Villa: Youth And Young Manhood

Aston Villa's policy of buying young sees them go into the new season with a united front. Philip Cornwall thinks mid-table would be very nice for Paul Lambert, thank you...

Last Updated: 07/08/13 at 12:12 Post Comment

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LAST SEASON

Premier League
15th FA Cup fourth round League Cup semi-finals
Manager Paul Lambert (since June 2012) Odds on being first out of his job 25-1 (11th=)
Players in Jores Okore (Nordsjaelland, £4m), Leandro Bacuna (£3m, Groningen), Aleksandar Tonev (Lech Poznan, £2.5m), Antonio Luna (Sevilla, £2m), Nicklas Helenius (Aalborg, £1.2m)
Players out Stilian Petrov (released), Eric Lichaj (Nottm Forest, free), Brett Holman (Al Nassr, free), Richard Dunne (QPR, free)
Club turnover in 2011-12 £80m (9th)
Handicap betting to win Premier League +36 points (10th=)
Deliverance from Alex McLeish did not end Aston Villa's problems; it took the 6-1 home win against Sunderland with three games left to give confidence relegation could be avoided and, while that result was humiliating for the visitors, Villa had plenty of moments to forget, too.

Most embarrassing must have been losing to fourth division Bradford in the League Cup semi-finals. Or possibly Christmas, with 15 goals shipped without reply - eight of them in one evening at Chelsea. But in the end May brought relief and maybe even some pleasure, except in the shape of the enforced retirement of Stilian Petrov.

In Paul Lambert's long-term favour - beyond not being a former Birmingham manager whose only positive in the eyes of Villa fans was getting City relegated - was the emphasis on youth, epitomised by the selection of Christian Benteke ahead of Darren Bent. In the short term this was controversial and the club record signing remains an awkward presence in the squad, but that and the style of play when everything clicked helped make the Villa Park crowd more forgiving despite what was overall just a one-place improvement over McLeish's finish.

The youthful policy has certainly been continued with the summer signings. The Danish defender Jores Okore is 21 next week and his attacking compatriot Nicklas Helenius is 22. The Dutch midfielder Leandro Bacuna reaches that age shortly and the Spanish defender Antonio Luna did so in June. The Bulgarian midfielder Aleksandar Tonev is the old man of the new bunch at 23. Randy Lerner is backing Lambert's strategy and it is a united club that will take the field at Arsenal on the first Saturday, after Benteke reversed his decision to seek a transfer and instead signed a new four-year deal.

That was an extraordinary turnaround, given how loth players are to hand in written transfer requests, for financial reasons as much as anything else. He will have been well rewarded for his change of heart but it could be priceless for Villa in the season ahead.

The immediate problem Lambert faces is that after Arsenal comes a trip to Chelsea, brought forward due to their European Super Cup date, then a home game with Liverpool. And then nothing in the Premier League from 24 August to 14 September, when Newcastle come to Villa Park. Brad Guzan was horribly exposed at times last season and will hope to see an improvement in those three games, especially in the return to Stamford Bridge.

Still, a bad start is unlikely to faze anyone given the opposition and the bookies offer a positive prognosis. Lambert is seen as secure, with the odds on him being the first to leave his job the same as they were this time last season, when he was newly appointed. Meanwhile, in the handicapped table the team that finished 16th are rated joint 10th.

You could carp that the ninth-highest earners in the most recent set of accounts would still be underachieving fractionally if they achieved that. But after the past two seasons comfortable mid-table would be seen as very nice, thank you, especially if achieved with some youthful vibrancy.

Philip Cornwall

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