At the end of last season, Aston Villa had managed to narrowly escape relegation and somehow fight their way to a runner-up finish in the FA Cup. It looked like new boss Tim Sherwood had found a way to win with a team that were one of the favorites to go down midway through the season. 2015/16 seemed to provide a brighter future for Villa as captain Fabian Delph had just committed to a long-term contract with the club, and Sherwood would have a full year to steer the team back to the top half of the table. After less than one month into the official transfer window, it now looks as if the Villans will be in the heart of the relegation battle for most of the season.
A team can only hope to do so well after arguably their two best players decide to leave for greener pastures. Their captain, Fabian Delph, burned any bridges that he had at Villa Park when he made a drastic u-turn less than a week after promising fans he would return to the club by signing with title contenders Manchester City. As if that wasn’t bad enough, it appears as if last year’s leading scorer Christian Benteke already has his foot in the door to Liverpool. These massive departures leave Villa, a club that has never been relegated in the Premier League era, with gaping holes in their attack and midfield, but it also leaves them with a sizeable war chest to try and find replacements.
The reported fees for Delph and Benteke are £8 million and £32.5 million respectively. Despite the incredibly low fee that Delph was sold for, that still leaves Villa with an additional £42.5 million to their existing transfer budget. Granted, it’s unlikely that any big name player will sign for the club due to the lack of star quality on the roster, but it does give the club an opportunity to sign up and coming talent looking for a way onto the world’s stage. The first player to join the club after their captain’s departure was 21-year-old Jordan Amavi. The French fullback is considered one of the brightest young prospects in Europe at the moment, and some believe that he has the potential to grow into one of the world’s best defenders. If Sherwood, who is known for his ability to develop young players, is able to spark Amavi’s development, Villa could have a very solid defensive line to help keep them afloat.
Joining Amavi on defense this season will be Jores Okore, Aly Cissokho, Cieran Clark and new signing Micah Richards. Last season, Villa had had the second worst goal differential in the league with a -26. The only team that did worse than them was Queens Park Rangers (-31) who finished dead last in the league. Through the 38 game season, the Villans gave up 57 goals. That means that on average, the team allowed 1.5 goals per game. In comparison, Stoke City, who finished ninth last year, allowed just 45 goals against. If Sherwood’s men have any hope of playing in the Premier League after this season, a major revamp on their defensive play will be necessary during preseason.
In attack, options are very slim. After the expected departure of Benteke, the team has just two forwards on their roster: Gabriel Agbonlahor and Libor Kozák. Between the two of them, they combined for six goals last season. All six of those goals came from Agbonlahor. Due to injuries, Kozák hasn’t even played a game for Villa since December 28, 2013. Since he joined the Birmingham club in 2013, the Czech striker has played just 14 times, scoring four goals along the way. Even in his most prolific season, Kozák has never scored more than six league goals in a campaign. At 28, Agbonlahor can only be relied on for so much of the season, and with his injury problems, it doesn’t look like Kozák can be relied on at all. If Villa can manage to sign a new striker either permanently or on loan, their chances of staying up will almost certainly increase.
All in all, it looks as if Aston Villa fans will be in for another long difficult season in 2015. Even by bringing in players like Amavi, Richards and their new defensive midfielder Idriss Gueye, the departures of Delph and Benteke leave just too big of a hole on the field. With Sherwood at the helm, I believe the Villans will play very entertaining soccer, but it won’t be enough to keep them afloat. Final prediction is that Aston Villa finish 17th and go down to the second division for the first time in Premier League history.