In the direct aftermath of Aston Villa’s capitulation against Arsenal in this years FA Cup final manager Tim Sherwood made a clear statement of intent regarding his squad, “There will be changes. That will start immediately. Some of the boys have been told they won’t be here next year and they can go and find other clubs.”
It looks like Sherwood has stuck to his guns and that the great clear out has begun with Sylla, Lowton, and Weimann already out the door. There is almost unanimous agreement among Aston Villa fans that there is a lot of dead wood that has to be felled before a proper rebuild can take place. Focus in the papers in on transfer speculation and 2+2=5 journalism. Until players are officially revealed by the club there is little concrete fact doing the rounds.
There is a chance to review the current squad and ascertain if there are some players already on the books at Villa Park who could finally step up and give Villa that ‘new signing’ feeling, without any extra outlay on transfer fees or wages. Obviously the more capable players within the squad now, the more Tim Sherwood can concentrate on quality signings this summer over simple necessity driven quantity. Here are five players who could finally prove their worth to Villa this season.
1. JORES OKORE
There was huge hype around ‘the player who turned down Chelsea’ upon his arrival in June of 2013. Injury and lack of playing time obviously haven’t helped the young Danes’ development. Like much of Aston Villa’s defence in recent years Okore has been hit and miss and has struggled to play regularly enough.
While Okore has good strength, positioning, and possesses decent pace when he gets going, he has also suffered from a lack of composure at times, looking nervous and below match fitness.
If Aston Villa want to improve this season a regular centre-back pairing will be key. Should Okore steer clear of injury and complete a full pre season he could well develop into a long-term solution to at least some of the team’s defensive problems. We’ve all watched the footage of him playing against Chelsea in the Champion’s League that piqued both Chelsea and Aston Villa’s interest and what a boost a centre-half who can pass the ball well and defend would be.
Okore is still young and chose Villa over Chelsea as an environment where he can play regularly and develop his obvious potential. This could be the year that Okore begins to develop into the player we all hope he might be.
2. CARLOS SANCHEZ
It’s fair to say that since his arrival from Spanish side Elche, Sanchez hasn’t quite looked up to Premier League standard. While he can do a job breaking up play and screening the back four, he has so far been too wayward with his passing and often dwells on the ball too long.
His sub par passing and ball retention has led to problems for Villa, with several occasions where giving away possession deep in our half has led to goalscoring opportunities for the opposition. Somewhere underneath all the nerves and loose grasp of possession is a good player.
Sanchez is a regular for the talented Colombia national team where he is known as ‘La Roca’ or The Rock. The Colombia setup holds the defensive midfielder in high regard and consider him an anchor that both helps the defence and allows the more creative players to do their thing.
Last week Colombia beat Brazil 1-0 and Carlos Sanchez was the man of the match. He marshalled the midfield, bossing the opposition physically, and was a huge part of keeping Neymar quiet. He mopped up loose balls and looked composed and industrious throughout. Similarly in 2011 when Colombia took on Argentina Sanchez was lauded for making life difficult for Lionel Messi.
Hopefully with a full season under his belt at Villa he will be better prepared for the rigours of the Premier League, because god knows the Villa midfield needs strengthening.
3. CIARAN CLARK
Clark may at first seem like a strange addition to this list. Those who watch Villa will have seen a lot of him over the last few years, but there have also been questions over him and whether he has reached his early potential.
Clark has definite ability. In many games he seems like a composed, capable centre back. Other games the physicality and pace of the game seem too much for him, and his concentration can slip. Recent reports have linked Clark with a move away but there is also suggestions of a new contract on the horizon. If Clark can remain fit this season he can be a huge asset to the team. He is flexible, able to operate as a left back or defensive midfielder if necessary and this adaptability could be key if there is to be a squad overhaul.
Having defensive depth on the roster is a must for Sherwood, both for tactical flexibility and with one eye on Villa’s terrible luck with injuries. To give the Irish defender the benefit of the doubt it could be said that his occasional defensive lapses have been results of injury, negativity around the club affecting confidence, and the constant changing of the defensive personnel. As an added bonus Clark is an academy product, knows what the club is about, and will be eager to break back into the Republic of Ireland’s international setup. Clark is only 25, he is still reaching his prime and it may be worth holding off on cashing in on him.
4. GARY GARDNER
Since his emergence from the Academy Villa fans have expected great things from Gardner. Injury has wreaked havoc with Gardner’s blossoming career though, but many still hope he can make the step up to valuable squad member, if not more. Others feel that despite playing regularly and netting a few on loan at Nottingham Forest it may be too little too late for Gardner’s Villa career.
Gary seems to have been around and on the verge of his big break for seasons but is still only 23. Can he finally live up to the potential and be Villa’s next big home-grown star? This season may be his last chance.
5. LIBOR KOZAK
For the last three years Villa have been far too reliant on Benteke’s goalscoring. When Benteke doesn’t score, Villa don’t score. Unfortunately there hasn’t been many other options. Any good team need to be able to adapt and to change approach when plan A isn’t doing the trick.
Whether it’s in support of Benteke or as a Plan B in reserve Kozak adds another dimension to Villa’s attacking options. Kozak is still young, seems to have a good attitude and his physicality and aerial prowess can only help when Villa need to unlock stubborn defences. The squad needs more depth and if Libor Kozak can recover his fitness he may be a handy tool to keep in the attacking arsenal.
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