The FourFourTwo Season Preview 2015/16: Aston Villa
The summer looked to be going swimmingly for Aston Villa. Micah Richards had signed, Fabian Delph appeared to have committed his future to the club, Christian Benteke’s hefty price-tag appeared to have dissuaded potential suitors from making a bid. But then Delph was back off up the M6 to Manchester City and Benteke wasn’t far behind, heading to Liverpool. Suddenly, the mood is a lot less optimistic. Tim Sherwood may well have his hands full, particularly as he's also lost Tom Cleverley and Ron Vlaar. It could be another long old season for the West Midlanders...
What the fan says
Luke Marson of The Villa Blog talks Jack Grealish, how to survive without Benteke and what Sherwood needs to do.
Why they’ll do well
For a good few years now, Villa have been at their best when they’ve sat deep and looked to catch their opponents on the counter-attack. Without Delph and Cleverley in the middle of the park or Benteke to hold up the ball, that may be a tactic they revert to in the coming season. If they do, they should be hard to score against, even if they don’t score a bucketload. Sherwood's men have also wasted no time in replacing their key figureheads, raiding Ligue 1 to snare three Jordans - Amavi (Nice), Ayew (Lorient) and Veretout (Nantes) - plus Lille's Idrissa Gueye. How well they settle is likely to determine what the Villans do this term.
Why they’ll do badly
Losing four key players is rarely a recipe for success. With the spine of the team that performed so well in the latter months of last season now removed, it will be a huge ask for Sherwood to maintain the momentum that was set from February to the end of April. It was long considered that Villa relied too heavily on the Liverpool-bound Christian Benteke, and should they fail to keep the engine running then this could be another year of struggle.
The big questions...
1) Can Tim stop things turning sour?
Sherwood started brilliantly at both Tottenham and Aston Villa. Things eventually fell apart towards the end of his five-month stint in the White Hart Lane hot seat (see his row with Sandro and the clear discontentment among the fans), and there were one or two worrying signs in the last three games of last season that the ‘new manager bounce’ had expired. A good start to the new season would be the best way to continue the love affair.
- Scott Sinclair (Manchester City)
- Micah Richards (Manchester City)
- Mark Bunn (Norwich)
- Idrissa Gueye (Lille)
- Jordan Amavi (Nice)
- Jordan Ayew (Lorient)
- Jordan Veretout (Nantes)
- Darren Bent (Derby)
- Andreas Weimann (Derby)
- Enda Stevens (Portsmouth)
- Matthew Lowton (Burnley)
- Yacouba Sylla (Rennes)
- Antonio Luna (Eibar)
- Shay Given (Stoke)
- Fabian Delph (Manchester City)
- Christian Benteke (Liverpool)
2) Will Richards play at right-back or centre-back?
Micah himself may have the answer: “I always said when I got older I wanted to play centre-half, and I think that time has come now. I feel in good shape and hopefully I can have a good pre-season. I feel as though my good years can still be ahead of me.”
3) Can Gueye fill the void?
Senegal international midfielder Gueye has been brought to the West Midlands as a replacement for Delph, which will be no easy task. The latter became a key figure at Villa Park - not to mention an England international - and Gueye will have to get to grips with Premier League football quickly if he’s to plug the gap.
Key player: Jack Grealish
The Solihull-born midfielder was a breath of fresh air when he was finally afforded the chance to show his worth in the first team after months of supporter campaigning. Now the boyhood Villa fan is quite possibly the Villans’ star man, which will bring with it added pressure. How he reacts may determine whether Villa sink or swim.
What we’ll be saying come May
“How did they manage to escape yet again?” Despite the much-needed enthusiasm brought to the club by Sherwood, Villa’s squad now looks ill-equipped to do anything more than scrap their way towards the bottom of the Premier League. Simply avoiding the drop would be a sensible goal.
To see where FourFourTwo think Aston Villa will finish – along with a bespoke two-page preview – get our special new season issue, out Saturday August 1.