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.

England vs Bulgaria: Three Points A Must For Fabio Capello’s Men

England continue their Euro 2012 qualifying campaign this week with fixtures against Bulgaria and Wales promising to give the fans a better idea of the nation’s chances of competing in Poland and Ukraine next year. With Fabio Capello’s men locked at the top of Group G on 11 points with Montenegro and an away day in Podgorica still to come, the Three Lions can ill-afford many more slip-ups.

The Italian coach has selected a number of promising youngsters in his squad for the match in Sofia, and it will be interesting to see whether the likes of Manchester United pairing Phil Jones and Tom Cleverley are trusted to start the match. Chris Smalling has impressed the former Real Madrid coach thus far this term, and should also pick up his international debut at right back. With no Rio Ferdinand to call upon, it will be a toss up between Jones, Lescott and Cahill to who partners skipper John Terry in the heart of the English rearguard.

In attack Wayne Rooney will harbour the responsibility of getting the goals to win the match, and the United striker has started the season in blistering form, with a hat-trick against Arsenal last Sunday ensuring the 25-year-old goes into the game full of confidence. Darren Bent is an injury concern so Andy Carroll may accompany the former Everton man up front.

Bulgaria were put to the sword at Wembley in the return fixture back in September 2010, with Jermain Defoe scoring three in a comfortable 4-0 win. The away match will be no walk in the park however, as the luxury and familiarity of Wembley will be traded in for the hostility of the Stadion Vasil Levski.

The home side no longer have all-time top goalscorer Dimitar Berbatov to call upon, who quit the international set-up back in May 2010, but despite this Bulgaria will have some strong players on show come Friday. Stiliyan Petrov will be a familiar face for the away midfield, and the likes of Scott Parker or Gareth Barry will need to get close to the Aston Villa midfielder, who has the ability to shoot from distance or create chances for others. Former Manchester City forward Valeri Bojinov has not been selected in the squad, but Bolton’s Martin Petrov may feature.

The match will be given an extra bite by the fact that the home coach Lothar Matthaus has been vocal in the media this week and will motivate his players to get three points on Friday. The former Germany international got the better of England in his playing days, and will look to replicate this in his managerial tenure, despite the fact that Bulgaria are almost assured of missing out on Euro 2012.

A win would go far to alleviating fears of a do or die game in Montenegro next month, a draw is not ideal but would be acceptable and a loss would put the nation’s chances of competing in the European Championships in jeopardy. Expect a hostile reception from a passionate home faithful, and Bulgaria to come out of the blocks quickly, but if England can weather an early storm they should have the players and the experience to see them home.

Published – http://www.whoateallthepies.tv/opinion/85363/england-vs-bulgaria-three-points-a-must-for-fabio-capellos-men.html

Villa to look to Marc Albrighton in the wake of Young and Downing departures

Aston Villa fans will not have enjoyed watching England international wingers Ashley Young and Stewart Downing leave the club to move to Manchester United and Liverpool this summer, and Alex McLeish will be slightly worried about his side’s lack of width in their absence. Although difficult and expensive to replace, the new man at the helm at Villa Park will be mightily relieved that he has the pace, versatility and quality of Marc Albrighton to call upon.

With Charles N’Zogbia’s transfer to the club from Wigan, Villa have replaced like for like, and the France international will harbour the responsibility of recreating some of Downing’s exploits down the left. The ex-Newcastle player contributed valuable goals to the Latics successful relegation escape last term, and like Downing likes to drift in-field and provide support to the strikers.

On the right of midfield the Scottish coach has the option to play someone like Stephen Ireland, but this would narrow the side’s play, and Albrighton offers a more dangerous option, as the team look to make chances for the frontmen. Ireland will find opportunities more forthcoming in the centre of the park, as Albrighton takes the step up to start for the team on a more regular basis on the right wing.

The 21-year-old progressed through the youth ranks to take his place in the senior squad along with a number of other promising youngsters, and has showed vast improvement over the last two seasons. The Tamworth born winger has pace to burn and a trickery that Premier League full-backs will not look forward to having to face, but the main attribute in the player’s locker is his delivery.

McLeish will most likely rotate Emile Heskey and Gabriel Agbonlahor in partnering Darren Bent in attack in 2011-12, and the trio have a physicality and presence in the box that will be difficult to contain. Villa have depended on the quality of service from the now departed England duo, but in their absence the level of supply to the attackers will not diminish, as Albrighton has is an excellent crosser of the ball.

With N’Zogbia on the left and Albrighton on the right, the pair are equally as comfortable in swapping flanks, and with Stiliyan Petrov and Ireland’s passing ability in the centre of the park, the Villa midfield should not be diminished too much from Downing and Young leaving. Despite this, more strength in depth is needed, as if one of the wingers was to get injured it limits the Midlands club as an attacking unit.

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