The end of the Premier League season brought a collective sigh of relief among Aston Villa fans. For much of the season it was a fierce battle to avoid relegation into the Championship. Fortunately for the Villains, they evaded the trap door and finished 15th despite looking in dangerous peril of going down for much of the season.
But the objective for Aston Villa this season isn't just to retain their Premier League status. This is a team capable of much more, a team that should be targeting the top twelve of the Premier League. The experience garnered last season by the young players in the Aston Villa squad will be invaluable this season after the end of last year brought with it so much promise heading into the new campaign.
Paul Lambert was questioned at times due to his overwhelming faith in young players such as Nathan Baker, Ciaran Clark and Joe Bennett, who all came under intense scrutiny due to their performances and costly mistakes in games last season when there were experienced players in the Aston Villa side that many felt should have been called on such as Alan Hutton, Stephen Ireland and Darren Bent. Lambert, however, stuck to his principles.
The January transfer window also brought speculation about an experienced defender coming into the side, but Lambert was content with his team in the belief that he could turn them into a very good side.
At times there were humiliating defeats such as an 8-0 demolition at Chelsea and an embarrassing 3-1 loss at League Two side Bradford City, but Lambert's belief was still un-wavered. The promise in the side was there with the likes of Matthew Lowton, Andreas Weimann, Ashley Westwood and Christian Benteke going on to have impressive seasons epitomised by an 6-1 victory over relegation rivals Sunderland.
And in this summer transfer window, Lambert is still sticking to his principles. Six acquisitions have been made in this window, all promising young talent. Jores Okore comes with a pedigree in Europe, a big reputation and is also breakthrough star for Denmark.
You can expect him to shine alongside Lowton and Westwood. Villa also boast one of the best attacking trios out of any of the lower league sides in Benteke, Gabriel Agbonlahor and Weimann.
The defensive mistakes that cost them so dear will now be few and far between this season due to the experience gained at the highest level and the promising players added.
The confidence in the Aston Villa side is epitomised by Ron Vlaar, who told the Daily Mirror: “We all learned a lot last year and the team is a lot stronger - not only the 11 players but 25 players. We know that, we need everybody. That is the spirit that is in the group.
"You could see that at Arsenal, everybody was really good. We played really compact, we didn't let them play their game and I think we frustrated them. It was a great day with a great result and we all look forward to Wednesday now. We have to be ready.”
Villa fans may be fearing the worst at Chelsea with scars of the 8-0 trashing still fresh in the memory, but that was when they were boys. Now they return as men.
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