For the first time in a year, Aston Villa look stable. The traumatic sequence of events last season which totalled 4 different managers in charge have been forgotten. The unharmonious atmosphere which Gerard Houllier presided over has vanished and every player in the Villa squad looks happy. Memories of training ground bust ups between central defenders and assistant managers are long gone as every player fights for a starting berth in McLeish’s starting XI.
Starting with pre-season, Villa had a decent one. It wasn’t as spectacular as we have come to expect – there were no victories against Inter Milan, Juventus or Fiorentina – but the Barclay’s Asia Tour was as good as it gets during the summer months and the games against Blackburn and Chelsea were entertaining at the very least.
Hong Kong was a rigorous place to train and I for one believe the training out there really helped the fitness levels of the team. Plenty of players had the chance to prove themselves and it seems McLeish was particularly impressed with Stephen Warnock and Fabian Delph – so much so that they are now first team starters.
In terms of transfers, McLeish has done OK. The departures of Ashley Young and Stewart Downing were expected and brought in good money. While that money has not been fully reinvested, some portions of it have been used to acquire the services of Shay Given and Charles N’Zogbia, who are widely regarded as quality additions. The squad depth still looks a little low however and McLeish has stated on numerous occasions he will not be signing any more players.
The re-emergence of Fabian Delph has eased our concerns at central midfield but the wings still look a problem. Agbonlahor looks set to be utilised as a wide man this season but should N’Zogbia or Albrighton suffer a serious injury Villa will look in serious trouble.
Ultimately however, managers are judged on results and standings. Villa have started well – there’s no question about that. Fulham are a bit of a force at Craven Cottage and to get an away clean sheet is always a good start. Following up this comfortable home victories over Blackburn Rovers and Hereford United represents a near perfect start.
How do you think Alex McLeish has done so far? Where do you think he can improve?
Please follow me on twitter: @stighefootball