The third club to come under the microscope in this series is Aston Villa. Gerard Houllier has had a tough job to do since taking over from Martin O’Neill. Injuries have severely affected this club and have given Houllier no choice but to call on several, untested youths.
Giving credit where credit is due, it has to be said that for the most part, the young ones have done a decent job. The likes of Ciaran Clark, Barry Bannan, Chris Herd, Jonathan Hogg and Marc Albrighton have impressed since being introduced to regular, first team football. That has been a bit of a silver lining for Houllier and Aston Villa this season.
Hard to ignore, though, is the fact that Villa are just four points above the drop zone. Injuries have played their part, yes, but that’s not the only problem. It seems that a few players are finding it hard to adapt to he methods of Gerard Houllier. Rumours are suggesting that Richard Dunne could be on his way out of the club after a reported fall-out on the training ground. Summer recruit, Stephen Ireland, has also crossed paths with Houllier. Ireland has failed to settle at Villa Park and it seems increasingly likely that he too, will leave the club. There was also a reported situation with John Carew and his future at the club is also in doubt. Steve Sidwell is also close to sealing his exit from the club as West Ham are closing in on a deal.
So, in addition to whatever funds Randy Lerner may provide for Houlllier, there may be some additional funds coming in as a result of player sales. Heading into the transfer market, Houllier has some vital decisions to make. He has to buy, taking into consideration that injured players will be returning at some point in the new year. He also has to buy players who will galvanize the young ones. That said, which positions need strengthening at Aston Villa?
(1) CB– As aforementioned, Richard Dunne may very well be on his way out of the club. He has been a constant in the Villa side up until now and if he is sold, then one can expect that Houllier will be looking for a replacement. Ciaran Clark is naturally a defender, but Gerard Houllier seems to fancy him as a central midfielder. When Stiliyan Petrov and Fabian Delph return, however, we may see Clark restored to his more familiar Center Back position. Still, with the likes of Curtis Davies and Carlos Cuellar out of favor and likely to be moved on, at least two Center Backs need to be brought in.
(2) LB– Stephen Warnock is the only senior Left Back at the club. It’s without question, then, that an understudy needs to be brought in.
(3) RM– As was said, Marc Albrighton has done a fantastic job this season. However, another Right Midfielder is needed to provide cover for him.
CAM???- Gerard Houllier is holding firm to the belief that Ashley Young will make a quality attacking midfielder. He definitely has the creativity and technical ability necessary to efficiently carry out that role, but some may argue that his purpose is best served on the left wing, where he can either cut in on his stronger right foot and curl beautiful crosses into the penalty box or test the goalkeeper from long-range.
Young is indeed very effective on the left, but the emergence of Marc Albrighton on the right may see Stewart Downing play on the left more often. The fact that Ireland has failed to impress should also see Young play a more central role. Aston Villa are in need of creativity in midfield and if anyone at the club is to provide it, certainly, it is Ashley Young.
Is cover needed for Ashley Young in that central role? The answer is no. Barry Bannan is very highly-rated at Villa Park and has drawn comparisons to Barcelona’s Xavi and Iniesta because of his style of play. Many may say that such comparisons are over the top, but they just show how valued young Bannan is. He has great potential and has shown that this season. His passing and overall creativity is good and will only get better as he gains more experience. Houllier may not need to buy for this position.
(4) LM– Seeing that Ashley Young may be playing a different role in the team, that means that Stewart Downing may be the only serious starter on the left wing. Robert Pires is there, but he is at the tail end of his career and may be used sparingly. A Left Winger needs to be brought in.
(5) Striker– Up front, there is a lack of consistency. John Carew, Emile Heskey and Gabriel Agbonlahor are either struggling with injury, form or both. Nathan Delfouneso is a bright prospect, but is not quite ready to command a first team place. A fit Gabriel Agbonlahor is capable of supplying goals, but the likes of Carew and Heskey need to be moved on so that better options can be brought in. Aston Villa need potent goal-scorers if they are to claw themselves away from relegation and into European spot contention. At least one striker should be brought in. Robbie Keane and Michael Owen have been linked. Whoever arrives, though, has to be reliable- in terms of form and fitness.
So, those are the needs of Aston Villa. Martin O’Neill had this club on the cusp of achieving Champions League football. As long as the right players are brought in, it won’t be long before Gerard Houllier leads the club right back into the dog fight.