Aston Villa Football Club

Weekend Preview and Predictions

@0riginalfooty takes a look at the weekend fixtures for the 31st round of Premier League football. Last time out we got five out of ten predictions right and no correct scores. Will we do better this week?

Saturday

Arsenal vs Liverpool (12:45)
As far as I’m concerned, Arsene Wenger’s side have already confirmed a top-four spot and there is a genuine possibility that they will finish second as Man City continue to falter. Liverpool lost a crucial battle in the race for the Champions League places and this match could prove to be a last hurrah for them. They are under pressure following their defeat to Man United and Raheem Sterling’s contract saga is not making life any more comfortable around Anfield. With home advantage for The Gunners, I’d expect them to come out on top.
Prediction: Arsenal 2-1 Liverpool

Everton vs Southampton (15:00)
The Toffees have strung together some decent results in the last few weeks and their safety is all but confirmed. Southampton, meanwhile, refuse to give up the possibility of nabbing a Champions League spot but realistically it will be beyond them. Having said that, they are more than capable of winning against a team who have nothing to play for.
Prediction: Everton 1-2 Southampton

Leicester vs West Ham (15:00)
This is a must-win game for Nigel Pearson’s team. If they fail to win then I can’t see any way back for them. The Hammers did every relegation-threatened side a huge favour by beating Sunderland last time out but Leicester will know that this is a team whose season is over and they simply have to win. I still think The Foxes will be relegated but I’ll back them to make things at the bottom even more interesting with a home win.
Prediction: Leicester 1-0 West Ham

Man United vs Aston Villa (15:00)
Louis van Gaal was under great pressure prior to the matches against Spurs and Liverpool but his side have come away with two excellent victories to put them in complete control of earning a top-four spot. Villa suffered a poor home result against Swansea in their last match and it has thrown them firmly back into the relegation mix. Tim Sherwood’s side may have half an eye on the crucial home match against QPR on Tuesday night but it is important that they put in a good performance to keep morale in the camp high. Villa certainly have the weapons to hurt van Gaal’s team if they play to their best and they will make a game of it but it’s hard to look past United in this one.
Prediction: Man United 3-1 Aston Villa

Swansea vs Hull (15:00)
The Swans continue to impress and look determined to end their season on a high. Hull have also been in decent form and gave Chelsea a run for their money in their last match. Two more wins would virtually guarantee safety for The Tigers and this is a game they could certainly get something out of but Garry Monk seems intent on finishing the season strongly and I think they will get the three points.
Prediction: Swansea 2-1 Hull

West Brom vs QPR (15:00)
The Baggies are another team looking to secure their top-flight status and Tony Pulis will be confident of achieving safety if they manage to beat hapless QPR. The R’s continue to put in poor performance after poor performance but this is the biggest week of their season. West Brom are by no means unbeatable and then they face one of the sides they could realistically catch in the form of Aston Villa on Tuesday. If they could get four points from those two matches then they would be right back in it. Sadly for them, I fancy Pulis’ team to be too strong for them.
Prediction: West Brom 2-0 QPR

Chelsea vs Stoke (17:30)
The Blues edged another step closer to claiming the title with a nervy 3-2 win over Hull and it would be amazing to witness anything other than Chelsea’s colours around the trophy this season. Stoke have tied Mark Hughes down to a new contract while the international break has been going on and they have enjoyed another solid campaign. It won’t be an easy match for Jose Mourinho’s team but one they should win.
Prediction: Chelsea 2-1 Stoke

Sunday

Burnley vs Spurs (13:30)
The Clarets are still in the frame for survival and a win here would lift them out of the relegation places for at least a couple of hours. Their opponents, however, will have seen at least one of their rivals for a top-four spot drop points on Saturday as Liverpool and Arsenal face off against each other and simply cannot afford to slip up against opposition of this ilk. Sean Dyche’s team won’t let them have it easy but I fancy Tottenham to just about nick it.
Prediction: Burnley 1-2 Spurs

Sunderland vs Newcastle (16:00)
This Tyne-Wear derby has plenty riding on it, particularly for Sunderland. The Black Cats sit a point above the relegation places and are in atrocious form. Dick Advocaat got off to a losing start against West Ham but will have had time to work with his team during the international break. Newcastle, on the other hand, are meandering towards the end of another mediocre season and defeat here would not go down well with their support. This could go either way so I’ll go for a draw.
Prediction: Sunderland 1-1 Newcastle

Monday

Crystal Palace vs Man City (20:00)
Alan Pardew’s new team rose above his former charges in the table with their victory over Stoke and he deserves great credit for what he has achieved at Selhurst Park. City put in a much better performance against West Brom in their last match but they can’t afford to drop another point if they are to have any chance of winning the title. This is not an easy fixture and I wouldn’t be surprised to see Palace get something out of it but City should edge it.
Crystal Palace 1-2 Man City

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Villa solidity gives great reason for optimism

For the first time since November 2012, Aston Villa have recorded back-to-back clean sheets in the Premier League with their goalless draw with Newcastle building upon their opening day away victory against Stoke.

At the end of last season, Villa’s leaky defence had conceded 12 goals in their final four matches to round off a miserable season where they had shipped 61 goals. However, Paul Lambert has used the resources available to him this summer to strengthen his back line to add some much needed solidity.

Lambert has spent his time this summer addressing Villa's problems at the back

Lambert has spent his time this summer addressing Villa’s problems at the back

Of the back four he largely deployed last season, only Ron Vlaar has retained his place in the side. Bomb squad castaway Alan Hutton has replaced Leandro Bacuna, a winger converted to a fullback last campaign. Although Bacuna offered several moments of attacking magic, he rarely looked comfortable in his primary defensive role and it is a wise move to allow him to return as an option further up the field. Conversely, Hutton has added much needed defensive strength and mettle with defending his primary objective. Hutton deserves particularly wholehearted praise for his incredibly positive attitude on his return having been ruthlessly pushed aside in previous seasons.

Alan Hutton has made an encouraging start to the new campaign

Alan Hutton has made an encouraging start to the new campaign

Aly Cissokho was drafted in as a replacement for the unconvincing Antonio Luna and the equally unreliable Joe Bennett. Cissokho may not have enjoyed the most successful spell at Anfield but he seems to have found his feet at Villa Park. His pace and power are huge assets and he caused Newcastle countless problems in the first half with his overlapping runs and dangerous crosses. Cissokho did unfortunately limp off towards the end of the match but Villa will be praying it’s not too serious.

Cissokho looks like a great addition to the West Midlands side

Cissokho looks like a great addition to the West Midlands side

Most importantly, however, is the addition of Philippe Senderos who has formed a formidable partnership with World Cup star Ron Vlaar. The Dutchman will be delighted to have the Swiss international alongside him rather than the clumsy Nathan Baker. Jores Okore is also regaining full fitness and will be hoping to push both centre-backs for a starting berth.

Senderos has a great understanding with Villa captain Ron Vlaar

Senderos has a great understanding with Villa captain Ron Vlaar

The key element that has been added to Villa Park over the summer is experience. Hutton, Senderos and Cissokho are all internationally capped defenders who have played for some of the top clubs in their respective leagues. Baker, Bacuna and Luna/Bennett are largely unproven and inexperienced. Teams will find it tough to break down this Villa team this term, particularly with the addition of the impressively industrious Carlos Sanchez who will be deployed in front of the back four.

Carlos Sanchez will add some steel to the Villa midfield

Carlos Sanchez will add some steel to the Villa midfield

Villa fan Andrew Philpot was critical of both sides attacking performances during his description of Saturday’s match by claiming: “both teams decided it was best to bring butter knifes to the sword fight today.” He is right in the sense that neither side was particularly fluent in attack, however, he can take heart from the fact that, for the first time in two years, Villa have kept two clean sheets in a row and have a solid base to build upon.

A First Time Footballer

As the Original Footy know-it-alls near the end of their Premier League previews, I still feel completely and utterly lost. I have been reading the posts, but there is mountains upon mountains of information about the teams involved – names I can’t spell or even begin to pronounce, movements of players from foreign and exciting lands, absurd sums of money in the fight for the best footballers – all of which I find baffling. For those of you who, like me, want to learn a bit more about the game but can’t hope to retain all the information in the Original Footy previews, the key is to go at it in bite-size chunks. So, we will begin today with the managers of the Premier League teams. I’m going to ask one of the guys at @0riginalFooty to test me on this at some point next week, so it’s time to start learning!
Arsenal – Arsene Wenger
Aston Villa – Paul Lambert
Burnley – Sean Dyche
Chelsea – Jose Mourinho
Crystal Palace – Tony Pulis
Everton – Roberto Martinez
Hull – Steve Bruce
Leicester – Nigel Pearson
Liverpool – Brendan Rodgers
Manchester City – Manuel Pellegrini
Manchester United – Louis van Gaal
Newcastle – Alan Pardew
QPR – Harry Redknapp
Southampton – Ronald Koeman
Stoke – Mark Hughes
Sunderland – Gus Poyet
Swansea – Garry Monk
Tottenham – Mauricio Pochettino
West Brom – Alan Irvine
West Ham – Sam Allardyce

At present I would say that I know 3 of these for sure. A measly 3 managers. Arsene Wenger is one of them and is an easy one to remember because his name is so similar to the name of his team. I actually know Paul Lambert and Aston Villa, but only because a good friend of mine speaks of very little else other than his favourite team. Finally, Manuel Pellegrini is where my knowledge of Premier League managers ends. I was on a flight back from Malaga last summer and he happened to be on the same plane as me. When collecting our luggage, he was stood with all the “normal” people and I noticed lots of passengers going up to him and asking for his autograph. Needless to say, I had no idea who he was so I sneaked a photo of him and sent it to a few of my football-savvy friends who confirmed that it was Manchester City’s new manager. So, I currently stand at a meagre 3 out of 20. I have a lot of work to do. Look out for A First Time Footballer’s post next week to find out how well (or not as the case may be) I fare in my Football Manager test…

Premier League Preview: Aston Villa

There is only a month to wait ‘til the start of the Premier League. Over the next few weeks @0riginalfooty will preview the new season, take a look at each team and offer our predictions as to where each side will finish. Here we take a look at Aston Villa.

Aston Villa have been in limbo for the past 4 seasons and have faced a relegation battle throughout the majority of each season. Randy Lerner has announced that he is trying to sell the club that has added even more uncertainty to proceedings for the Villa Park faithful. Talismanic striker Christian Benteke is also injured for the foreseeable future and could be ruled out from now until any time between September and the New Year dependent on his recovery rate. Villa will be hoping for a less stressful season at the wrong end of the table but it is hard to see them climbing too high up the table unless there is a takeover in the next few weeks.

Randy Lerner has put Villa up for sale but is yet to find a buyer

Randy Lerner has put Villa up for sale but is yet to find a buyer

The Manager
Paul Lambert has been in charge of the West Midlands side for the past 2 seasons and there has been very little progression. In fairness to him there have been significant restraints and limitations placed upon him during his reign as Villa are still trying to undo the financially damaging aspects of O’Neill’s time in charge. Chairmen Randy Lerner trusts him and his position seems safe until a takeover occurs.

Lambert has endured a tough spell at Villa but still has the backing of owner Randy Lerner

Lambert has endured a tough spell at Villa but still has the backing of owner Randy Lerner

Biggest Sigining
There are limited funds to spend so Lambert is doing his best Harry Redknapp “wheeler-dealer” impression and attempting to bring in experienced performers at low cost prices. He has already lured Joe Cole, Philippe Senderos and Kieran Richardson to Villa Park and seems keen to make a couple more signings to bolster his relatively thin squad. However, Villa’s biggest signing so far has perhaps been off the field. Roy Keane has been drafted in as Paul Lambert’s number 2, a role he will assume alongside his position as Ireland’s assistant manager, and could have a big impact on the club. He has been there and done it all as a player so will instantly gain the respect of the players and could be a catalyst for an improved season for the Villans.

Roy Keane will be hoping to help Villa climb up the table

Roy Keane will be hoping to help Villa climb up the table

Who is tipped to join them?
Nicklas Bendtner has been heavily linked with a move to Aston Villa and is widely expected to sign soon. Swansea’s Ki-Sung Yueng is also tipped to be coming through the door in the next few days. Moreover, a loan deal for Chelsea winger Christian Atsu could be on the cards if he doesn’t feature in Jose Mourinho’s plans for the season.

Bendtner is expected to be wearing claret and blue next season

Bendtner is expected to be wearing claret and blue next season

Who should they sign?
Due to the lack of funding at Villa Park, it is unlikely that they can afford any player that would command a decent transfer fee so they will be scouring the market for bargains; the afore mentioned players wouldn’t be bad pieces of business for them. In honesty, Villa’s best players could be those returning from long absences from the club. Charles N’Zogbia has all the attributes to be a top performer for Aston Villa but there are question marks over his attitude and Darren Bent certainly knows how to stick the ball in the back of the net at this level. If both players are fired up and willing to prove Lambert wrong for casting them out then they could play big parts in the upcoming campaign. The return of Jores Okore from injury is also a huge boost for Paul Lambert and the thought of partnering him and Vlaar at centre-back will be an exciting prospect for the claret and blue faithful.

Can N'Zogbia find the form that persuaded Villa to part with £9.5 million to acquire his services?

Can N’Zogbia find the form that persuaded Villa to part with £9.5 million to acquire his services?

Key Player
Fabian Delph. With talismanic figure Christian Benteke being a long-term absentee, the responsibility to galvanise Villa falls largely upon the shoulders of Fabian Delph. As a midfielder he has it all: the ability to pass, shoot and he’s tenacious in the tackle. He scored a host of wonderful goals last season and is often the driving force behind the side. Villa fans will be praying that there is no serious interest in him this summer and they can cling on to one of their prize assets.

Villa fans will be desperate to keep hold of Fabian Delph this transfer window

Villa fans will be desperate to keep hold of Fabian Delph this transfer window

Prediction
Many will be tipping Aston Villa for relegation this season due to the current issues at the club but I see it rather differently. Villa may have their difficulties off the pitch but there is a decent spine to the side with the likes of Guzan, Vlaar, Delph and, when fit, Benteke. Getting Ron Vlaar alongside a more capable defender than Nathan Baker was a priority for this summer and Lambert has addressed this early on. The return of Okore is a boost and the signing of Senderos means that, all of a sudden, there is some decent competition for places in a position that was desperately weak for the Villans last season. They are proven battlers in the bottom half so a relegation scrap will be nothing new to them should it come to it. I think they have enough to see themselves through another season in the Premier League and hopefully earn a sale along the way. I suspect they will end up in the bottom half but will survive. Expect Aston Villa to finish 14th.