After Aston Villa's 1-0 victory over Stoke City in their Premier League opener, here are five things we can take away from the performance.
Despite all the pre-season pessimism, Aston Villa made a successful start to the new Premier League campaign, with a hard-earned 1-0 victory over Stoke City at the Britannia Stadium.
Andreas Weimann’s goal five minutes into the second-half sealed all three points for Paul Lambert’s side, as the added experience in the lineup saw them hold out for a statement-making win.
While not wanting to rush to conclusions, considering last season’s relegation-threatened campaign began with a 3-1 win over Arsenal, here are five things we learned from Villa’s performance.
The club must keep hold of Ron Vlaar
It might have seemed like a no-brainer prior to the weekend’s performance, but now it remains even clearer that Villa must do everything in their powers to try to keep hold of Vlaar during the final weeks of the transfer window.
Building on his excellent World Cup campaign, the Dutchman was his ever-reliable self and more against Stoke, demonstrating why the likes of Southampton, Manchester United and Tottenham Hotspur have all been linked to his signature this summer.
Entering the final season of his contract, losing their captain would be a massive blow to Villa’s prospects this term, and the club hierarchy should be looking to get negotiations under way as soon as possible in order to ward of recent interest.
The defence is massively improved
While Vlaar is the standout name on the back-line at the moment, the rest of the new-look defence were also extremely impressive against Stoke.
Alan Hutton hadn’t appeared in a single competitive match for Villa under Lambert until Saturday but looked like every bit the answer at right-back, while polarising new signings Philippe Senderos and Aly Cissokho had excellent outings to ease some of the concerns surrounding their additions.
Considering how leaky and in-experienced the club has looked at the back over the past three seasons, the new-found solidity could prove crucial in finally turning around fortunes.
Roy Keane’s addition could prove crucial
After previous assistant manager Ian Culverhouse and head of football operations Gary Karsa were both sacked by the club following reported allegations of bullying, the decision to appoint Keane this summer came as somewhat of a surprise, considering his reputation as a fiery customer.
However, the players have had nothing but praise for the Manchester United legend thus far, while, judging by his presence on the touchline on Saturday, he is certainly fully committed to the cause.
In a squad which has looked limp and listless in recent seasons, Keane’s experience, leadership and no-nonsense approach already appears to be getting results.
Jack Grealish has a bright future
Grealish had played just a few minutes of Premier League football until Saturday but, coming on for the last 20 minutes, he didn’t look at all out of place, demonstrating why he’s considered the club’s most exciting prospect.
Having spent the majority of 2013-14 on loan at League One’s Notts County, where his performances were a key factor in their dramatic escape from relegation, the 18-year-old could be set for a breakout campaign at Villa Park.
There are plenty of options in attack
Villa may have main men Christian Benteke and Libor Kozak out injured, but there are plenty of options elsewhere who can provide some goals and creativity.
As well as long-time servant Gabby Agbonlahor and goal-scorer Weimann, new signing Kieran Richardson looked impressive in a central attacking role, while Charles N’Zogbia, who missed the whole of 2013-14 through injury, had a lot to offer too.
With Darren Bent and the promising Grealish options off the bench, Villa should be perfectly fine until Benteke and Kozak return, which could be as soon as next month according to Lambert.