Evaluating Aston Villa’s Premier League Rivals
With the new season only days away, MOMS Nick Simmons takes a look at Aston Villa’s Premiership rivals, which will give a better picture of what we should expect for Villa this season. Nick also gives his prediction to the finishing position of each club (Not too sure about his United retaining the league prediction! – Ed). It should all pan out to be Villa’s most exciting season in years.
‘A bridge too far’ – The teams that are likely to finish above Villa
There are likely to be seven clubs that are ‘unreachable’ in terms of league position this year for Villa. The top 7 teams from last year, Man United, Man City, Chelsea, Arsenal, Tottenham, Everton and Liverpool, have been in the top 8 ever since the 09/10 season, with only Villa and Newcastle able to break this group in this time period.
1st – Manchester United
Last season: 1st. Key issues: 1) How will Moyes cope with the step up to the pressure of winning trophies, given he never won any with Everton? 2) Will their wingers, who managed 4 goals between them last year, contribute more to help out Van Persie?United won the league comfortably last year with poor wingers and an out-of-form Rooney – I believe they will be stronger than anybody else this year (if they sign a central midfielder), albeit with a tighter league. Betting odds reflect how tight the league is: City and Chelsea are at 9/4 and United are at 5/2!
2nd – Manchester City
Last season: 2nd. Key issues: 1) Pellegrini’s attacking style of play and new signings may take time to adjust, and rotation particularly in forward areas has unsettled players in the past. Fernandinho, Jovetic and Negredo are all big money signings that United can’t currently match this season.
3rd – Chelsea
Last season: 3rd. The Mourinho factor is of course huge for Chelsea given his success in his first spell at Chelsea, in particular his 95 points in 04/05 is still unbeaten. Mourinho has stated it will take some time to get Chelsea playing the way he likes, but they have arguably the best squad in the league. Lukaku, after his return from West Brom on loan, could be a vital player for them this year. Schurrle and the return of Kevin De Bruyne could also play a big part in their season.
4th – Arsenal
Last season: 4th. Arsenal have made the Champions League every year this century. However, unless they make some major signings, it’s unlikely that they will challenge the top 3. If they can sign a player of the Suarez calibre, they have a chance. If Wilshere can stay fit for the entire season, it will be like a new signing to them – he and Cazorla are key to success.
5th – Tottenham
Last season: 5th. Key issue: Can they keep Bale? If they can, and their new signings Chadli, Soldado and Paulinho can quickly integrate into the first team, they will challenge Arsenal for the 4th spot.
6th – Liverpool
Last season: 7th. Key issues: 1) Will Suarez stay? 2) If Suarez does leave, can Sturridge and Coutinho continue their form from last season? Liverpool showed excellent form in front of goal last season when Suarez was not in the team. Mignolet, Toure and Aspas are all signings that will see a decent amount of first team action, but aren’t of the quality to see them challenge for top 4 in my opinion.
7th – Everton
Last season: 6th. Key issues: 1) After seasons of trying to beat the drop with Wigan, Roberto Martinez is now at a club who consistently challenge for European positions. Everton have so far managed to keep their bigger players, after rumours of Moyes planning on taking Baines and Fellaini to Old Trafford. Martinez has also preferred a formation involving wing-backs and a back 3. It will be interesting to see if he can adapt Everton’s style to his own attacking play.
Villa’s rivals- the teams that will be in and around Villa
Now, in recent years, it’s been hard to define whom exactly we have a rivalry with! In 08/09, we were challenging Arsenal for the Top 4, and a year later we were challenging Tottenham and Man City for the same position.Last season, half the league were rivals! Given that I expect us to finish around mid-table, I will briefly describe the positions of other clubs I believe will challenge for 8th place.
8th – Swansea City
Last season: 9th. The acquisition of Wilfried Bony could be the signing of the summer. This signing will allow Michu to drop back into the second striker role. Key issue: How will they cope with playing in the Europa League this season?
9th – Southampton
Last season: 14th. Pochettino showed his intent last year by taking over from Nigel Adkins and producing some excellent results in taking Southampton to safety. Pochettino has broken Southampton’s transfer record by signing Victor Wanyama from Celtic, and the role in the double pivot besides Morgan Schneiderlin will be pivotal(!) to their success.
10th – Aston Villa
Last season: 15th. My second surprise team of the season after Southampton, is Villa. The key issue for me is whether the midfielders can take the pressure off Benteke. Benteke either assisted or scored in 49% of our league games last season, and we need the likes of Tonev and Weimann to contribute more in this area. The signings of Okore and Luna in particular will help strengthen us defensively.
11th – West Ham
Last season: 10th. Having been bought by Liverpool for £55m, West Ham managed to buy Carroll and Downing over the summer for ‘only’ £20m. With an experienced midfield of Nolan and Joe Cole, West Ham could be set for another decent season. The signing of Rat at left back is another sound acquisition.
12th – Fulham
Last season: 12th. Fulham will start with three new signings at the back: Riether (who was there last season on loan), Amorebieta, and Stekelenburg. Taarabt has also been signed on loan, and Darren Bent will give them goals up front. Jol is an experienced manager and I can see Fulham being a safe, mid-table team once again.
13th – Norwich City
Last season: 11th. Van Wolfswinkel and Hooper are both players who will score goals – only Stoke and QPR scored fewer goals last season.
14th – Sunderland
Last season: 17th. Sunderland have signed 9 players over the summer, so the key issue is how players like Giaccherini and Altidore will adapt to the league. Di Canio could be an early managerial casualty if Sunderland don’t start well, though.
15th – Newcastle United
Last season: 16th. The signing of Remy is a good buy, and is a player I’d have been happy with at Villa. However, Cisse seems unsettled and Ben Arfa’s fitness is again questionable.
Relegation candidates – teams that should provide a buffer below Villa
16th – West Brom
Last season: 8th. Now, lots of Villa fans will be happy about this prediction. Key issue: Can Anelka and the on-loan Vydra replicate Lukaku’s astonishing form from last season? Vydra was excellent in the Championship at Watford last season, but can he step up? Lukaku was like Villa’ Benteke – with him, West Brom could look lost. In their favour, Lugano at centre-back is a brilliant signing.
17th – Stoke City
Last season: 13th. With only 34 goals last season, Stoke City are often a team that relies on their defensive stability. However, will Mark Hughes, taking over from Tony Pulis, be able to replicate this? We saw at the end of last season that when Stoke are poor defensively, they will get dragged down the table. Pieters and Muniesa are solid signings, but with no new attacking signings of note, Stoke will struggle in front of goal.
Last season: 1st (Championship). With the best defensive record in the league last year, Cardiff have shored up their defence further by signing Caulker from Spurs and Brayford from Derby, who will both start at the back. Furthermore, Cornelius has been signed in a club-record deal. They could surprise a few, and are my pick from the three promoted clubs.
19th – Crystal Palace
Last season: 5th (Championship). Like Cardiff, Palace have broken their transfer record by signing Dwight Gayle from Peterborough. Signings such as Dobbie, Thomas and Phillips will add experience, and the Spanish U21 player Campana will give fans more to be excited about.
20th – Hull City
Last season; 2nd (Championship). Hull City have made some astute signings this summer. Hull will most likely start with Davies, Figueroa, Sagbo and Elmohamady and Danny Graham – all new signings who will take time to gel.
In summary, the league will be tight, and there are still more unknowns to come. Rooney, Suarez and Bale could all leave, and lots of clubs including Villa have strengthened in important areas of the team. All three promoted clubs have the potential to stay up, and it will take a few months to see how the league will play out.
Last year, only 10 points separated 10 teams – from West Brom in 8th on 49 points to Sunderland in 17th on 39 points. This again will be the key battle ground for Villa. Just two more wins last term would have seen Villa finish 10th, such was the fine line. Considering Villa lost to Wigan, Southampton and Newcastle at home, there’s plenty of room for improvement. If they can tighten up the defence and stop shipping late goals, there should be a real improvement in league placement on last season. 50 points should be the bottom line for Lambert’s rapidly improving team.
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