After a dramatic finish to a season, which without Tim Sherwood’s intervention, was so close to ending disastrously, Aston Villa could have done with a summer of stability and consolidation.
It was not to be however. Benteke’s departure always seemed inevitable, but the departure of Delph after he previously pledged his loyalty stung. The losses of Cleverley and Vlaar also weaken a side that survived by the skin of its teeth last time out.
The replacements signed for those departures all look promising. Villa probably paid over the odds for Jordan Ayew, and there is little chance of him replicating Benteke’s goal scoring form, but the Ghana international is full of potential and should prove a threat to Premier League defences.
Rudy Gestede may prove the more likely Benteke replacement, at least in terms of playing style and physical presence – having opened his account against Bournemouth on Saturday, the former Blackburn striker will be eager to prove he can make the step up from the Championship. Even so, more will be needed from Agbonlahor this term or else Villa may struggle to find the goals to keep them up.
Tasked with bolstering their supply line will be Jordan Veretout. The third cog in a French Under-21 midfield that featured Pogba and Kondogbia, much is expected of Veretout. Able to play deeper, but at his best acting as a more advanced creative hub, Veretout has the potential to pull the strings in midfield for Villa.
Providing the muscle to cover Veretout will be another signing from Ligue 1, Idrissa Gueye is a more like for like replacement for Delph. Although perhaps more defensive minded than his English predecessor, Gueye has the physicality to operate in that box to box role and will be the engine room in a midfield that will likely be completed by destroyer Carlos Sanchez.
Defence should be a concern for Sherwood though. Vlaar’s departure is a real blow, having been by far the most commanding presence at the back. Micah Richards has been brought in as the Dutchman’s replacement, but there are still question marks as to the former Manchester City man’s suitability to the centre back role having spent most of his career on the right.
There are also doubts over his fitness. Another Jordan, Amavi is coming off the back of a breakthrough season is France, and should he replicate that form could star at left back. Behind them, Guzan is a safe pair of hands, but Villa still have a worrying lack of depth.
Key Player: Micah Richards could prove to be a rock at the back for Villa, finally fulfilling his undoubted potential once given a key role in his preferred position. On the other hand, Richards could struggle in a position that he hasn’t actually got that much experience in, or even worse, the injury problems that have plagued much of his career may resurface. How Villa’s new captain performs may prove crucial to their chances of avoiding yet another relegation scrap.
Prediction: 14th. A sleeping giant in terms of support, and their position as the biggest club in England’s second city, this season will likely prove too soon for Villa to start advancing up the table to the heights they occupied under Martin O’Neil. However, having wisely reinvested following some big sales and motivated by Sherwood’s positive, energetic approach, Villa shouldn’t be in too much danger of relegation this time around.