It has been woeful few years at Aston Villa but finally there is some light on the horizon in the shape of a new owner, new manager and new-look team that is already starting to look stronger than the one that dropped out of the Premier League last season.
That wouldn’t be hard in all honesty given how embarrassingly Aston Villa surrendered their top flight status last term.
There was always going to be a lot of changes necessary this summer as the Birmingham club prepared for their first season in the second tier in 29 years and step by step they seem to be on the right track to at least being right in the frame for an immediate return to the top flight.
A needed overhaul
The first thing that needed to happen was for American owner Randy Lerner to sell the club after several years of poor decisions, a lack of investment and seemingly a lack of interest from the man who bought the club from Doug Ellis a decade ago.
That happened and despite initial doubts about the intentions and wealth of Chinese businessman Tony Xia, the new man has so far stuck to his word and has invested heavily in the team to the delight of the Villa fans.
He appointed Roberto Di Matteo as the new manager and although Nigel Pearson was the supporters’ first choice, the Italian still represented a real coup given his record in the game and he not only has experience of winning the Champions League but perhaps more relevantly getting a team promoted from the Championship which he did with West Brom in 2009-10.
However, this is going to be a stiffer task for the former Chelsea player and manager with Aston Villa’s squad needing a major overhaul to whip it into the sort of shape that would make the club strong promotion contenders.
The challenge was always going to be getting rid of the high-earning, under-performers who let the club down badly last season.
The decision to not give the likes of Brad Guzan, Joleon Lescott and Gabby Agbonlahor a second chance was the right one and while Aston Villa have managed to offload a few players, they are still waiting to find an exit door for one or two others and may end up just having to pay these players off to leave the club if they don’t find a willing buyer even on a free transfer over the next couple of weeks.
The good news is that delays such as the collapse of Joleon Lescott’s proposed move to Rangers hasn’t stopped Tony Xia from splashing the cash and importantly the money has been invested on the right type of players.
You don’t need a team of world-beaters to get out of the Championship but you do need good honest professionals, who are going to work hard and be consistent throughout a long 46 game season.
In Ross McCormack, Miles Jedinak and Tommy Elphick Villa have signed three players who were captains at their previous clubs.
Two of those were Premier League captains only last season and a sudden burst of leadership and strong characters in the Villa dressing room was much needed and should rub off on the other players.
Aston Villa now at least have a squad that looks up for the fight that lies ahead and there is no shortage of quality in it, at this level at least.
In McCormack, Gestede and Jordan Ayew they have three players who could all threaten the 20 goal mark this season.
The first two have already proved they are 20-goal men in the Championship while the Ghanaian is arguably the most talented of the trio so Villa should score a lot of goals this season.
In Jack Grealish, Jordan Amavi, Aaron Tshibola and Adama Traore they have four of the most exciting young players in the division who now have some honest professionals around them that should help them develop their game.
The one concern is perhaps still at the back.
New goalkeeper Pierluigi Gollini has made an unconvincing start and although centre-backs Elphick and James Chester are solid options, Aston Villa still look vulnerable in the full-back areas and opposing teams will feel they will always get a chance or two.
All things considered Aston Villa have a squad capable of challenging strongly for promotion providing Roberto Di Matteo can gel all the new arrivals into an effective team within the next couple of months.
The race for automatic promotion is likely to be extremely competitive with Newcastle boasting a slightly stronger squad while Brighton and Norwich are both looking very sharp and already have teams well-used to playing with each other and challenging at the top end of this league.
Aston Villa should improve as the season progresses, but they are in danger of leaving themselves too much ground to make up if they don’t really start firing in the opening few months and as such a play-off place is looking more likely than automatic promotion at this stage.
Written by Mark Sochon
Follow Mark on Twitter @tikitakagol
Check out his brilliant blog on all things La Liga, Tiki-Taka-Gol!
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