With the new season just a few days away, excitement is growing among most fans of Premier League clubs, with new signings, new managers and new beginnings briefly washing the failures of the past away.
Perhaps there is one exception though, and that's at Aston Villa, where enthusiasm would appear to be pretty low ahead of the coming campaign.
And there's a good reason for that, too. Villa were frankly very lucky not to be relegated last season, winning just one of their last nine games and surviving because there were five even more incompetent teams than them, rather than through any merit or excellence of their own.
They were also, quite frankly, horrible to watch, devoid of any creativity or spark, Paul Lambert's turgid tactics making the average TV viewer rapidly look to see what else was on, and as for the poor Villa fans who had to sit through it, one only has sympathy.
Indeed, in the Observer's Premier League fans' preview, Villa supporter Jonathan Pritchard was less than optimistic:
We lost half our home games last season, and the last six away games. The sale of the club has been a shambles and officials are now trying to gag our supporters’ clubs’ right to criticise. Our summer signings have provoked sniggers from other fans. Am I building up to a contrarian “darkest hour comes before the dawn” sort of preview? No, we’ll probably get relegated this season...
The manager is tactically and strategically inept. The sooner he leaves the better.
And therein lies the rub. As we have seen throughout the career of Sam Allardyce, fans will largely put up with ugly football if results are acceptable, but to say the very least, results have not been acceptable at Villa Park.
As Pritchard alluded to, the club's summer transfer business doesn't exactly inspire great confidence either. They have recruited two players from relegated Fulham, Kieran Richardson and Philippe Senderos, Aly Cissokho who looked a liability for long parts of his loan spell at Liverpool last season, and Joe Cole, who has looked like a busted flush for some time now.
Cole's fitness problems meant he was only available to make 13 starts over 18 months at West Ham. Last year he scored three goals, but a team does not recruit Cole for his goalscoring abilities, but rather his creative talents, and he hasn't recorded a Premier League assist, as per Duncan Alexander of Opta, in almost four years.
As if all this wasn't enough, there's a reasonable chance that one of the only reasons to be remotely cheerful about the season ahead, in the shape of defender Ron Vlaar, could be gone by the end of August. Lambert was unhappy with the reported interest in the Dutchman from Southampton, quoted by Sky Sports as saying:
The only thing that gave me some concern was people talking about other people’s players, I thought that was wrong. At the moment there has been nothing and I fully expect him to be here.
I have had a little chat with him and everything is fine. We move on and everything will sort itself out. You are playing a dangerous game if you mention other people’s players. You have to have respect for that.
There will be plenty of pressure on Villa to record some good results in the first couple of weeks of the season, too. Their first three games are perfectly winnable, against Stoke, Hull and Newcastle, but after that the embark on a brutal five-game run that could easily result in Villa getting zero points. They face Liverpool at home, Arsenal then Chelsea away, Manchester City at home and then Everton away. Unless they get some points in those opening matches, it's not difficult to imagine Villa being cut adrift by the middle of October.
When you throw in an uncertain ownership situation and the unpredictable Roy Keane splitting his time between the Villa and Republic of Ireland assistant jobs, it's easy to see why optimism is not high at Aston Villa. This could be the season they end up in serious trouble.
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