Aston Villa may have defied the pre-season pessimism by grabbing a 1-0 win over Stoke City last weekend, but Saturday’s first home game of the season against Newcastle United should prove a sterner test.
New £4.7 million midfielder Carlos Sanchez could be in contention to start, after signing from Spanish club Elche last Friday, but the fact the Colombian hasn’t trained much since the World Cup means a place on the bench is more likely.
That in mind, here’s how Paul Lambert’s side should line up on the weekend.
GK – Brad Guzan
Villa’s undisputed first-choice should be on a high going into the weekend, with news that Tim Howard is taking a break from the national team opening the door for him to seize the USA number one job.
RB – Alan Hutton
Making his first appearance in a Villa shirt for two seasons last weekend, Hutton’s solid performance would seem to suggest that he has the starting spot nailed down going forward, in what’s been quite a remarkable comeback for the former “bomb squad” member.
CB – Ron Vlaar
Another week has passed and Vlaar is still at Villa Park, but it remains to be seen whether the club will be able to hold onto their captain as the transfer window reaches its closing stages.
CB – Philippe Senderos
The polarising Swiss international struck up an immediate rapport with Vlaar on his debut, putting in a near faultless performance to silence some of the critics who questioned his signing.
With Jores Okore still not quite recovered from the ruptured ACL suffered last September, their veteran partnership should continue against Newcastle.
LB – Aly Cissokho
Looking strong in defence against Stoke, as well as solid going forward, the ex-Liverpool loanee’s £2.5 million addition this summer might just have solved the troublesome left-back spot at last.
CM – Ashley Westwood
Westwood’s place in the starting XI could come under threat if Lambert opts to use a two-man central midfield pairing once Sanchez enters the fold, but he should get another chance to prove his worth to the manager against Newcastle.
CM – Fabian Delph
After his performances last season had some tipping him for an England call-up, Villa’s midfield talisman is one of the first names on the teamsheet, and the arrival of Sanchez should allow him to further thrive this season.
RW – Charles N’Zogbia
Joe Cole is set to be in the squad after returning to fitness, but it would be a surprise if he got the start given his lack of pre-season, allowing N’Zogbia to continue in the side for another week at least.
AM – Andreas Weimann
After scoring the match-winner against Stoke, Lambert has challenged Weimann to add more goals to his game and, with Christian Benteke and Libor Kozak still recovering from their long-term injuries, the versatile forward is set to prove an important part of the side for the first part of the season.
LW – Kieran Richardson
Richardson was another summer signing to impress in his competitive debut for Villa and, as a former Sunderland man, the weekend’s fixture has some added to bite to it.
ST – Gabby Agbonlahor
Given the start up front ahead of Darren Bent for the Stoke clash, Agbonlahor didn’t quite take the game over but, as one of Lambert’s favourites, he should be in the lineup again for the home opener.