Premier League Preview: Aston Villa

My Premier League previews continue with the focus on Aston Villa. Manager Martin O’Neill steered them to an impressive sixth place finish last season. Can they better that this season?

A relatively quiet summer, in terms of transfers, for Villa shows how confident Martin O’Neill is in his team. In Richard Dunne and Stephen Warnock at the back Villa have two solid defenders who are incredibly difficult to get past with their strength, effort and determination. Carlos Cuellar is also a hard worker although can, at times, have serious lapses in concentration. 
      The experience and quality of Brad Friedel in goal, however, more than makes up for this. The American has been a fine servant to the Premier League over the years and continues to prove himself to be one of the best ‘keepers in the league. Another experienced player, Stiliyan Petrov, provides more assurance and strength for Aston Villa when defending.
     It is going forward, however, where they really come to life. With the frightening speed of Gabriel Agbonlahor and Ashley Young, as well as the quality of crossing coming from Young, Stewart Downing and James Milner, Villa are sure to make chances. To get on the end of those chances they have John Carew, who is proven to score goals at this level and has become something of a cult hero for the home fans. Former England international Emile Heskey could also be used by O’Neill, with the former Liverpool striker being a useful option to bring players such as Young and Agbonlahor into the game more. 
    The biggest worry for Villa is if Milner does leave for big-spending Manchester City, following continuous speculation that the England World Cup player could be about to leave Villa Park for a fee of around £20 million. Milner could play a major part in Villa’s success next season as he holds the key to unlocking defences. This coming season could be a great one for Downing who was plagued with injury at the start of the season but, when he recovered, he showed the quality that he has in his locker. 
    One to watch in the 2010/11 season for Villa is Nathan Delfouneso. The young striker has been trying to force his way into the first team for a few years now and at 19 years of age this season could be the one for the former Villa youth team player. Aston Villa’s biggest problem in the last few seasons has been the inability to last, physically and mentally, through to the end of the season. For the last few years they have started well, leaving many to tout them to break into the top four. O’Neill will be hoping that, this season, his side will go the distance. With the resurgence of Liverpool and big-spending Manchester City, though, Villa may struggle to retain their sixth place position.

EDIT: Martin O’Neil has now resigned from the post of Aston Villa manager. Unless Villa can get a decent manager to come in (Martin Jol or USA manager Bob Bradley are the favourites), the Midlands club will definately struggle to make it into the top six.

Where will they finish?: 7th
Official top-four finish odds: 8/1 (Bet 365)
Star man: James Milner
One to watch: Nathan Delfouneso
Main weakness: Running out of steam

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