player and on an emotional level it would be tough if he were to leave. With that being said, if the offers that have been reported are accurate, it would be tough for me to fault the club for accepting Manchester City's bid.
Villa have a lot of holes in need of filling and £24 million could go a long way towards helping them do just that. He's an excellent player, and no one Aston Villa could bring in is going to give you what he does. If they can use the funds to upgrade several positions, however, it might make the club stronger as a result. And really the bottom line is this; if Milner wants to leave and Manchester City are willing to give you fair value, there's not much that can be done. I hate that Manchester City do business the way they do, but it's the reality of the situation and Villa have to make the best of it that they possibly can.
Q: What are your predictions for Aston Villa in the Europa League? What are your predictions for Aston Villa in the Premier League?
Aaron Campeau: These questions were posed separately, but my answer for the two is connected so I will address them as one. Villa aren't really in a position to compete in four competitions this year, so they're going to have to prioritize.
I'd like Martin O'Neill to place a slightly greater emphasis on Europa this season as compared to last, but if he decides to go all-in where Europa is concerned the team's domestic play is likely to suffer. I think not making the group stages is unacceptable no matter what; Rapid Wien are a decent side, but they shouldn't be able to compete with any halfway decent squad Villa bring to Europa. If they accomplish that goal and decide that the Premier League and domestic Cup competitions are the priority, I'll be happy.
If Villa decide to place a greater emphasis on Europa and the F.A. Cup while sacrificing their standing in the Premier League, I want them to make a very deep run and I think they're capable of it. Fulham's play in the Europa League last season was the best story in European football, and a similar run for Villa would be fantastic.
With that being said, I'd certainly understand if O'Neill decides to focus his efforts on the Premier League next year, and in that case I'd think any big steps backward would be upsetting. Randy Lerner has pretty clearly decided to scale back the club's spending this year, and I'm not going to fault him for doing so. He's given O'Neill the funds necessary to assemble a very solid young core of players and the club's future is bright. I think this team could make a decent run at a Champions League qualification this year, but this could just as easily be a transitional season and Villa could fall back towards the middle of the table. That would not in and of itself be a disappointment depending on the road that leads them there.
If that sounds wishy-washy, I apologize, but it's honestly very difficult for me to get a handle on where this club is at the moment. A lot of that is due to the Milner situation not being resolved, but there are also some unresolved questions about the makeup of the team and the status of some of the club's older players. I'd expect us to have a much better idea of what Villa's medium-term future looks like at this time next year, but right now it's a bit murky.
I want to thank Aaron Campeau and Kirsten Schlewitz for their assistance in this preview. If you would like to go to a great Aston Villa fans website please check out 7500 To Holte. They also have excellent previews on other clubs in the English Premier League as well.
* This is an updated version of the Aston Villa Preview.