The transfer window is closed. The “summer” (if you can call it that in England), is over. September beckons and the squad recruited is what the manager must use until January the 1st. But how have Aston Villa faired?
Villa headed into the close-season amongst a heightened sense of insecurity and uncertainty. Question marks over plenty of the staff were raised and whether they would be around come September the 1st. The first thing to happen was that Houllier resigned. With doctors advising him to take several months off football, it was no longer to possible for him to manage the team. He took his leave along with assistant manager Gary McAllister and fitness coach Robert Duverne. Houllier was not the most popular figure at Villa but some felt things were finally falling into place for him and it was indeed a shame a man who loved football as much as he did had to depart the game.
The following week(s) were filled with speculation. Strong rumours were abound that Villa were looking at a plethora of targets with David Moyes the #1 on everyone’s list. After Roberto Martinez declined the job, it became clear that cross-city rival boss Alex McLeish was to become our new manager. It was a shame that some Villa fans felt they needed to voice their concerns about this potential appointment in such a way that they protested outside the gates of Villa Park. I am not alone in condemning those for their actions but that seems like years ago already.
A new manager represents a new start. It was refreshing to learn that Richard Dunne and Stephen Ireland, misfits during Houllier’s reign, were first through the door for the start of pre-season training. Optimism started to creep in even though Villa had just sold arguably their best player in Ashley Young, lost Brad Friedel on a free to Tottenham Hotspur and released Nigel Reo-Coker and John Carew. The squad was evidently short on numbers but it was early days with plenty of time to sign some fresh faces.
Shortly after this, Player of the Season Stewart Downing left for Liverpool in a £20m (approx) deal leaving Villa with only one natural winger in Marc Albrighton. With deals stagnating in terms of new signings, fans started to panic but were reward for their “patience” upon returning from the Barclay’s Asia Trophy with Charles N’Zogbia in a Villa shirt. Signed for £9.5m from Wigan, Charles was to be Villa’s new star winger and shirt sales were through the roof. A week before this or so, Villa signed Shay Given from Manchester City for approximately £3.5m to replace Brad Friedel and Stephen Warnock had been welcomed back from exile. The squad was looking more and more of a unit.
The opening fixture of the season against Fulham went well. Squad selection, formation, tactics and resilience were all under the microscope but a 0-0 draw away at Fulham was welcomed. A clean sheet away from home was more than Villa managed for the entirety of the previous season and so for McLeish to get one in his first attempt was a good start. The subsequent results; a 3-1 victory over Blackburn and a dull 0-0 vs. high-flying Wolves combined to represent an unbeaten start for Villa.
Then, the weekend before the transfer deadline day, Villa were in turmoil again! Jean Makoun was disappointingly loaned out to Olympiakos and Luke Young was sold to QPR. The move was seen as a purely financial but then Eric Lichaj was confirmed with a 4 month injury lay-off. With no (adequate) right-backs in sight, McLeish delved into the market and purchased Alan Hutton from Tottenham Hotspur and grabbed Jermaine Jenas by the scruff of his neck on loan while he was there. McLeish recruited prospect Enda Stevens in a January 2012 deal from Shamrock Rovers to cap off a busy last day.
So how have Villa done? Remarkably well! Despite losing 3 of their best players, the club seems stable and content. The defence is solid and experienced with a new signing to welcome. Central midfield looks good in numbers and in quality while Agbonlahor has remembered how to play football again. Add to this the consistent predatory instincts of star man Darren Bent and it seems McLeish addressed every problem..except one.
Still short on the wings. Agbonlahor is being utilised there and is playing well and his speed is coming back. Albrighton and N’Zogbia are our only 2 natural wingers and Barry Bannan could be deployed wide. But the depth isn’t quite there. 1 more winger, who could play either side, would have capped an ideal summer considering the circumstances. Rumours of Stoke attempting to negotiate a loan for Manchester City’s Adam Johnson late on transfer deadline day had my blood boiling as I uttered the phrase I utter too much; “that’s what we should be doing!”
But overall, it was a good window for Villa. Downing and Young departures were expected. Friedel going was a loss but Given makes up for it. N’Zogbia will be exciting, Agbonlahor has found some form and Bent looks as reliable as ever. James Collins and Richard Dunne are happy again, playing good football and proving hard to break down. If Stephen Ireland can finally rediscover a little form and talent, Villa might just have a team that can compete strongly in the upper half of the Premier League this season.
What is your opinion on the window? How has McLeish done?
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