Optimism sky-high following pre-season prosperity

A lot can happen in a couple of weeks. Peace Cup champions, victories against three Champions League regulars, and two new additions to the squad. There are not many better ways to prepare for the new season. Confidence is rocketing at the moment down at Villa Park, and with a few more quality signings, there is a belief that Villa can certainly match, if not improve, on last year’s finishing position, as well as further progression in cup competitions.

Peace Cup

Despite a 1-0 loss to Malaga, progression into the next round was ensured with victory over Atlante. A heated tie with Porto, in which Emile Heskey was sent off, resulted in a 2-1 win for Villa, Heskey and Steve Sidwell providing the goals.

This gave Villa a place in the final against Juventus, who had beaten a strong Real Madrid team 2-1 in the previous round. It would take a tremendous effort to overcome the Italian side, but we managed it. A hard-fought game brought chances for both sides to win within normal time, with Villa dominating the majority of the first half as Juve began to pile on the pressure later on. But despite impressive performances from individuals such as Marc Albrighton and Barry Bannan, the deadlock couldn’t be broken, not even during extra time, and the game went on to penalties.

After penalty number 5, it was tied at 3-3. Bannan, Shane Lowry and Ashley Young had all scored for Villa, but Steve Sidwell had fired over, and Chris Herd’s effort was saved. David Trezeguet, Amauri and Felipe Melo had found the back of the net for Juve, while Guzan had saved from Vincenzo Iaquinta. It was now all down to Alessandro Del Piero. The Italian World Cup-winning forward, and Juve’s highest capped player, could have won it for his side. All it required was a well-placed shot past Villa keeper Brad Guzan.

But bizzarely, Del Piero opted for a weak strike straight down the middle - Guzan could hardly believe his luck, easily saving the ball as it trickled towards him. Carlos Cuellar, who had put in a splendid and much improved performance during the game, stepped up to take Villa’s next spot kick. Mental images of Cuellar’s frequent clumsy long balls down the pitch must have flashed up in the minds of every Villa fan at this point, but we needn’t have feared; he blasted it confidently into the top left hand corner. Finally, after the next penalty, there was a winner. Nicola Legrottaglie’s miss sent the Villa team into emphatic celebrations, with Bannan, Davies and Albrighton the first to reach Guzan and congratulate the heroic goalkeeper.

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Technically, the Peace Cup has no relevance to the Premier League; it is just a pre-season tournament, after all. But morally it was very important, especially when considering the strength of the Villa squad at the time. Experienced members of the regular starting 11 were missing, i.e Stiliyan Petrov and Emile Heskey. At the beginning of the match, the lineup consisted of three youth team players, which following substitutions during the game became six by the final whistle. This against Champions League regulars and World Cup stars. And anyone who thought it was meaningless, try telling that to Juve, who struggled to hide their disappointment while collecting their runners-up medals.

New Signings

There have been three new additions to the squad following the arrival of Stewart Downing some weeks ago.

Fabian Delph

The 19 year old midfielder signed on August 3rd from Leeds United for an undisclosed fee.

Delph: star of the future

 

This could be a potentially massive signing by Martin O’Neill. The youngster has impressed in League One with Leeds, scoring several fantastic goals last season, and many fans within the division believe he would have no problem stepping up to the Premier League. A whole host of top clubs were interested in Delph, including Everton, Manchester City, Fulham, Tottenham Hotspur and Sunderland. Manchester City’s bid was initially accepted, but after demanding a week to consider the deal, Leeds accepted Villa’s offer, praising the “honourable manner in which Aston Villa have conducted their interest in the player.”

Delph has since stated that he is not motivated by money, but by the desire to improve as a player, and become the best he can, and felt Villa was the best place to be due of the progression of young English talent at Villa Park since the arrival of O’Neill. For that he has already earnt the respect of many Villa fans, and his Premier League debut is eagerly awaited.

Habib Beye

The Senegalese right-back joined the club on August 7th, for approximately £2.5 million, from Newcastle United.

Beye: popular and experienced defender

 

A reliable player, who puts his best effort into every game, and can also provide an option when going forward. These are just some of the reasons he was voted Newcastle’s Player of the Year last season. Beye became something of a cult hero with fans up in the North East, who adapted the theme tune from ‘Happy Days’ to sing in honour of him.

Beye, who has previously played for PSG, Strasbourg and Marseille, had initially said he wanted to stay at Newcastle and help them regain their Premier League status. However, as problems continued behind the scenes, he realised he had to move in order to save his career.

“I’d like nothing more than to stay and help the team get back to where it belongs but there is no chance of us being promoted the way things are going. Training has been good … but there is a sense that everything is just drifting. This cannot go on, it really can’t. I feel for the good of my career I have to get away because it is dragging me down.”

Hull City’s bid was accepted by Newcastle, but after interest from Villa, he signed a 3-year deal the following day. Their loss is hopefully our gain.

Andy Marshall

The goalkeeper has signed a one-year contract, a free agent after his release by Coventry City.

Marshall: third-choice ‘keeper?

Quite an unexpected signing from a fan’s point of view. But O’Neill has seemingly decided young ‘keeper Elliot Parish is not yet experienced enough to be seen as a deputy to Friedel and Guzan. At 34, Marshall is probably not intended to be starting many games for Villa, but insted to help the development of the younger shot-stoppers, and be an already able replacement if needed.

Villa 1-0 Fiorentina

With only a week to go before the beginning of the season, a pre-season friendly against a team participating in the Champions League play-offs seemed a perfect way to prepare.

The starting 11 was a mixture of youth and experience. James Milner, Craig Gardner and Gabby Agbonlahor returned to the team, after an extended break due to participation in the European Under-21 championships. Emile Heskey and Brad Friedel returned, Eric Lichaj and Nicky Shorey kept their places - as did Ashley Young, captaining the side - while young central defender Ciaran Clark replaced Curtis Davies in defence. A debut was also handed to new signing Fabian Delph.

An outstanding debut from Delph

And it was the youth who stole the show. Delph was certainly making his mark - after a relatively quiet first 10 minutes, he was soon catching the eye of the 22,000 inside Villa Park. Bursting forwards, creating chances and constantly looking to win the ball. A definite contender for Man of the Match and a starting place against Wigan. The Fiorentina manager Cesare Prandelli agreed:

“I know all about Ashley Young but I was not aware of this boy Delph. I was very impressed. He has a great personality, never lost a ball and always had an alternative.”

Albrighton and Delfouneso were also impressive. Substitutions during the second half, they gave the side a different edge. Albrighton was extremely industrious, constantly running down the right and providing crosses for the likes of Heskey and Delfouneso in the middle. Agbonlahor was ineffective, Carew and Young strangely quiet. Heskey was a lot more lively than usual, and indeed he turned out to be the matchwinner, a header after 16 minutes from a Young cross. Fiorentina were more threatening during the second half, but the Villa back four, including Davies who came on in the second half, dealt with everything thrown at them. Fiorentina won a penalty with 15 minutes to go, as a result of a Davies handball. But Alberto Gilardino missed the spot-kick (which begs the question: are our opposition cursed when it comes to penalties? Let’s hope so) and Villa’s lead lasted until the final whistle.

Aston Villa v Wigan Athletic: Preview

It is well known the effect that a new manager can have on a club, and Wigan fans will hope it applies to them this weekend. Roberto Martinez would be hoping to improve on Wigan’s 11th place finish last year, under now-Sunderland boss Steve Bruce, and a positive start to the season will be crucial towards this.

Villa will also be looking for an early 3 points, and O’Neill will most likely be handing Premier League debuts to Habib Beye and Fabian Delph. Right-back Beye will replace Eric Lichaj; Luke Young is still not 100% fit and after the sad death of his younger brother Andre, is unlikely to feature. Delph will retain his place in midfield, along with Ashley Young, James Milner - who had an extremely impressive England debut on Wednesday - and possibly a return for Stiliyan Petrov, recovering from a shoulder injury and the lead contender to captain the side. A starting place also beckons for Carew, who also impressed on international duty for Norway.

Predicted Starting XI:

Aston Villa: Friedel, Beye, Davies, Cuellar, Shorey, Milner, Petrov, Delph, Ashley Young, Carew, Agbonlahor.

Wigan: Kirkland, Melchiot, Boyce, Bramble, Scharner, Brown, N’Zogbia, Koumas, Gomez, Scotland, Rodallega.

Predicted Result:

Aston Villa            2-1            Wigan

Delph, Carew                        Scotland

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