Not quite a phoenix rising from the ashes but not far off it. Aston Villa, a shambles as they slid out of the Premier League, have re-grouped and re-organised. A new owner, new manager, new players and a new optimism about the future.
And the same niggling doubts.
It’s been a significant summer with Dr Tony Xia taking over from Randy Lerner’s disastrous tenure as Villa owner. Roberto Di Matteo, a Champions League winner with Chelsea, is in charge and working toward returning the club to the Premier League.
Out have gone Kieran Richardson, Brad Guzan, Charles N’Zogbia, Jose Angel Crespo and Carles Gil with many supporters hoping Joleon Lescott and Gabby Agbonlahor follow. In have come Tommy Elphick from Bournemouth, along with Pierluigi Gollini and Aaron Tshibola.
It’s not a major overhaul of the squad but enough to freshen things up, with the promise of more activity to come.
An unwelcome cloud on the horizon is the departure of Ciaran Clark. Newcastle United have triggered the Northern Ireland defender’s release clause and his loss is a major blow to Di Matteo.
Pre-season was running smoothly on the pitch until the weekend. A step up in opposition saw Middlesbrough leave Villa Park with a 3 – 1 win under their belts. It left Di Matteo with plenty to ponder and the Holte End with a clearer idea of what it takes to win this division. Or, at the very least, come close to it.
The bookmakers were unperturbed. Villa still sit at 8/1 second favourites behind Newcastle for the title and a solid bet in their eyes, for promotion. For those looking to back Villa this season, it’s advisable to check out safergaming.com for solid advice on gambling responsibly.
There’s a sense that it could go either way though. Such was the debacle last season that a string of bad results could send the Villains tumbling down the Championship. It’s a strong league with teams down to the lower reaches, capable of taking points from the hotshots.
Defeat isn’t necessarily a bad thing. Hull City are in the Premier League next season despite losing 11 games, albeit via the play-offs but the aim is promotion. Automatic is ideal but getting there by hook or by crook will suffice.
That’s the concern with Villa though. Newcastle United have been aggressive in the transfer market to reshape their squad whilst Norwich have pretty much the same squad which won promotion two seasons ago. They have experience at this level.
Villa are, on the surface, the more fragile of the three relegated clubs whilst the likes of Brighton, Sheffield Wednesday and Derby will all take the chastening experience of defeat in the play-offs and use it as a motivation to succeed.
A tough start to the season sees them visit Sheffield Wednesday and Derby before the end of August. Those matches will tell us more about the club’s abilities to meet their ambitions. Fortunately, it matters go awry, there is still time to pursue targets in the transfer window.
What seemed a long summer is almost over; the fun is about to begin in earnest.