Last season: 16th
Premier League champions odds: 1500-1
If ever there was a side entering the upcoming season with a sense of widespread optimism, then it’s Villa.
Following the departure of Alex McLeish – a man loathed by the majority (all) of Villa fans – Paul Lambert has arrived and got the Villa faithful dreaming of a bright future, so bright in fact that early expectations could prove a massive burden for Lambert and his players.
The Scotsman takes charge of a club the came dangerously close to relegation in the last two seasons, a long way from the days when Martin O’Neill established the Villans as serious contenders for a European spot.
Lambert has brought in four new faces in Dutch international Ron Vlaar and Moroccan Kharim El Ahmadi from Feyenoord, Australian midfielder Brett Holman from AZ Alkmaar and Matt Lowton (who?) from Sheffield United, while Emile Heskey and James Collins have left Villa Park, giving the club’s wage bill some much needed breathing space.
The former Norwich manager finds himself in a job that will require patience and support from the fans as Villa have too often cut corners trying to take a leap rather than a step, ending with overpaid underachievers in their ranks, while the days of spending big under Randy Lerner now belong to a bygone era.
Villa’s main man will once again be Darren Bent, although he’ll need to be better supported by his team-mates in front of goal given that Agbonlahor’s meagre return of five goals was the second-highest for any Villa player last season, Lambert might seek to add another proven goalscorer to his squad.
In midfield, both Charles N’Zogbia and Marc Albrighton face a big season, after enduring a largely disappointing campaign in 2011-12, while Moroccan El Ahmadi could be a first-choice but will have to adapt to tempo and style of the Premier League.
Former Sheffield United defender Matt Lowton is likely to make the right-back position his own and Ron Vlaar will slot in at centre-back but, with Richard Dunne out injured for a month and Carlos Cuellar allowed to leave on a free transfer, it’s not clear who will partner the Dutchman at the start of the season.
Overall, it will more than likely be a season of transition for Villa, but at least they can be sure they are heading in the right direction. If Lambert can recreate what Martin O’Neill did at the club, then it could be an interesting season for this sleeping Premier League stalwart, but a top half finish will suffice for now.
Predicted Finish: 9th
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