Paul Lambert may have held onto his job at Aston Villa this summer but things aren't exactly shaping up well for a potential turnaround season.
Last season: 15th
Title odds: 4,000/1
Players in: Aly Cissokho (Valencia, £2.5m), Joe Cole (West Ham, free), Kieran Richardson (Fulham, undisclosed), Philippe Senderos (Valencia, free)
Players out: Marc Albrighton (Leicester, free), Ryan Bertrand (Chelsea, loan return), Jordan Bowery (Rotherham, undisclosed), Samir Carruthers (MK Dons, undisclosed), Nathan Delfouneso (Blackpool, free), Nicklas Helenius (Aalborg, loan), Grant Holt (Wigan, loan return), Antonio Luna (Verona, loan), Yacouba Sylla (Erciyesspor, loan)
It was only a few seasons ago that Martin O’Neill’s Villa were spending big to challenge for a Champions League spot, but those days are long gone until a new owner can come in to turn things around.
After finishing 15th in Paul Lambert’s first campaign in charge, Villa got off to an impressive start last season with a 3-1 victory over Arsenal on the opening day, but things all seemed to go downhill from there.
There were a few bright spots, such as the 1-0 home win over Chelsea, but the side were otherwise horrendously inconsistent, stumbling away to Premier League survival with a 16th-place finish.
Lambert surprisingly kept his job this summer but, with funds at a premium as want-away owner Randy Lerner struggles to find potential buyers, he’s had few opportunities to bolster his thin and inexperienced squad.
Reasons to be positive
Despite concerns over a lack of arrivals, Villa do already have a few quality pieces in their lineup, the pick of the lot obviously being Christian Benteke.
A ruptured Achilles tendon suffered in April means the club have been able to hold onto him this summer, but it’s unclear when he’ll return to full fitness, with the same being said for Czech striker Libor Kozak after last season’s broken leg.
However, help has returned in the form of the once-jettisoned Darren Bent, who, after spending 2013-14 on loan at Fulham, has been given a second chance by Lambert, along with fellow former ‘bomb squad’ members Alan Hutton and Charles N’Zogbia.
Midfielders Ashley Westwood and Fabian Delph are also looking to take another step forward, while the highly-coveted Ron Vlaar is still pencilled into the lineup for the moment, with fans remaining hopeful that the club can convince their captain to stay.
Trouble on the horizon?
With a thin squad going into this summer, the additions of Joe Cole, Philippe Senderos, Kieran Richardson and Aly Cissokho do little to inspire confidence, none likely to prove game-changing contributors.
Add in Ron Vlaar’s possible departure, further weakening an already troublesome back-line, and it could well turn out to be yet another challenging campaign for Villa, especially if Bent fails to rediscover his scoring touch in the absence of Benteke and Kozak.
Key man: Christian Benteke
Working his way up to light training during pre-season, a rumoured return of September for Benteke would be fantastic news if he can come back firing on all cylinders.
Among a squad with a real lack of top-class talent, the Belgian international stands head and shoulders above the rest, with the team collapsing completely after he went down last season.
He still netted 10 times despite missing a third of the 2013-14 campaign and, boasting an overall record of 29 goals in 60 league games for Villa, there is simply no one in the team who can provide the same kind of impact.
One to watch: Jack Grealish
Grealish has played just two minutes of Premier League football but the 18-year-old is quickly developing into one of top-flight’s most promising young talents, looking extremely impressive thus far in pre-season.
Spending the majority of 2013-14 on loan at League One’s Notts County, where his performances were one of the key factors in the club’s dramatic escape from relegation, Villa’s lack of depth could well see the Irish under-21 international get a significant shot at first-team minutes.
Predicted finish: 16th
The lack of ambition from the Villa hierarchy has been startlingly obvious over the last few seasons and there is little reason to expect this to be a turnaround campaign.
They should have just enough quality to hang onto their Premier League status but, with the squad still filled with subpar players, inconsistent results and frustrating performances are a given.
Additions before the end of the transfer window are desperately needed, while fans should pray in the meantime that somebody willing to pay the £150 million asking price turns up at Lerner’s door.