Has Aston Villa’s starting XI improved?

Modified 15 Sep 2013

aston villa starting xi

Paul Lambert’s summer signings appraised

The players are in, Randy’s cheque book is closed, and Paul Lambert has gathered together his players ready for battle.  The 2013 / 2014 Aston Villa squad is quintessentially now Lambert’s squad.  The players are his players, the signings are his signings.

In Lambert’s second season he must deliver, and the Villa boss is well aware that fans will expect more from the team this season than simply surviving.  There must be progression, both defensively and offensively.

Paul Lambert has secured seven new players during the summer transfer window, with the additions of Libor Kozak (Lazio, £5-7m), Jores Okore (Nordsjaelland, £4m), Leandro Bacuna (Groningen £1.5m), Aleksander Tonev (Lech Poznan, £2.5m), Antonio Luna (Seville, £2m), Nicklas Helenius (Aalborg, £1.2m), and Jed Steer (Norwich, £250k compensation).

Villa’s net spend is roughly £18.5m, which was less than the estimated £23m Lambert spent last summer.

However, will the new additions improve the first team?  Is the squad better balanced than last season? And did Lambert cover the gaps which needed to be covered?

Below we assess the new arrivals and evaluate the impact they may have.

Jores Okore

If you asked any Villa fan what their number one priority would be this summer, a new central defender would probably rank first or second on their wish list.  The yearning for a new centre-back stretched back to January, with Villa conceding a stack full of goals, and the desire for a new centre back had become almost palpable by the time Okore arrived at the club.

The fact that Chelsea had made an unsuccessful attempt to sign Okore in January added to his allure, but more substantially than that, the player is just a great young prospect.  Calm, composed, competitive, pacy, ambitious and confident with the ball at his feet, Okore appears to have a big future in the game.

Lambert himself deserves high praise for acting so quickly to bring the Danish defender to the club, as once Villa’s bid became known, other clubs sought to make late bids.  As a young defender Okore will be forgiven for making mistakes, but he is exactly the sort of smart signing the club should be making.

Aleksander Tonev

The 23-year-old winger was a player in demand when Villa sought to sign him this summer.  Offers were on the table from Scottish giants Celtic and other clubs in the Bundesliga, but Alex Tonev chose to play in the Premier League with the Villans instead.

Villa fans had hoped that Paul Lambert would make the attacking midfield position a priority, and the young Bulgarian was perhaps not quite the sort of player many fans were expecting.  Personally, I had imagined that Lambert would sign a player who could play in between the lines and who could unlock defences with precise and incisive passes.

Tonev is more a player who makes space for himself to shoot, or prefers to attack down the wings with pace and changes of direction (like Marc Albrighton).  It may be a little early to judge Tonev, but I was surprised that Lambert bought a player principally on the recommendation of Stiliyan Petrov.

To play in the attacking midfield role, a player needs to have instinctive awareness of the players around him.  In addition, an attacking midfielder requires swivel-eyed appreciation of the team’s opportunities for a pass or a shot.  At the moment, the young Bulgarian has been a little greedy with the ball and unaware of his team mates.  On a positive note, Villa players training with Tonev seem impressed by his array of skills, but will he be intelligent enough?

Antonio Luna

The Sevilla left-back arrived at Aston Villa bursting with energy and positivity, and it has been a joy to see a player with so much passion and commitment.  Luna has already established himself as a fan favourite, and he seems determined to make an impact in the Premier League.

There are technically better left-backs in La Liga who Paul Lambert could have signed, such as Luna’s Sevilla team mate Alberto Moreno, but Luna’s personality is a real bonus for Paul Lambert as Lambert is seeking to assemble a squad of hungry players.  In any event, it is not always the best footballers who succeed, rather the players who work hard to improve their game.

Luna has some difficulties defensively, highlighted again against Newcastle, but the youngster is positive in an attacking sense and for a price of £2m, he is a relatively safe signing.

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Published 15 Sep 2013
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