EPL Season Preview: Can Aston Villa Rebound from Tough Season?

Joe Tansey@JTansey90Featured ColumnistAugust 10, 2012

PORTLAND, OR - JULY 24:  Stephan Ireland #7 of Aston Villa reacts to an offsides call in the game against  the Portland Timbers at Jeld-Wen Field on July 24, 2012 in Portland, Oregon.  (Photo by Jonathan Ferrey/Getty Images)
Jonathan Ferrey/Getty Images

Last season, Villa Park was home to a club that barely survived the relegation fight and saw many skilled players have disappointing seasons.

This season, the winds of change have blown into Aston Villa Football Club.

Gone is Alex McLeish, who almost led a Birmingham-based club to relegation from the Premier League in two straight seasons after leading rivals Birmingham City to relegation in the 2010-11 season.

Gone is the negativity from the fans, as they will no longer have to worry about having no attacking threats with their star forward out hurt.

Also gone is the leukemia that captain Stiliyan Petrov was diagnosed with in March.

Now in at the club: Former Norwich City manager Paul Lambert, a few fresh faces and a captain that may not be playing on the pitch, but will be a solid veteran force to provide leadership throughout the season.

The Villains faced many struggles last season, and one key problem was their inability to score after Darren Bent was injured at the end of February.

The men who were supposed to step up in Bent's absence did not.

Charles N'Zogbia had a horrific first season at Villa Park after moving from Wigan Atheltic last summer.

But, N'Zogbia was not alone in providing a disappointing performance last season.

Marc Albrighton, Gabby Agbonlahor and Stephen Ireland all were supposed to step up in Bent's absence along with N'Zogbia, but together the four players could only manage 10 goals, which was the season total for Bent before he went out.

Lambert does have a lot of work to do to get the club back to the winning mentality that they had under current Sunderland manager Martin O'Neill from 2006 to 2010.

The good news for Lambert is that he has plenty of talent to choose from to find a perfect starting 11 that can bring success back to Villa Park.

At every position, Lambert has a combination of veterans and talented youngsters to choose from for his starting lineup.

In defense, Carlos Cuellar and James Collins have left the club, while Dutch veteran Ron Vlaar was brought in from Feyenoord.

There are plenty of veterans in defense, including Vlaar, Richard Dunne, Alan Hutton and Stephen Warnock, but 22-year-old Ciaran Clark is poised to be the breakout star in the back four.

Clark is not the only young player that will be looked upon to step up this season.

Midfielders Fabian Delph and Barry Bannan are also trying to fight for their places in the first team, along with a few new signings and club veterans.

Lambert has brought in Brett Holman and Karim El Ahmadi to add to the club's midfield depth.

All of those players will be given chances to compete for starting spots in the midfield, as no spot is guaranteed, especially after N'Zogbia and Ireland's poor seasons.

Up front in attack, Bent is back from injury and is the favorite to be the first-choice forward under Lambert.

The main concern up front will be who else produces other than Bent.

The player who could fill that goal-scoring void is Nathan Delfouneso.

Delfouneso is only 21 years old and could be a risk to start up front, but with Agbonlahor out for about a month with a knee problem, Lambert may have no other choice.

Last season showed that if anything happens to Bent, the Villains may not be able to score, and with no true goal scorer signed over the offseason so far, they may have to count on better performances from their star midfielders if they want to score without the England international.

One thing is for sure this season: The manager will help the club improve.

Lambert was able to take Norwich City from League One to the Premier League in two seasons and is fully capable of working with his depth in defense and midfield to find a combination that works.

What may ultimately decide Villa's season is if they are able to score.

There is no doubt keeper Shay Given will keep the club in every game that they play.

There is doubt about who will provide the goals besides Bent, and no matter how good the defense may be, if the Villains do not score, they could be in for a long season.