Aston Villa are not the force they once were a few seasons ago when challenging for the Premier league’s fourth place, however there is plenty to be optimistic about for Villa fans.
It has taken Villa just over three and a half years to recover from Martin O’Neill’s tenure as manager and Lambert continues to rid the club of the high earners. Darren Bent is being rumoured with a move to Newcastle, Alan Hutton is set for another season-long loan to Real Mallorca, Richard Dunne has been released and unfortunately Stephen Ireland’s future still seems unsure.
Lambert’s bravery was rewarded with a 15th place finish last season which saw youngsters such as Nathan Baker, Ashley Westwood, Matthew Lowton and Christian Benteke all thrown into the first team to alter the club’s philosophy and focus on youth.
A massive boost to Villa’s chances of progression this season was the spectacular U-turn which saw Benteke sign a new bumper contract which somehow contains no release clause. The Belgian has secured a massive wage increase to his current deal and wound up some Villa fans but if he continues to progress and knock in the goals for the Midlands club it will all be forgotten and increase his valuation further. The 22-year-old is currently valued at £25m and being under contract until 2017 leaves Randy Lerner and Paul Faulkner firmly in the driving seat.
Lambert has wasted no time this summer and has already recruited several new faces and strengthened the defence with Jores Okore and Antonio Luna. The Villa boss has also signed Aleksandar Tonev, Nicklas Helenius and Leandro Bacuna from various clubs around Europe and all of the signings are 23 years or younger showing Lambert’s intent to continue his youth project with Aston Villa. Watching Villa last season it was clear to see that going forward they were a threat to any side in the division but it was the club’s inability to keep the ball out of their own net even with the ever present Brad Guzan between the sticks. Therefore, the signing of Luna will act as a quality replacement to Joe Bennett who was poor in his debut Premier league season and Okore provides competition for Ron Vlaar, Nathan Baker and Ciaran Clark.
Lambert has mentioned this season already that he needed to bring in new players in order to increase competition for places and strengthen as a football club. Although early days, to me Aston Villa look way more solid this season and I fully expect one of England’s most successful football clubs to be operating nowhere near the bottom half of the Premier league this season.