Despite the summer of unrest at Aston Villa caused by the on going transfer saga involving Gareth Barry, the future is looking good for Martin OÃ¢â‚¬â„¢Neill and his young team.
The news that Blackburn keeper Brad Friedel is on his way to the club will be greeted as great news by the Villa Park faithful. The American keeper has been an unsung hero and one of the best keepers in England for nearly eight years since he first went to Ewood Park. His level of consistent performance has been one of the major reasons behind the Lancashire clubÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s success in establishing itself in the top half of the Premier League.
Although Friedel, at thirty-seven years of age, will certainly increase the average age at Villa, he is still a top, top keeper.
Also in the transfer market Villa are looking to steal French under twenty-one international Younes Kaboul from under the noses of Sunderland on his move from Tottenham. It is also possible that Gareth Barry will remain at the club although just a few days ago his position there seemed to be untenable.
Martin O’Neill has also confirmed that the club are in talks with several players over new deals. It is thought Gabriel Agbonlahor, John Carew, Stilian Petrov and Ashley Young could all be in line for contract extensions.
With OÃ¢â‚¬â„¢Neill looking to get his better players on long term contracts, strengthen the depth of his squad and, in my opinion, greatly improving his goalkeeper, the season ahead could be a particularly enjoyable one for the Villa fans.
The Gareth Barry saga has left a sour taste in the mouth but if player, manager and fans are prepared to put it behind them, then it is remotely possible that he could stay. With Liverpool taking a long time to increase their bid and Arsenal not officially entering the race for his signature, he may have little choice. He was booed and jeered by his own fans when playing in a pre-season friendly for Villa the other day but IÃ¢â‚¬â„¢m sure all the nastiness could be forgiven and forgotten for the good of the team.
In Ashley Young and Gabby Agbonlahor Villa have two of the most exciting young English attacking players around at the moment. They benefit from the experience provided by Norwegian striker John Carew who has scored sixteen goals at Villa, thirteen of them last season to make him their top scorer and has undoubtedly been a great success since his transfer from Lyon. In that deal, Milan Baros went the other way and Villa certainly came out best in that one!
One of the problems faced by OÃ¢â‚¬â„¢Neill last season was that his squad was very thin. When hit by injuries and suspensions he didnÃ¢â‚¬â„¢t have players of sufficient quality to come into the team. It seems that he is looking to rectify that position now and if he is successful, Villa could become a force to be reckoned with.
Although Villa scored a number of their goals from set-pieces last season they played the game with an enthusiasm, hunger and attacking approach that was like a breath of fresh air. They played the ball to feet and used passing, pace and skill to run at the opposition who often found themselves overrun and ended up giving away corners and free-kicks. From those set-pieces the exemplary delivery from Ashley Young and Gareth Barry was often met by the head of Carew or Laursen.
They didnÃ¢â‚¬â„¢t lump the ball forward and look for set plays, they forced the opposition into making mistakes. Any team with quick players who are prepared to run with the ball will frighten the life out of other teams. I can only see Villa being even better this season than they were last season.
So, will they be challenging for a top four spot? In all likelihood they wonÃ¢â‚¬â„¢t be able to close the gap this season. They will be in the battle with the likes of Everton, Tottenham and Portsmouth to see if anyone can catch Liverpool or Arsenal.
They may well progress into Europe if they succeed in the Intertoto cup and that experience can only help them become a better team. Ironically in Gareth BarryÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s case, they may have more chance of success in Europe than Liverpool have.
They may or may not make it into the top four but I for one will be very pleased whenever I see that the live game on television involves Villa. The enthusiasm shown by OÃ¢â‚¬â„¢Neill is reflected in his players and the way they play the game.
You get a whole hearted effort from players who are trying to play the game in the right way. This season, that might just be enough to take the next step up.
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