Sherwood’s clear-out of some of the deadwood at the club has been something to celebrate, with the considerable pay packets of Darren Bent, Ron Vlaar and Shay Given offloaded and sub-par players such as Sylla, Nicklas Helenius, Antonio Luna and Enda Stevens (yes, he was still a Villa player) handed an overdue exit from the club.
However, despite these exits and Aly Cissokho’s loan move to Porto, there are a few players seeming surplus to Sherwood’s requirements whom the club has not yet managed to offload. N’Zogbia, Kieran Richardson, Philippe Senderos, Aleksandar Tonev and Joe Cole all seem unlikely to feature unless Sherwood is forced to pick them, and with at least a couple of those players on considerable wages Villa will be hoping to shift more off the bill in the next few weeks.
A further source of frustration will be Villa having to head into the season opener on Saturday with a handful of contenders for a starting spot unavailable through injury. Grealish has barely played all summer, Jores Okore had knee surgery in June and is unlikely to be fit to play until September at the earliest, Gary Gardner’s woe continues after being the victim of a poor pre-season and Carles Gil will have to wait even longer to get another chance to impress Sherwood in a competitive game.
Though Villa have made the signings so that these absences will not necessarily be a devastating blow, integrating so many new faces into the side will inevitably take time. Players such as Veretout and Gueye undoubtedly have the class to succeed, but should not be expected to do so immediately. Sherwood’s new side will take a while to gel – indeed, it’ll take a while for Sherwood even to find his best starting XI – and so patience may well be the name of the game for the first weeks, and even months, of the season.
Although Vlaar’s injuries and poor form meant that his decision not to sign a new contract at the club was no disaster, the departures of the Dutchman and Delph do leave Villa short of natural leaders in the squad. Micah Richards being handed the on-field captaincy ahead of his first season as a Villa man highlights this; aside from Clark there were very few other contenders for the armband.
The main concern on the eve of the new season, though, undoubtedly remains the defence. Villa are awfully short of numbers at centre-back, particularly with Okore’s injury troubles refusing to let up. Sherwood will start the season with Ciaran Clark, Richards and Nathan Baker as his only fit central defensive options – admittedly Senderos is also still a Villa player, but only in the very loosest sense.
Jordan Amavi will hopefully have solved the desperate left-back problem, but apart from the new man the club are hardly blessed with sterling full-back options either. Villa have the numbers in those positions, with Amavi, Richards, Crespo, Kinsella, Alan Hutton, Leandro Bacuna, Joe Bennett and Kieran Richardson all able to play on either or both sides of the defence, but very few of these players are true first-team quality.
All things remaining equal it looks very unlikely that Richards will play away from centre-back, which will surely leave either Hutton or Bacuna as first-choice right-back, while the back-up at left-back will probably be Bennett or Crespo. As good a signing as Amavi is touted to be, this is still a worrying situation for the defence to be in after a full pre-season, particularly as it was so clearly the area which needed the most improvement.
As it stands Villa are an injury or two away from having a defence which is absolutely no improvement on last season’s, which conceded more goals than every Premier League team apart from bottom side QPR and Newcastle. It absolutely must be the priority for reinforcements in the last four weeks of the transfer window.
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