Paul Lambert managed to hold onto his job at Aston Villa following last season’s disappointing 15th-place finish but, with few funds available this summer with which to bolster a thin squad, the 2014-15 campaign looks set to be another challenging one.
Nevertheless, there are reasons to remain positive, with the imminent £4 million signing of Colombian midfielder Carlos Sanchez from Elche a refreshing change to the uninspiring additions thus far.
He won’t be with the side in the time for their Premier League opener at the Britannia Stadium, however, with the following 11 names being the best guess at how Lambert will opt to line up his side.
GK – Brad Guzan
The US international has been one of the club’s top performers since claiming the number one job from Shay Given at the start of the 2012-13 campaign, with his Irish understudy continuing to settle for a spot on the bench.
RB – Alan Hutton
Hutton hasn’t appeared in a single competitive match for Villa since Lambert’s arrival in 2012 but, with the Scot allowing the members of the now-dissolved “bomb squad” to re-enter the fold this season, the ex-Tottenham man’s impressive pre-season form has made him the leading candidate for the right-back spot.
CB – Ron Vlaar
The subject of intense transfer speculation following his impressive World Cup performances, the Dutchman, nevertheless, remains with the club for the moment, despite reported interest from the likes of Manchester United, Tottenham Hotspur, Southampton, Lazio, Roma and Juventus.
CB – Philippe Senderos
Most fans would want to see Jores Okore given the nod to start alongside Vlaar, but Lambert has favoured the polarising Senderos in pre-season, with the ex-Arsenal defender also beating out Ciaran Clark and Nathan Baker for the role.
LB – Aly Cissokho
Signed from Valencia last week for a fee believed to be around £2.5 million, Villa’s current lack of options at the position means the ex-Liverpool loanee should jump straight into the side, with fellow summer signing Kieran Richardson being the fall-back.
CM – Ashley Westwood
One of the more promising names in the Villa lineup, Westwood was tipped for big things upon signing from Crewe Alexandra in August 2012 and, after two solid campaigns, fans will hope this is the seasons in which we see him push on to fulfil his clear potential.
CM – Fabian Delph
After his renaissance season had some tipping him for an England call-up, Delph will be out to prove that the past campaign was no fluke, as the former Leeds midfielder bids to further establish himself as Villa’s midfield talisman.
RW – Andreas Weimann
While Weimann earned mixed reviews for his performances from fans last season, he was still the club’s most productive attacker with Benteke out injured, establishing himself as one of Lambert’s favourites in the lineup as the campaign drew on, with that trend looking set to continue for the start of 2014-15.
AM – Charles N’Zogbia
After damaging his Achilles tendon last summer, N’Zogbia suffered various fitness setbacks over the course of 2013-14 campaign, failing to make a single appearance during the season, with his future at the club looking bleak.
Granted a reprieve, however, the Frenchman has looked like the side’s leading creative outlet during pre-season and, with Joe Cole remaining a fitness doubt, Lambert is set to bank on him rediscovering the form he demonstrated in the second-half of 2012-13.
LW –Gabby Agbonlahor
Richardson should be in contention for a start at his natural spot on the left flank, but the long-serving Agbonlahor has the trust of his manager and would be the more practical choice at this point.
A sizeable number of fans have been calling for exciting prospect Jack Grealish to be given a shot in the lineup but, at just 18, it’s still too soon for him.
ST – Darren Bent
Much like Hutton and N’Zogbia, Bent has been given a second chance at Villa, having spent last season on loan at Fulham, and with Benteke and Libor Kozak still recovering from their long-term injuries, the time is now for him to prove that he still has his goalscoring touch.