What does 2012-13 have in store for Aston Villa?

To say that 2011-12 was a blow-par season for Aston Villa is something of an understatement. The Midlands club avoided the relegation places by two points, struggled to score goals, and with the lowly total of seven wins all season, the Villa Park faithful suffered at the hands of mediocre performances for the bulk of the campaign. However with Alex McLeish being shown the door, what does 2012-13 hold in store for Villa?

Villa’s season seemed doomed from day one, as ex-Birmingham City boss McLeish’s appointment was treated with contempt from the fans, a lack of money was spent in last summer’s transfer market and main creators Stewart Downing and Ashley Young left the club. Despite a plucky start, the club quickly spiralled into lacklustre performances, too many draws and not enough goals.

The days of Martin O’Neill, where Villa on their day could go toe-to-toe with most sides in the division, especially at home, have felt like a lifetime ago. Under the Northern Irishman the side posed an attacking threat, were confident and proved dogged when their opponents were in possession – none of these traits seemed overwhelmingly evident in the recently-concluded campaign.

Randy Lerner’s appointment of McLeish’s replacement is now critical for the side’s future. Ole Gunnar Solskjaer emerged as a surprise candidate before turning his back on the club to stay in his homeland; this may well be a blessing in disguise. Although the Norwegian trainer would more than likely offer a more progressive style than McLeish, Villa need a boss with Premier League experience and a track record of success.

Wigan’s Roberto Martinez turned the job down a year ago, but he and Paul Lambert are being touted as possible contenders. The Spaniard was Lerner’s first-choice last year, but with the Liverpool job now available the Latics boss may reject Villa once more. Lambert would be a bold choice, whilst the likes of Steve Bruce and Alan Curbishley are available immediately; however there is no real frontrunner screaming out to be hired.

Whoever the new man is, there is work to be done at the Birmingham-based side. Looking at the side’s rearguard, experienced campaigners like Shay Given, Richard Dunne and James Collins provide a solid base for the team, however additional strength at full-back looks necessary. Despite 53 goals conceded in 2011-12 being too many, the core is there to shore up the backline but other areas needed more imminent attention.

In midfield, due to the departure of Downing and Young, added creativity is needed. Stephen Ireland and Charles N’Zogbia are able, but another winger to supply opportunities for the attackers would be a welcome addition. With the blow of Stiliyan Petrov’s fight against Leukaemia, Villa have been robbed of the bite in the centre of the park, and the side are crying out for strength in depth, with Fabian Delph and Barry Bannon needing an older head to lead them.

Up front, Darren Bent remains the side’s shining light in the hunt for goals, and the Villa Park faithful will hope the England man can return to fitness and form ahead of 2012-13. Gabriel Agbonlahor has been inconsistent but is still a threat, whilst Andreas Weimann has shown glimpses in breaking into the first-team squad. With Emile Heskey departing, Villa could use a new forward with an eye for goal to compliment the existing trio.

Australia international Brett Holman will join the side on a Bosman ruling this summer, and comes highly-rated after a successful spell at AZ Alkmaar. A move for Heerenveen targetman Bas Dost has been speculated also, without any concrete progression. The likes of Junior Hoilett, Matt Jarvis, Mohamed Diame and Steven Fletcher will be available and are names Villa should be monitoring, whilst other stars from the continent need to be unearthed by the side’s scouting system.

All in all, Randy Lerner needs to do two things this off-season to get Villa back into the top half next season; pick an experienced manager with an attacking outlook, and back him with money to strengthen in the summer.

Aston Villa need a win over Norwich to give their long-suffering fans something to cheer about

Aston Villa finish their 2011-12 season with a tricky trip to take on Norwich at Carrow Road on Sunday, but will know that their Premier League status is safe after picking up a point against Tottenham last weekend. Despite this, it has been a massively mediocre season for the Midlands club, one to forget even and Alex McLeish will look to give the travelling support something to cheer about before the summer break.

The main problem this season for the Villa Park club has been a lack of incision, which has meant few goals. With Darren Bent injured and potentially missing Euro 2012, the club have struggled to hit the back of the net, and with 37 strikes in 37 games have the second-lowest tally in the division after Stoke. Seven wins out of 37 games has been painful viewing for the club’s supporters, whilst 17 draws is five more than the nearest side this term (Sunderland have drawn 12).

Randy Lerner and the Villa board have some real soul-searching to do in the summer, and a few important questions to answer. The first originates around the team’s manager Alex McLeish, who started on the backfoot due to his ties to rivals Birmingham City, and has failed to capture the imagination with lifeless performances by his team on the pitch.

The Scot is not solely to blame for the poor season however, as the sales of Stewart Downing and Ashley Young were always going to take their toll, and replacement Charles N’Zogbia has found the pairs’ boots difficult to fill. Despite attacking midfielder Steven Ireland coming back into the fold, the club needs to replace the two creative players that it lost last summer, and the American owner should put his hand in his pocket and stump up some much-needed financial backing. The signing of Brett Holman from AZ Alkmaar is a start, but more new faces are needed.

The team face a stern test against Norwich this Sunday, who have been one of the standout sides in the division this season. Their fearless and attacking approach has drawn many plaudits, and Paul Lambert’s men have never even looked vaguely in danger of being relegated, which cannot be said for Villa. The Canaries boss has been mooted as a potential replacement for his countryman McLeish should a managerial change be in order, but the current incumbent will look to prove that he is the right man to lead the club forward with a win at Carrow Road.

Richard Dunne and co will have their hands full with Grant Holt and maybe Steve Morison, and the attacking threat of Anthony Pilkington and Wes Hoolahan in midfield should not be overlooked. However, with nothing but pride and a more flattering league position to play for, hopefully McLeish will send his side out to entertain and play free-flowing football; something the Villa faithful have seldom seen this season.

Published – Villa Talk

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