It has been another disappointing season for fans of Aston Villa.
Many were quietly optimistic at the start of the campaign after Villa kept hold of star striker Christian Benteke and added to the squad—namely exciting, young talent including Jores Okore, Aleksandar Tonev, Libor Kozak and Antonio Luna. However, the hope was shortlived.
The Midlands outfit were involved in their third consecutive relegation battle and narrowly avoided the dreaded drop after finishing five points clear of Norwich.
With a paltry 38 points, the Villans matched their lowest points total in the Premier League era and have barely improved from the dark days of Alex McLeish's reign.
To make things worse—or better, depending on your viewpoint—chairman Randy Lerner released an official statement on the club's website confirming that he had put the club up for immediate sale. This has sparked further uncertainty as to what the future holds for the former European Cup winners, both on and off the field.
However, for the time being at least, current manager Paul Lambert's reign looks set to continue. As reported by the BBC, the Scot has been told by Lerner that his job is safe and that he can begin looking at rebuilding the squad.
Lambert was quoted as saying, as per the BBC article:
We need bigger and better players. You need to spend a lot of just to stand still. It won't be easy within the current circumstances.
It's a challenging time ahead for everyone at the football club. We're going to roll up our sleeves, prepare for the battle ahead and I'm determined to give it everything I have, the players will do the same and it is our collective strength as a club which, ultimately, will see us through.
With the recent releases of former Academy players Marc Albrighton and Nathan Delfouneso, in addition to reports of Niklas Helenius is set to be shown the door after just six appearances, Lambert must know that quality additions are needed to improve a very average squad.
He has the unwanted task of having to do this with limited transfer funds and wage restrictions in place. So, who should Lambert consider bringing to Villa Park?
Five additions—all of whom would improve the squad whilst not breaking the bank—are suggested below.
The Villa defence leaked 61 goals last term: Only relegated Fulham, Cardiff and Norwich conceded more. The return of Okore is needed; however, work still needs to be done on a frail back line which kept only nine clean sheets last term.
Steven Caulker (Cardiff)—€7.5m
The 22-year-old defender—who has one England cap to his name—was purchased by Cardiff last summer and may be looking to move on following their relegation.
According to WhoScored.com, Caulker featured in all 38 League games for Cardiff, contributed five goals and was their best performer over the season with a rating of 7.06. The former Tottenham man is big, strong, powerful and good in the air—all attributes that the current Villa squad seems to lack.
Caulker is valued at €7.5m, according to Transfermarkt.com, and would represent an upgrade on Nathan Baker and Ciaran Clark, should he be available.
Martin Kelly (Liverpool)—Loan
After an impressive first season in the Premier League, Matt Lowton failed to deliver last season for Villa and was made to share the right-back spot with Leandro Bacuna.
Liverpool's 24-year old Martin Kelly could be a temporary option to help sure up the Villa defence and, at worst, give Lowton the competition that he needs. After featuring regularly for the Reds in 2010/11 and 2011/12, Kelly has found it difficult to get back into the first team due to injuries and the emergence of Jon Flanagan—he made just five substitute appearances last season.
Kelly has the talent—he has one England cap and was in the squad for Euro 2012—and Villa might just be the team to provide him with first-team football and get him back to his best.
Just remember what Villa did for Kyle Walker, another young English right-back struggling for games.
For more years than their fans care to remember, Aston Villa's midfield has lacked creativity and that spark of magic that can change a game. Paul Merson, David Ginola and Ashley Young are the only names that come to mind who have worn the Villa shirt in recent history and who were able to do something out of nothing.
The emergence of Jack Grealish is exciting, but Lambert needs to bring in at least two players who are able to unlock a defence or provide inspiration from the bench.
Lewis Holtby (Tottenham)—Loan
The German international would be the perfect signing at Villa Park. Holtby is young, hungry, energetic, able to pick a pass and find the net.
The former Schalke youngster is able to operate anywhere in midfield and would provide much-needed class to the middle of the pitch. After failing to get much of a look in at Spurs having moved from Germany, Holtby impressed during his loan spell at Fulham, scoring one goal and providing three assists in the second half of the campaign.
Should his short-term future lie away from White Hart Lane, Lambert should do everything he can to get Holtby in a claret-and-blue shirt.
Hiroshi Kiyotake (Nurnberg)—€7.5m
The Japanese international was a name linked to Villa last season and hopefully will be again during the summer.
Kiyotake is an exciting attacking midfielder able to play on either wing or behind the striker. When on the ball, the 24-year old has pace and is able to take on a man, is an accomplished crosser, knows where the back of the net is and is deadly from set-piece situations.
Although this season has not been impressive as last, Kiyotake has still scored three goals and provided eight assists for his relegated Nurnberg side. According to WhoScored.com, this gives him a total of seven goals and 18 assists in two seasons.
As Nurnberg have just been relegated from the Bundesliga, Kiyotake could be looking for a move and is available for a reduced €6m, according to Transfermarkt.com.
After an average season and an injury that ruled him out of the World Cup, Villa have a slightly better chance of keeping hold of Christian Benteke for another season.
With just 39 goals scored in 38 League games, attacking reinforcements are required—the likes of Jordan Bowery and Callum Robinson are not up to Premier League standard just yet.
Mame Biram Diouf (Hannover)—Free
The former Manchester United youngster's contract is up at the end of the season and he looks unlikely to extend with the German club. A number of clubs are likely to be courting his services, but Lambert should be looking at the Senegal International, too.
In a similar mould to Benteke, Diouf is strong, powerful, good in the air and not afraid to shoot. This season, Diouf scored eight goals and provided three assists in 19 games to make him the second-best performer at the club with a WhoScored rating of 7.33.