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New Season, New Expectations?

Ahead of the new season, Aston Villa blog has made a new signing of its own, welcoming budding young writer and loyally optimistic Villan Ollie Scrimgeour to the writing team. The following is Ollie’s first article for the site, detailing his opinions on the star attractions at Villa this season, and his viewpoint ahead of the new campaign.

I know you’re all excited for the new Premiership season, because simply put, football is back. Still, the question remains for the Villa faithful: which players are going to be essential to our campaign this time around?

Vague Expectations

We begin at Craven Cottage on Saturday and I’m absolutely in the mood to get thoroughly worked up and optimistic about it all. Let’s get to it.

Saturday represents the annual opportunity for us Villa fans – well accustomed to disappointment – to believe that this year, we’ll achieve something. Before I begin analysing those players who will be key for us this season, one thing I should note is the fact that quite frankly, I have absolutely no idea what exactly our expectations and ambitions for this season should be!

To a large extent, this is because it’s the start of a new era. With new manager Alex McLeish at the helm and a couple of new faces in the dressing room, not to mention the players we’ve sold, the dawn of 2011/2012 has come around with little to indicate exactly what we should hope for, realistically or not. In truth, the start of the season is not a time to be realistic.

Perhaps the fact we don’t know what to anticipate is a positive thing, being as this often leads to the familiar feeling of frustration. There is no doubt that last season was a disappointment, particularly in relation to the three years before. Of course, you don’t need me to give you an in-depth analysis of exactly what Alex McLeish has to do to win your support completely – I’m sure we’ll all have different views on his appointment and indeed what we expect of him.

Back to the point of realistic expectations briefly, it has to be said that those placed on McLeish will indeed be quite high. That’s not to say they will be unrealistic, but being as he is coming with a strong tinge of blue in his background, we’re all well within our rights to feel he needs to prove his worth to our club.

Vital Villans

Enough of my rambling about expectations, frustrations and managerial under-estimations, it is time to consider who among the claret and blue army will stand out this season.

Shay Given: Leading from back between the posts

I can’t be alone in saying that I was a little sad to see Brad Friedel leave for Tottenham at the beginning of June. To read his letter to the fans the other day was quite touching to see his gratitude for, and enjoyment of his time as our number 1. He won’t be forgotten.

Still, the signing of Shay Given is one that I believe has made McLeish a lot more popular than he was initially, to say the least. The Irish veteran goalkeeper was one of the best in the Premier League for a number of years at Newcastle and then at Manchester City, until he was then benched for Joe Hart and was not allowed to move away from Eastlands, becoming a frustrated and unfulfilled talent.

The defence last season was regularly disappointing and the general confidence in that key area of the field is not as high as it perhaps should be. We finished with a -11 goal difference last season, which, though partly due to the lack of goals we scored, was also down to a number of disappointing displays from the backline. Given coming in is a coup and could serve to sure things up at the back.

Arriving at Villa for just £3.5 million, he’s made a good impression and immediately, we love him – with good reason. Given is the best option we could have gone for to replace Big Brad due to his experience and class. To have such a presence between the posts is hugely important for the success of any top-flight football team. Well done, Mr. McLeish.

Charles N’Zogbia: Replacement for Two:

Stating that he can replace both Ashley Young and Stewart Downing is just a small indication that Charles N’Zogbia is a confident young man. Villa’s new £10 million attacking midfielder is another shrewd addition to the squad by Alex McLeish. The player who attempted the most dribbles in the Premier League last season is raring to go and scare the living daylights out of every defender he meets. At least that’s what we hope he’ll do.

I have a good feeling about this signing. The Frenchman is strong, very fast and most significantly, he is direct. This is something Villa have been lacking for several years now. We’ve needed someone who isn’t afraid to collect the ball and really go at defences. Truly, it cannot be underestimated how much this can affect those the side will face. Defenders will be forced onto the back foot, because N’Zogbia will not give them any choice.

A wicked left-foot places him as our new left winger, and although he perhaps won’t cross as frequently as Downing or Young, you can bet your life he’ll cause problems on that flank. On top of this, he has the capacity to play central attacking midfield as well, a role that McLeish could experiment with and one that in my view, would suit N’Zogbia down to the ground. He’s not a goal-scorer as such, but his quick feet could see him finding many more chances to net at Villa Park than he found at Wigan.

High hopes, for him, I have.

The future is Al-bright-on the wing:

They say every cloud has a silver lining, but I’ve never been a believer of that. At the risk of going back on my views of this ridiculous cliché, and indeed suffering the wrath of those Villa fans still sore about their departure, I feel there is a silver lining to the cloud in the shape of Ashley Young and Stewart Downing’s exits this summer. That silver lining is this: Marc Albrighton. Villa’s greatest future prospect will have the opportunity to play regularly on the right wing.

Albrighton’s raw talent matches his endeavour and the quick, hard-working, energetic player is in the perfect mould for replacing one of those who left Villa Park for pastures new. I have little doubt that this season he is going to shine for Villa and illustrate himself as a top Premier League player.

It was unfortunate to see that last season Albrighton was unable to get in the side regularly, as a result of strong competition but this is his year, I can feel it.

Darren Bent is a top-class striker – of that there is no question. Nonetheless, a goal scorer like that can only be utilised properly if they are given the correct service. Marc Albrighton is the man who can deliver, if you’ll excuse the double entendre. The 2010/11 campaign saw Aston Villa score a total of 48 goals, which is not a great return. Even more concerning is the fact that when we found the net, it was largely due to the influence of the departed duo who used to roam the wings at Villa Park.

To put it bluntly, we need the young winger to perform this season, or a lack of goals could be an issue for consecutive years. That said, it’s important not to put too much pressure on the lad. If he does what he’s been doing thus far to impress, he will have a great season.

Prospects: Pack of lions, or individual villains?

We’re going to win the league… why not?

Ok, so perhaps showing that level of ambition and child-like dreaming is just going a little too far, but there’s no reason we can’t feel as though we have some decent prospects for the coming season.

Alex McLeish, if nothing else, has apparently stabilised the club that was pretty lost at the end of the last campaign, following the inevitable departure of Mr. Houllier. The dressing room is full of talent, and the players seem to have a positive attitude and togetherness that they must harness and carry onto the pitch.

In terms of where we’ll finish, I’m going to jump off my comfortable spot on the fence and predict 7th. In reality, I simply have no idea. Considering the teams that we would like to be competing with, the likes of Everton and Spurs have not really strengthened their squads so why not just outside the ranks of the super-rich big boys?

We are Aston Villa Football Club. This is the opportunity to really get behind the team. The start of the new season. Smell the freshly cut grass, put on your new Villa shirt, and get ready.


After that brief, but over-the-top attempt at an inspirational team-talk, just to finish, I’d like to say that I’m very pleased to be writing for and would appreciate any feedback. I will try and post as regularly as possible, throughout the season. Having made my debut on the Villa Blog in a spirit of optimism, I hope I can maintain such a tone for at least one game this season. Roll on Saturday. Up the Villa!

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