By Chris McQuade
James Milner – Villa’s brightest young thing
Villa fans are often left with a sour taste at the end of a season as their push for fourth has often fallen short with a few weeks to go. However, given their consistent performances (6th place for three years running) and youthful squad, things continue to look bright for Martin O’Neill’s men.
The bullet points:
• The development of James Milner was the story of Villa’s season
• The lack of progress made by Gabriel Agbonlahor remains a concern
• Brad Friedel continues to earn points on his own
Goalkeeper: Villa have very little to worry about between the sticks. Brad Friedel has continued his imperious form and durability. However his age will now become a concern. Brad Guzan appears to be his replacement, and whilst performing well in the League Cup (particularly at penalties), he has not been tested consistently in the bigger competitions. Villa may well look to sign a young goalkeeper to provide future competition for Guzan but that is not a priority this summer. A move for Scott Loach may fit this bill but he’ll be key for Watford next season.
Defence: Martin O’Neill bought well last summer with Collins, Dunne and Warnock all providing Premier-League level quality. Villa’s problem position is at right-back where Luke Young and Habib Beye have struggled with injuries and subsequently their few performances were not good enough. O’Neill may look for quality around Europe, where Osasuna’s Cesar Azpilicueta would be a stand-out signing – but O’Neill’s track record suggests a more known quantity will be purchased. A move for out-of-favour Micah Richards may be on the cards after City’s recent signing of Jerome Boateng, though City are unlikely to sell to such a close rival. Villa may also have to sign a replacement for the unfortunate Wilfred Bouma and if money is tight then West Ham’s versatile Valon Behrami could cover both positions without commanding a large transfer fee.
Lee Chung-Yong would be a sensible addition to Villa’s squad
Midfield: Villa’s midfield was the key to their relative success this season. The key ‘triangle’ of Milner, Petrov and Downing provided commitment, drive and quality. The wing play of Ashley Young was not quite up to the standards of his previous season but a full summer’s rest should see him return to form. However the lack of a recognisable right winger often left Villa looking lopsided and the lack of depth in central midfield cost them in Europe and towards the end of the season. The deadwood of Reo-Coker and Sidwell will probably be cut adrift whilst Fabian Delph is still a season or two away from realising his undoubted potential. A free-agent pick-up of Joe Cole may cost the club in wages if not a signing fee but his combination of guile and creativity would add a new dimension to Villa’s play. Perennial transfer rumour victim David Bentley could be cut from Tottenham’s ambitious squad and added to Villa’s right flank. Bolton’s Lee Chung-Yong (pictured) has also impressed this season and would be a very shrewd signing.
Forwards: Bar John Carew’s very recent return to form and Gabriel Agbonlahor’s early season goals, Villa had a relatively poor return from their strikers. Emile Heskey has struggled with injuries and form, which has led to many observers questioning his England credentials. Gabby Agbonlahor has yet to add clinical finishing to his dynamic forward play and his lack of progress beyond must be a worry for O’Neill. Nathan Delfuenso looks to have the raw talent necessary to succeed but like Fabian Delph is not yet ready for regular first-team action. As such I believe Villa will sign one forward this summer with Emile Heskey possibly moving on (depending on his performances in the World Cup). West Ham’s Carlton Cole might be Villa’s main target as he fulfils all their criteria. Failing that, a move for CSKA’s young striker Tomas Necid is one option – Necid is young (20), tall (6ft 3in) and strong, and would fit well into Villa’s system.
Finally, the loss of James Milner to a Champions League team for big money this summer would be a big blow. It would be tolerable only if the money is reinvested wisely.
Singing of the season: Richard Dunne
Flop of the season: Habib Beye
What do you think Aston Villa need to do this summer?