Last season was very much a transitional season at Aston Villa.
The Villans finished two places higher in the Premier League table than they did the previous season, when much-maligned former-Birmingham boss Alex McLeish was in charge.
Last season was a very different story under current boss Paul Lambert.
There was a feeling around the club that Villa were making progress and that Lambert was instilling his style of play into the team.
Lambert has put his faith in youth and it started to pay with better performances toward the end of the season.
His young players now have more experience of the top flight and it will better prepare them for next season.
A number of the youngsters impressed immensely last season and proved their worth to the team, some of those of those Lambert signings.
Lambert’s insistence on using the young players was questioned by many supporters, as Villa struggle near the bottom of the Premier League. To their credit though the majority of the Villa fans stuck with the Scot’s ideas and with their team, in the end it paid off to a certain degree.
Lambert trusted his youngsters last season and that lead to the likes of experienced players such as Shay Given, Richard Dunne and Darren Bent being left out of the team. Dunne has already been released and the other two are expected to follow the Irish international out of the Villa exit door this summer.
The trio did not play a huge part for Villa last season, so they should not prove a big loss to the Villans next season. Given has been consistently linked with a move to SPL giants Celtic, but has not yet secured a move away from Villa.
Bent has been linked with a number of clubs in the press in recent months, including Newcastle and Everton. The Villans will struggle to get anywhere near the £18million they paid for him in 2011. However, he looks unlikely to figure in Lambert’s plans for the club.
Villa may need to cut their losses on the England striker and allow him to continue his career elsewhere. At 29, Bent cannot really afford to be sitting on the bench for much longer. I am sure he will be prolific again at his next club.
One striker that Villa do not want to lose is top scorer from last season Christian Benteke. After a slightly shaky start at Villa Park, the Belgium international went on to top Villa’s scoring charts with 23 goals in all competitions, the most a Villa player has scored since 2004.
The youngster’s goals and performances have the vultures circling. Benteke has attracted the attention of the likes of Tottenham and Champions League finalist Dortmund. Villa has to do their best to keep hold of their talented frontman, but it may be struggle.
Benteke is now hot property and would reportedly bring in a fee of around 20million. That would prove a healthy profit on the £7million Villa paid for the striker, when he arrived from Genk last summer, but he is a vital part of the Villa team.
Villa boss Lambert has moved quickly in the transfer market this summer. Villa have already secured the signings of three players this summer and according to Sky Sports are close to sealing a deal for two more players.
The trio that have already arrived are Jores Okore, Leandro Bacuna and Aleksandar Tonev. All three are highly-rated youngsters, continuing Lambert’s plan of using youngsters.
Okore is especially highly rated, after the 20-year-old centre-back impressed during FC Nordsjaelland’s Champions League campaign. He turned down Chelsea to move to Villa Park, in order to play regular first team football in the Premier League.
Sky also reports that Villa are on the verge of adding Danish striker Nicklas Helenius and Spanish defender Antonio Luna, both 22, to their squad.
Villa boss Paul Lambert certainly was keen to strengthen his team in a quick manner and he has no doubt improved his squad with the signings made so far this summer.
There seems to be a lot of optimism amongst the Villa fans that next season will be far better than last season and I suspect they could be right. The signings that Paul Lambert has made so far this summer have looked very shrewd and I believe it is unlikely that Villa will be in the relegation mix next season.
Are the Villans now stronger than last season?