Predicting Aston Villa's Starting XI for the 2013-14 EPL Season
Paul Lambert and Aston Villa have wasted little time improving this summer, signing six players before the transfer window has even officially opened.
With the Midlands club on a tight budget until they offload Alan Hutton, Darren Bent, Stephen Ireland and Shay Given, we're not expecting them to make many more signings between now and the opening day fixture away to Arsenal.
We take a 4-3-3 formation—the system Lambert and Villa finished the season in—and predict the starting XI for that all-important game at the Emirates.
This one's a bit of a no-brainer, as U.S. international Brad Guzan stands very little chance of losing his starting spot after a stunning season in goal.
Many praise Christian Benteke's goal tally, but were it not for the former Chivas stopper's heroics on the goal line, Aston Villa would have been relegated with ease.
Expect new signing Jed Steer, who has been plucked from Norwich City's academy, to warm the bench while Shay Given searches for a new club after being told he can leave.
Paul Lambert might be tempted to tinker and switch to three at the back later in the season, but it's almost assured he'll kick things off with a solid back four.
Matthew Lowton was the standout performer in defence last season and slots in uncontested at right-back, while you'd expect Ron Vlaar—the club captain—to take his place on the field.
The other centre-back slot is well up for grabs, with Ciaran Clark, Nathan Baker and Jores Okore battling it out. Preseason form and fitness will determine who wins this battle, but the smart money will be on Lambert showing patience with Okore and starting Baker on the opening day against Arsenal.
Antonio Luna, a new signing from La Liga giants Sevilla, will likely start at left-back despite his inexperience.
Back four: Lowton, Vlaar, Baker, Luna
Arguably the most difficult of the selections is midfield, with Paul Lambert's adjustments and changes knowing no limit in this area.
On the basis he sticks with the 4-3-3 formation that served the side so well toward the end of the season, the only player assured of a place is Ashley Westwood.
The midfield metronome made a name for himself last season as a bit of a Michael Carrick-esque passer, distrbuting superbly under pressure and keeping it simple and easy.
Two of Yacouba Sylla, Gary Gardner, Fabian Delph and Leandro Bacuna will then slot in either side of him, with Delph and Bacuna the favourites to play against Arsenal.
Midfield three: Bacuna, Westwood, Delph
This one picks itself—it really is that simple.
Despite the recruitment of Aleksandar Tonev, a dual-footed winger who can operate on either side, the same front three who fired Aston Villa to safety will continue subject to further transfer activity.
Gabriel Agbonlahor, a Villa boy born and bred, will continue on the left and hope to pick up where he left off ripping defences to shreds with his immense pace.
Andi Weimann, fresh from signing a new and improved contract, will be expected to continue his exponential growth. Meanwhile, star striker Christian Benteke will be the side's key player once more.
With Lambert positive his Belgian beast will stick around for another season, Villa will prepare for the season under the pretense that he's an integral part of the squad.
Forwards: Agbonlahor, Benteke, Weimann
And the Rest?
Stephen Ireland, Alan Hutton, Barry Bannan, Darren Bent and Shay Given are not in favour and will likely be up for transfer should any sort of offer come in.
Charles N'Zogbia is expected to miss the start of the season due to an Achilles injury, according to the BBC. He'll have to claw his way back into reckoning once fit.
Joe Bennett had a 2012-13 season to forget and will likely take a back seat, learning from Antonio Luna.
Nicklas Helenius, a new recruit from Aalborg, will likely be eased into the side, while Aleksandar Tonev will also need to be patient. Okore could face only a few weeks on the sidelines before being introduced to a starting role.