Having watched all of Villa’s pre-season there have been some notable deficiencies in the squad as well as some encouraging moments. I think you will see McLeish take very few risks early on in his Villa career, with the more experienced players favoured in order to prove their worth come the start of the season. The likes of Albrighton, Bannan and Delph in midfield are all likely to be on the bench for Fulham I feel, but I would be pleased to be proven wrong!
Of the aforementioned young trio it is Bannan who has undoubtedly impressed the most in this summer’s friendlies for me. Albrighton hasn’t replicated his form from last year’s pre-season while Delph is stunted in a deep role when he weighs about 6 stone. Captain Stiliyan Petrov and Jean Makoun are likely to start versus Fulham, and although the former has certainly lost his legs somewhat, both are undeniably intelligent players in possession, though creativity is a real issue. Makoun has the ability to spot a pass before receiving the ball and rarely needs an extra touch, while Petrov dallies at times. Despite this the duo seem to have built up a decent understanding between themselves but the problem for Villa is that they rarely look for the attacking option.
With Stephen Ireland hoping to rejuvenate his up-to-now nothingness of a Villa career, the controversial Irishman has been hampered by knocks and a lack of fitness. For that reason I think he will also have to make do with a place on the bench alongside Bannan, with the two providing very brief glimpses of a potential attacking partnership. Like Petrov and Makoun both are very intelligent players, though the younger pair have more energy and flair about them. One thing that all of Villa’s centre midfielders have in common is a distinct lack of physical presence, particularly in an upward sense. I would hazard a guess that our middle men average out at around 5’9″ which is hardly intimidating and a tall, strong anchor man should have been brought in in my opinion, especially considering the loss of Nigel Reo-Coker this summer.
In terms of my preferred line-up for Saturday’s opener, I would be inclined to pick the following; Given; Young, Dunne, Clark, Warnock; Albrighton, Ireland, Makoun, Bannan, N’Zogbia; Bent.
However, judging from pre-season set-ups thus far I would predict that McLeish will line-up with; Given; Young, Collins, Dunne, Warnock; N’Zogbia, Makoun, Petrov, Heskey; Agbonlahor, Bent.
Who would make your starting XI?
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