Aston Villa had a quiet 2013, with rumours that owner Randy Lerner was looking to sell up. This, combined with an unremarkable 15th place finish and a brief flirtation with relegation along with huge swings in form made for difficult viewing for many Villa fans.
All of their last six away games resulted in defeat, something which was a stark contrast to earlier on in the season when they picked up most of their points on the road. Most attribute it to a lack of experience and mentality, which is possible because they are a young side. After a bedding-in season, Villa's squad should be better suited to the rigours of the Premier League.
Villa's business thus far has involved free transfers due to Lerner's seeming unwillingness to plough any more money into the club, with Paul Lambert opting to look for Premier League experience in Kieran Richardson, Phillppe Senderos and Joe Cole.
All three have spent a number of years in the top-flight and are proven campaigners and strength in depth is something that Villa will look towards this season. Lambert will need to use all of his know-how to secure the right deals, the question is where do they need reinforcements the most?
The majority would argue it is in the wide areas, both at full-back and out on the wings. Villa's lack of cutting edge and pace out wide was made crystal clear by their efforts to play Andreas Weimann on the flanks.
Perhaps a loan investment or two could be the defining factor in next season seeing as their hands are tied financially. Both Oussama Assaidi and Victor Moses are outright tricky wingers who are both out of the frame at their respective clubs.
Much of Villa's form was down to their awful track record at home in the first half of the 2013/14 campaign and the complete reverse towards the end of the season where they lost six in a row away from Villa Park. This comes down to a lack of experience and know-how in the top-flight, which after last season will be key in their attempts to avoid the scrap this time around.
Lambert will look to build on his team's promising counter-attacking abilities in order to push them on. Last season Villa managed four goals directly from counter-attacks, which may not seem much but it is more than Manchester United and Arsenal managed.
Again, this will come down to what other players the manager is able to bring in to reinforce his squad. One problem for Villa is that they are reliant on a long ball style of play, last season they managed to average 71 long ball passes per game which was more than the likes of the Stoke and West Ham who are supposedly the main users of the tactic.
This is also potentially why Christian Benteke suffered a dip in goalscoring form, due to lack of service. Villa's 39 goals last season wasn't a great tally and a shift of style or a plan B is something that Lambert should potentially look to employ.
Looking at the squads around the bottom half and especially around them, Villa aren't as balanced as others. Benteke, on his day, could play for most of the sides that qualified for Europe, Brad Guzan was a stand-out performer last season and Fabian Delph is an important cog in the machine.
Apart from these few individuals, there is little to get too excited about and unfortunately it seems unlikely that they can spend money on genuine talent anytime soon. Villa's victories against Arsenal, Chelsea and Manchester City proved crucial in the final standings and you cannot underestimate the importance of beating top teams. You only have to look at Sunderland's record against teams in the top-half last season to see why they survived.
Villa need to start beating the teams around them more often because they cannot rely on pulling big results out of the bag every week. Lambert will be sweating come the end of August if they don't manage to sign the right players
Delph, Guzan and Benteke are obvious candidates to lead the charge, but despite this the Villains need a few more of their players to step up and take the mantle. Ashley Westwood looked comfortable in the heart of midfield last season and adding goals to his game will only improve Villa's fortunes further.
Ron Vlaar - providing Villa spurn Southampton's advances - will need to carry his World Cup form into the new season, while the return of Jonas Okore will be a boost too as injury ruled him out of the entire 2013/14 campaign. He will be hungry to get involved and push Ciaran Clark for the starting berth alongside Vlaar.
Gabriel Agbonlahor needs to find goals and fast, his influence around the team is undeniable and his raw power and pace can be devastating at times but his goalscoring touch seems to have deserted him in recent years and the Villa stalwart will need to inspire those around him if they are to stand a chance this year.
So far only three players have left, Nathan Delfouneso and Marc Albrighton both needed new starts and Jordan Bowery left for £250,000. None of these players were playing significant parts and will appreciate their moves.
The only question remains is if there are more departures on the horizon and will the potential money earned from the sales be used to reinvest in the squad? Much can be speculated but at this point nobody knows.
Taking everything into consideration with the current uncertainty over ownership and lack of activity in the transfer window, there's not going to be a lot to cheer about at Villa Park this season.
Having said that, they will avoid relegation after a brief flirtation with danger as there is just enough in the current squad to get the job done. The problems upstairs need to be sorted out sooner rather than later before they become a real issue, though.
Final position: 16th
Domestic cups: Fourth-round exits
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