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Monday, May 25, 2009

The Three-Transfers Road to Improvement: Aston Villa

another piece i wrote on bleacherreport

In my fifth article of the series, I look at Aston Villa.

Aston Villa have had a better season than expected. They were in fourth spot for a long time, before Arsenal finally got their act together and Villa started dropping like a stone.

It must be emphasised, though, that Arsenal reclaiming fourth spot was as much due to the quality of Wenger's men, as it was to the lack of resources O'Neill could call upon.While the first team did brilliantly, the squad was too thin to cope with injuries, fatigue, and loss of form.

As such, I will now look at where Villa could possibly strengthen to improve next season.


Currently, Ashley Young is setting the league alight with his performances on the left wing. He is widely regarded as one of the best left-sided English players, and his good form has led to call-ups to the national team by Fabio Capello.

However, Villa were lucky that Ashley Young did not have a long injury lay-off at any point this season. Young had a period of games when he wasn't at his best, and it was in these games that Villa looked quite ordinary. Being such an important player for his team, it is rather surprising that Martin O'Neill does not have good backup for him.

James Milner can probably do a good job there as well, but he is the first-choice right-winger, so shifting him to the left, would mean sticking someone else in on the right.

As such, I think finding a good quality backup for Ashley Young is important for Martin O'Neill in the summer.

The top man he should look for, in my opinion, is Aiden McGeady. The Celtic man possesses similar skills to Ashley Young, and would be an ideal replacement. Villa thrive on the counter-attack, and McGeady is someone who can break at pace with the ball.

With only Milner and Young at the club as proper wingers, McGeady could be part of a trio being rotated to play in the two wing spots to ensure freshness and also to cover for injuries or suspensions.

He is not a favourite of Gordon Strachan as well, so perhaps Celtic will be willing to do business with Villa.

If McGeady proves too expensive, then Martin O'Neill could sign Adam Johnson, the promising youngster from Middlesbrough, who will probably be available on the cheap, now that Boro have to sell players to raise money after being relegated.

With his wing-play and trickery on the flanks, he would be a good backup for Young. The only draw-back is his relative inexperience which means he can only be a backup, and will not be able to play in the first team as often to relieve some of the burden on Young and Milner.


When Martin Laursen announced his retirement, Martin O'Neill must have lost a few more hairs on the top of his head. Villa's loss of form started with Laursen's injury, and they have not looked as solid at the back without the presence of the lion-hearted Dane in the middle of their defence.

Needless to say, Aston Villa must look to replace him. The replacements were given time to prove their worth in Laursen's absence, but none of them really convinced and Aston Villa went on a wretched run of form while he was on the sidelines.

I think Villa need someone who can command the air as well as Laursen did, while also bringing a truckload of experience to the team, to help organise the defence.

I think Villa could certainly do with Ryan Nelsen, the rock at the heart of Blackburn's defence. He is suitably experienced, and unbelievably solid, and with his no-nonsense defending I'm sure the players ahead of him will attack with confidence, knowing they have a reliable defence to win the ball back should they lose it.

The problem is Sam Allardyce might not want to sell him, as Nelsen is clearly the type of no-nonsense defender that Big Sam likes to work with. As such, Randy Lerner is going to have to give O'Neill the money necessary to take Nelsen away, as I can see the Kiwi captain being absolutely immense for Villa.

Should that move not materialise, I think Villa could try to bring David Wheater of Middlesbrough in. This move will be much simpler, for the reasons explained above.

He will provide a commanding presence in the air, and though not quite as experienced as Nelsen, he looks like he could potentially be a very good defender, so is definitely worth taking on.


One of the reasons for Villa's dramatic downfall, was the lack of a backup right-back. Once Luke Young was moved to the left, Reo-Coker or Gardner was trusted at right-back, and neither excelled. Reo-Coker, in particular, has had some terrible performances in that position.

As such, I think they need a backup right-back. I say "backup", because I think Luke Young is good enough to hold down a first team spot, as he has impressed me with his determination and defensive qualities.

For a backup, the person must be really young, or really old, as anyone in between would certainly not want to be stuck on the Villa bench waiting for Luke Young to get injured.

I think the best possible signing is Belletti from Chelsea. With Chelsea showing less need for him as the season progressed, Villa could definitely get him for a reasonable fee, and I think he would be a good signing.

While Luke Young is a solid defender, Belletti could be useful to try and break down stubborn defences, as he provides an additional attacking threat from the back. His versatility would also be useful, as he can provide cover for the midfield.

More importantly, with Villa in Europe again next season, Belletti will be able to share his experience, having been there and done that, winning the Champions League with Barcelona four years ago.

With that all said, frankly, Villa were not far away from the top four this season. If they had a deeper squad, they would be much closer to Arsenal than they finished. So, if Randy Lerner is able to provide O'Neill with the cash to splash, Villa could be looking at a different European competition come the end of next season.

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