Grading Aston Villa's Summer Transfer Window Signings
Aston Villa have made a wonderful start to the new Premier League season, picking up seven points from a possible nine. This early success has been in no small part due to the rapid integration of their new signings.
Paul Lambert was not afforded the huge transfer kitty that many of England's clubs have been quick to flaunt. As a result, meticulous planning for targeted improvements to the team was vital. Indeed, the Villans were among the most proactive in the free transfer market, capturing experienced players looking to revitalise dwindling careers—a strategy that appears to be paying dividends already.
Despite a late flurry of interest in various midfield talents on deadline day, including rumours noted by the Daily Mail about a bid for Sergio Canales, Villa announced the loan signing of Tom Cleverley from Manchester United. All in all, with six new players signed, Lambert has reinforced the team, but the quality of the signings is yet to be seen.
Here we take a look at those players and grade how good they have been so far and how important they will be for Aston Villa over the course of this young campaign. Each player has been graded out of 10 in the following criteria: price, experience, ability and Villa's need for them, with an overall grade as well.
It is difficult to argue with a free transfer, particularly when funds are so short at Villa Park, so the capture of Valencia and Switzerland's Philippe Senderos represents good business for Paul Lambert. However, with plenty to prove personally, it makes sense that Senderos would be available on a free.
With over 100 Premier League appearances spanned across a career that has seen him play at Arsenal, Everton and Fulham, as well as 54 caps for his country, Senderos boasts considerable experience. When compared to the likes of Ciaran Clark and Nathan Baker, who have struggled to find any form of consistency in claret and blue, Senderos's wealth of experience could be just the remedy to Villa's leaky back line.
There have been suggestions that Senderos is a low-risk, low-reward signing for Villa, and certainly his ability is largely to do with that. His track record is quite unexceptional and there remain question marks over his capacity to deliver performances at the top level.
Lacking pace and frequently indecisive, Senderos will have to work hard and learn quickly from Ron Vlaar if he is to be a success at Villa. However, Lambert's policy of signing players who are keen to re-establish their careers and prove wrong their numerous doubters could pay off significantly.
Villa's need: 8/10
Following Ron Vlaar's spectacular World Cup display and a subsequent rocketing of his stock during a sport-wide shortage of high-quality central defenders, it was imperative that Villa were able to keep hold of their captain and also bring in a decent partner to go alongside him. It would appear, given the impressive start the Villans have made with just one goal conceded in three games, that Senderos is just the man for the job.
Again, as a free transfer, Joe Cole is a welcome addition to the Villa squad in terms of his pricing. That said, if Lambert were to have paid any money for Cole, it would have been difficult to justify.
To be able to pick up a player with so much top-flight and international experience is what truly makes this a decent signing for Villa. Joe Cole is now 32 years old with three Premier League titles under his belt and 56 England caps on his head, qualifying him as a perfect mentor for bright youngsters such as Jack Grealish and Andreas Weimann.
Once England's most skilful player and a key player for Mourinho during his hugely successful first stint at Chelsea, Joe Cole is now a shadow of his former self. That said, they say class is permanent. While his turn of pace and agility might have diminished, Cole's vision and technique remain.
Villa's need: 6/10
How much game time Cole gets is yet to be seen, but it is unlikely that he will feature regularly in the starting line up at Villa Park. As alluded to above, it is without question his experience and capacity to offer guidance to younger players who will represent his real legacy as a Villa man.
Kieran Richardson is probably the best of the free transfers Villa have managed to sign this summer, and his versatility makes his signing all the more worthwhile.
Having started his career slowly at Manchester United, Richardson went on to play over 100 Premier League games for Sunderland and Fulham. At the age of 29, he is now something of a veteran. His knowledge of how to play anywhere along the left side of the pitch is a considerable addition to Lambert's side.
It is likely he will prove an important fixture in Villa's team this year and ought to provide support for some of the younger players in the squad, such is his experience of having to wait for an opportunity.
Skilled as both a left-back and a left-winger, Kieran Richardson is an athletic player who is as capable going forward as he is reading the game at the back. His provision of assists will be essential to Villa, as his link-up play is affective in-field as well as on the wing.
Villa's need: 7/10
Antonio Luna's departure after one rather disappointing season at Villa Park left a gap in Lambert's team that Richardson was bought to fill. With the addition of Aly Cissokho, Richardson has been deployed in a more central role, and it appears to suit the former Red Devil, as well as suiting Villa who have been seeking a dynamic midfield trio since Lambert's arrival and implementation of the current formation.
It has been reported by the Mirror that Villa managed to snap up Aly Cissokho for a deal worth £2 million, which illustrates once again Paul Lambert's necessity to spend as little as possible as well as underlining his policy of signing players whose careers need putting back on track.
At the age of 26, Aly Cissokho has a decent amount of experience behind him as he starts his career at Villa, having played in the Champions League with both Lyon and Valencia. Nevertheless, in spite of his first team position at those clubs on the continent, Cissokho has work to do if he is to impress in the Premier League, having disappointed last season at Liverpool.
Cissokho is good as an offensive full-back with the athleticism to join attacks and put in crosses. His work ethic is commendable, Villa fans will be pleased with that at the very least. That said, Cissokho's defensive discipline can be slightly awry and his ball control is often a little awkward, which puts him in some vulnerable positions and can be frustrating when he miscues an attacking situation.
In short, there is room for improvement.
Villa's need: 7/10
Lacking in the left-back department, Cissokho was a much-needed addition to the Villa squad and alongside Richardson, ought to be a regular starter.
For a fee of £4.7 million, Carlos Sanchez is quite a coup for Aston Villa, who have been crying out for a strong, combative midfielder to protect the defensive back line. Given the financial constraints that Lambert has been working with this summer, Sanchez represents a ray of excitement for Villa fans who were surely expecting limited activity in the transfer window.
Sanchez was an important member of the Colombian team that took the World Cup in Brazil by storm. With 44 caps to his name, he has plenty of experience that will bode well for Villa. Having played for River Plate, Valenciennes and Elche prior to his arrival at Villa Park, the 28-year-old has a strong background in three strong but different leagues, making him more than capable of adapting to the Premier League's high demands.
The buzz of excitement around his signing is an important indicator of how highly rated the Colombian international is. His strength and command of the midfield zone will be his two greatest attributes, allowing the likes of Fabian Delph and Ashley Westwood to roam and conduct possession. In fact, Sanchez's weakness is really in his passing ability—something that he will have to improve if he is to be as important to Villa's midfield trio as Lambert is hoping.
Villa's need: 7/10
With Roy Keane on board, Sanchez could be just the player to harden up Villa's midfield and defend a back line that has started the season well. Delph and Westwood continue to show plenty of promise, but they need some strength and command beside them.
There are suggestions floating around that Villa had agreed on an £8 million fee with Man United for Tom Cleverley only to have been rejected by the player due to his high wage demands, as noted by The Telegraph's John Percy. Taking the player on loan until January with the option of signing him permanently seems a better deal, but unless he is a great success at Villa in the first half of the season, the ineluctable £8 million figure will still seem expensive in January.
For a 25-year-old, Cleverley has a pretty impressive curriculum vitae, having won the Premier League with Man United with 13 England caps to his name. That said, a regular position in United's starting line-up has been far from forthcoming and his loan spell at Villa Park will be his fourth since making his full professional debut in 2009. This could really be his big chance to get the regular Premier League experience he needs to press on with his career.
Although he has never quite fulfilled his very early potential and has succumbed to criticism from many football fans across the country—United fans among them—for his slow progression, Cleverley does possess the capacity to be a good Premier League midfielder. Having developed under the guidance of Sir Alex Ferguson and learned from the likes of Paul Scholes and Ryan Giggs, Cleverley's passing range is impressive and his hard work is equally significant.
Villa's need: 7/10
Aston Villa have long been searching for a creative midfielder and regardless of his poor form for United, he will be yet another player desperate to prove himself in the top flight, which could be nothing short of ideal for Paul Lambert's team. If he establishes himself quickly and grabs hold of this opportunity, this deal ought to be mutually beneficial for player and club.