With Martin O’Neill at the helm from 2006 to 2010, it was a certainty that during this period Villa were amongst those clubs that would require FPL investment. Whilst as a Villa fan the lack of rotation was often a moment of frustration, the familiar starting XI which included 6 goal Martin Laursen at centre back brought 71 goals in the 07/08 season – six more than 2nd placed Chelsea.
The 09/10 season saw bigger investment at the back, with the fourth best defensive record after Chelsea, Utd and Liverpool with 39 goals conceded – ironically this was the first season without Laursen or Gareth Barry and included a 7-1 defeat at Chelsea (captaining 4-goal Frank Lampard was evidently a correct but difficult choice to make).
Since O’Neill left days before the 2010/11 season commenced, we have seen four managers at Villa, with McLeish’s move across the city from local rivals Birmingham for the start of the 11/12 season being contested long before he arrived; Lerner’s determination to attract an under-contract manager who relegated Villa’s rivals twice in three seasons is still baffling. McLeish’s attempts at winning over the fans was always going to be a struggle, but one thing we at least expected was to be more solid at the back. Of course, this produced the lowest number of home wins in Villa’s history, five more draws than any other team in the league, and the worst goals return since 1970 – 5 less than their previous worst PL goals tally. From a defensive point of view, 9 clean sheets and 53 goals conceded was hardly evidence of a turnaround at the back. The monotonous style of play combined with numerous defensive howlers was sure to kill off McLeish’s time in charge.
Last season saw significant investment in Aston Villa’s fantasy assets from the beginning – new signings Shay Given and Charles N’Zogbia priced at £5m and £6.5m respectively offered cheap routes into a Villa team with a great set of early fixtures and in a team that were generally reliable. Alas, a 16th place finish and only Liverpool outdoing Villa from an underachievers perspective saw investment and early optimism plummet – Darren Bent’s injury in early 2012 meant that any player selected was nothing more than a risky differential – the late DGW for Villa and Bolton saw just as much investment in Bolton as it did in Villa.
The 2012/13 season should see an increase in fortunes for Villa fans and FPL investors alike with cheaper options this time around, with only Darren Bent likely to be in the mid-high price range – even then he is expected to be the player most heavily invested in given his goalscoring record at Ipswich, Charlton, Sunderland and Aston Villa. He is also the first choice on spot kicks. Villa’s early fixtures comprising of whm, EVE, new, SWA, sot, WBA look similar in difficulty to last season.
I’d recommend, if wanting Villa players, investment in the players that we know will start – do not take many risks. The starters will be cheap so that risk taking is unnecessary. Lambert is probably going to field a 4-4-2 formation, and although less rotation will occur than we saw with Norwich last season, we still don’t know how much will happen – Villa fielded two strong XI’s in each half at Burton Albion in a 2-1 win and with only a few stand-out players in their squad, FPL safety in Bent, Given and N’Zogbia (who will monopolise free-kicks as Petrov is out) seems a good way to go right now. Albrighton will miss the start of the season so Holman is another option here. Lambert is also known for his attacking style of play – a significant improvement on 37 goals is almost a given. We will see more from Weimann and the possibility of investment in Agbonlahor, a previous popular choice from the Villa front line in recent seasons, but no longer guaranteed the minutes he was a couple of seasons back before Darren Bent joined.
Hutton and Warnock, Villa’s first choice full-backs last season, will come under pressure from Enda Stevens and Matt Lowton, two new signings who fans desperately want to see starting – this is an indication of fan frustration of Warnock and Hutton’s ability and performances rather than faith in the new signings however.
Aston Villa team I’d like to see start next season:
I’ve stuck my neck on the line and said that Vlaar will sign, and this will see the end of Collins at Aston Villa. Warnock and Hutton could start to give us greater experience, although a change from these two would be appreciated by fans – letting Luke Young go last year is another decision not understood by supporters. If these two full-backs don’t feature – and is likely as Hutton has been excluded from the tour to the USA and Warnock looking like exiting Villa Park too – a trio of experienced defenders could be off. If a new full-back is signed, we’d expect him to become first choice – Danny Simpson would fit in nicely with Lambert’s style of play. With Villa entering a transition period, new signing El- Ahmadi will be handed a start in place of Stan Petrov, but until we’ve seen more friendlies, the only guaranteed starters for now are Given, Dunne, El Ahmadi, Clark (whether at CB or DCM), N’Zogbia and Bent. Ireland played on the right last season but this will not happen this season -Holman adds a realistic alternative. I expect a settled XI so we should know beforehand what this is, for FPL purposes.
FPL recommendations: Bent, N’Zogbia and Clark (if listed as a defender which is likely). Holman and Ireland are possible differentials, with the former almost guaranteed to start given Marc Albrighton’s injury. A cheap, young defender to rotate with West Brom defenders once we know the back four (Lichaj, Clark, Herd, Lowton, Stevens).