Aston Villa face Walsall next Wednesday night in the first of five pre-season games as Dean Smith and his squad prepare for the new Premier League campaign.
Our season begins with a trip to Watford on August 14, and so it will be about fine-tuning tactics and getting the condition of the players at an optimal level ahead of that encounter.
With no travel outside of England this year, there will be a close focus on improvements at Bodymoor Heath and in clashes with Walsall, Stoke City, Nottingham Forest, Bristol City and Sevilla, and there will be particular aspects of the pre-season schedule that will likely catch the eye.
Having reported for duty at his new club this week, Emiliano Buendia will be in line to make his Villa debut at some stage over the course of the pre-season schedule.
The 24-year-old will hopefully have settled well this week in his new surroundings and within the squad, as he looks to become a fundamental figure in our attack.
While he was given additional time off due to his involvement in the Argentina squad preparing for the Copa America, it’s hoped that he’s had enough time at Bodymoor Heath to get his fitness levels up and is now ready to feature at some point in the upcoming fixtures.
After playing a frustratingly limited role in helping England reach the Euro 2020 final, Jack Grealish will now be given an extended period of time off to recover and rest.
It’s unclear at this stage as to when he’s expected back at Villa, and coupled with the seemingly never-ending transfer speculation surrounding his future, time will tell if he does indeed return to us at all, as we all hope he does.
Nevertheless, it will be important to get him back relatively soon after he’s had a chance to recuperate, as naturally Smith will want our captain available for the first competitive game of the season.
Ashley Young role
Having returned to the club this summer, the experienced stalwart will look to play a pivotal role both on and off the pitch as he takes a lead role in what is a young squad.
Young’s versatility will ensure he’s an option for Smith in various positions, and so it’s likely that he’ll ultimately feature across the pitch as the season progresses if needed.
That said, it will be interesting to see if he plays in a specific position for most of pre-season, as that will give us an indication of where Smith wants to use him and that in turn will influence our remaining business in the transfer market.
Fitness of players with point to prove
Frederic Guilbert and Conor Hourihane have returned from loan spells away from Villa last season, while Morgan Sanson will join up with the group soon too as he completes his recovery from a knee injury he sustained towards the back-end of the last campaign.
Wesley will be doing the same after making his comeback from a lengthy layoff.
Time will tell if Guilbert and Hourihane remain with us for the upcoming season, but they’ll want to prove that they deserve more playing time under Smith for as long as they’re still at Villa. As for Sanson and Wesley, it’s a big year for the pair as we’ll expect a lot more from them both, and so getting a solid pre-season under their respective belts will be vital.
Opportunities for Villa youngsters
From Jacob Ramsey who we’ve seen a fair bit of now to the likes of Carney Chukwuemeka, Louie Barry and Kaine Kesler. There are a number of top talents knocking on the door to get into Smith’s line-up this year.
Pre-season will be a perfect opportunity for them to showcase their talent at a higher level, and with players who were involved on international duty still absent, they will get chances to play and warrant further selections.
It’s hoped that they manage to impress, and that in turn will give Smith a good headache to have in terms of deciding who will stay with the senior squad this season and who will benefit from a loan spell elsewhere.