Top four hopefuls – Aston Villa must guard against circling sharks
Having finished sixth for three seasons running, Aston Villa have threatened the Champions League places consistently with an energising brand of football based on quick wingers and young British talent.
However, as those around them press ahead with squad strengthening, Martin O’Neill’s side, a generous 15/8 to get another top six spot, are at risk of falling behind by not adding top-tier quality.
During two years at Villa Park Brad Friedel has cemented his reputation as a great keeper in the Premier League era. He turns 40 in May 2010 and O’Neill has been sounding out eventual replacements, but with Friedel not missing a league game in six years that might not be required any time soon.
A strong point of Villa’s displays last season was their ability to repel even the finest attacks (they kept clean sheets at Old Trafford and against Arsenal) leading to only 39 goals conceded during the campaign (a 7-1 aberration at Chelsea aside).
If they are to reach the top four – a tempting 9/1 price – Richard Dunne, named in the PFA team of the season, will need to maintain his gargantuan impact at the back.
Some attacking potency in the full-back positions wouldn’t go amiss.
Whether James Milner stays or goes is the key question here. He was magnificent last term, scoring seven goals and assisting another 12, as well as demonstrating a cool head in converting a penalty in the side’s unsuccessful Carling Cup final. Villa are 14/1 to win it this year.
Ashley Young and Stewart Downing provide excellent wide options and wicked set-piece deliveries – a major source of Villa goals.
Stiliyan Petrov is the beating heart which drives the team but he could pass on that mantle to supremely talented youngster Fabian Delph, who should feature more this year.
Gabriel Agbonlahor scored a career-high 13 league goals last year, and the born-and-bred Brummie is nearing the kind of talismanic figure needed at a top-four side. The 24-year-old is 40/1 to win the Golden Boot.
John Carew is a physically skilled presence up front but will be 31 in September, while Emile Heskey (just three league goals last year) has never been prolific.
A top quality striker is needed to give an attack, which scored just 52 goals in the league last season, a killer edge.
How do you see Aston Villa’s chances for a top four spot going? They are 15/1 to get the most Premier League points if given a 25 point lead. See the full Premier League betting market.