"We are excited. We are looking forward." Ron Vlaar
Aston Villa's season ended with a 2-2 draw against relegated side Wigan Athletic at the DW Stadium. Skipper Ron Vlaar with the touch and shot of a lethal centre forward sealed the final point of the campaign for the claret and blues. Eight weeks later, we're now looking forward to the new season just thirty days away. After a week in Germany, we've had the chance to see the six new players in action and some of the youths getting a run out.
In between this time there has been a lot happening behind the scenes. With Westwood, Guzan, Weimann and Baker all tied up with new deals, we were just waiting on one; Christian Benteke. Yet that wasn't and isn't to be the case, with the Belgium handing in his transfer request, pushing for a move to Tottenham Hostspur. But, let's just leave that to discuss later, let's focus on the positives to have come from the closed season.
Ashley Westwood; a star of the 2012-13 season signed a new contract to stay with Aston Villa until 2017. We all know contracts mean nothing nowadays but it always gives me a sense of relief when a player is willing to sign another contract in order to stay with us. Especially as Westwood provided us with a stability in midfield last season. After Stiliyan Petrov had to sadly step down from football to focus on beating his illness, we needed a midfielder to step up to the mark to try to fill the gap left in the middle of the park. With his maturity, composure and strength on the ball and in tackles, Ashley Westwood was one of the signings of the summer. Making the step up from League One, many supporters had doubts on his ability to perform on the main stage of English football, yet he proved his critics wrong with ease. He has continued to impress throughout the season and the stats go all in his favour.
|Ashley Westwood (v Norwich City) (source: avfc.co.uk)|
Brad Guzan; the best goalkeeper last season hands down. Despite what everyone else says Brad Guzan failed to disappoint with him impressing in every game he played. After playing understudy for who knows how long, he finally received his chance after Lambert resigned him; and what a signing he turned out to be. Save after save, Guzan just continued to shine.
After the first three games of preseason we have seen the six new players in action in a competitive situation, and after the mischief caused by Benteke we were all hoping that one man would shine. And Helenius did just that.
Scoring two goals in three games, the giant from Denmark, showed us what he's made of. It's not everyday that you can potentially lose a player and have a ready made replacement already scoring goals left, right and centre. At twenty two years of age, he fits in the with direction of football Lambert is developing. Young, hungry and ambitious. Not only can he score with his head, his ability with his feet looks effortless. Teeing up teammates as well as scoring is also another attribute of the Dane. If he can settle into the Premier League like he has with the team, I don't have any reason to think that he won't be a big hit at Aston Villa.
|Leandro Bacuna (Getty Images)|
Leandro Bacuna; pacey, quick and a crosser of the ball, he looks the part of an up and coming winger that we have been lacking at the club since Ashley Young departed to Old Trafford. I'm not saying he is going to be like Young, far from it, but he will add an extra dimension to the way we could paly under Lambert this term. Alongside Tonev and Albrighton who seems to be willing, we have enough options to try and exploit the wide areas next year and threaten some shaky left and right backs.
Matthew Lowton, Ashley Westwood and Andi Weimann are all ones to watch this season. Are they going to be able to continue their outstanding form from last season into this one?
Also, just look out for Sylla, he might surprise you.
There are plenty of players that are now buying into Lambert's philosophy which have the potential to become unique players, with an intelligent style. However, we're not to know until the 17th August.
On a slightly damper tone, Christian Benteke. Benteke was always destined for great things and you would never want to deprive him of that. But to attempt to force a move away from Villa Park just over 10 months into a four-year contract is hugely disheartening for all involve at the club. Despite the speculation, many thought that he would still be here in September. The only way he would leave is if he demanded a move away, like he did at Genk. Surely that wouldn't happen, we all thought. Not after everything the club has done for him, the confidence Paul Lambert has shown in him and the emotion the fans have given to him. One more season with the club is all we hoped for, as a show of gratitude if anything else. In the system we played, he was always going to be the focal point. As a lone striker given the task of scoring goals, he was never not going to be the hero. He was always going to be the player we were "dependent" on, as the stats showed. Aston Villa is here now and it's here to stay, which is more than can be said for Benteke. Aston Villa is still standing and will strive to further itself under Lambert's bright leadership. No player is bigger than the club after all and naturally, as one door closes, another opens; be it for Nicklas Helenius, Gabby Agbonlahor, Andi Weimann or whoever else may be brought it. So whilst thanking him for the memories and goals last season and wishing him the best of luck at his new club, whoever they may be, it is done with both eyes firmly on the future. His transfer request to leave the club might indeed be sad, although not because we're losing such an influential cog in the wheel. No player is irreplaceable.
Loyalty in football is fiction, yet the club will forever live on.