Premier League profile 2015/16: Aston Villa
Unfortunately for Aston Villa, despite their swathe of new signings, most of the attention remains on those high-profiles players who have left the West Midlands, though this could work to Tim Sherwood’s advantage, as his side remain something of an unknown quantity for the upcoming campaign.
The Villans (4/1 with Coral for a top 10 finish) have made nine summer purchases so far and may not be done bolstering their ranks yet, with Sherwood freely spending fees received for Christian Benteke and former captain Fabian Delph.
Having proven his ability to inspire Villa to play as more than the sum of their parts last season, Sherwood now has the daunting task on his hands of ensuring all these shiny new acquisitions can form a cohesive unit.
Following Newcastle United’s example, the Villans appear to be taking no chances with their recruitment policy either, having plundered Ligue 1 for two promising midfielders in Idrissa Gueye and Jordan Veretout. They have been drafted in to succeed Delph and Tom Cleverley respectively, and can contribute both going forward and shielding the back four.
Versatile Veretout, in particular, should provide Sherwood with plenty of options, should he choose to continue alternating between a 4-3-3 and a 4-4-2 diamond. Alongside anchorman Gueye, they will give real competition to Carles Gil, Carlos Sanchez and Ashley Westwood, with Villa now far from threadbare.
The Birmingham-based club will also be looking for youngster Jack Grealish to continue developing after the attacking midfielder sprung to life at the end of last term, making the most of Sherwood’s tendency to give youth a chance.
Maybe this teenage talent will find more joy out wide this term than as a playmaker, with Scott Sinclair’s permanent purchase and superb pre-season form also meaning Villa, 9/2 to finish the season as top Midlands club, should be strong down the flanks.
Players who may find themselves surplus to requirements, then, could include Charles N’Zogbia and ageing Joe Cole, who have hardly set the world alight since arriving at Villa Park.
Homegrown hero Gabriel Agbonlahor certainly played his part in the Villans’ survival but, despite his raw pace and hard work, the stats don’t stack up, so the local lad attacker may have to look over his shoulder this season.
Villa’s forward line could potentially see the most change, with Ghanaian goal threat Jordan Ayew and former Blackburn Rovers frontman Rudy Gestede having already arrived for substantial sums.
There seems to be mixed opinions on Sherwood opting for the latter, yet Benin international Gestede has everything in his locker to be a reliable Premier League scorer.
A tally of 33 Championship goals in 66 games over the past two terms in nothing to be sniffed at, and the France-born forward can have realistic ambitions of at least emulating Benteke, who never surpassed 20 league strikes in a season for the Midlands men, by grabbing double figures.
Rumour has it that one more marksman may yet arrive, with mercurial Emmanuel Adebayor, who grafted hard for Sherwood at Spurs, perhaps a surprisingly wiser choice than recent reported target Dimitar Berbatov.
For all the silky skills this graceful Bulgarian has in his locker, he does not have the taste for relegation battles based on previous at Fulham.
Villa’s defence still looks the shakiest part of their squad, in an area that requires stability, despite free agent Micah Richards arriving to partner one of Jores Okore, Ciaran Clark or Nathan Baker. None are exceptional centre backs, though the failure of any to make the spot their own could also be a blessing in disguise.
Competition should be high, and Sherwood will have the chance to shape a backline of his own design, with fresh full back faces Jose Angel Crespo and Jordan Amavi also aiming to give the former Tottenham coach selection headaches.
New buys aside, however, it is confidence that could prove so key to the Villans’ campaign, here, so Sherwood and co will be keen to get off to a flying start.