After a season in which the threat of relegation loomed large until the middle of May, Aston Villa supporters can be forgiven for settling for mid table obscurity in the next campaign. It was a difficult first season for Paul Lambert but there were certainly plenty of positives as a number of young players established themselves in the first team and showed that the future of the club appears in safe hands.
Perhaps the brightest spark was provided by man mountain Christian Benteke who scored 23 goals in his debut season with the club. The Belgian led the line with a string of assured displays that had many wondering just how Villa had managed to pick him up for the bargain price of just £7m. Keeping hold of the powerful striker now becomes a priority for Lambert who will also be desperate to convince Andreas Weimann that his future belongs at Villa Park.
Business so far
Veteran goalkeeper Shay Given has confirmed that he will leave the club this summer, despite putting pen to paper on a five year deal when he arrived from Manchester City back in July 2011. The 37 year old found himself playing an unfamiliar reserve role to Brad Guzan and is now looking for a new club, while Republic of Ireland teammate Richard Dunne has also suggested he will look for pastures new.
What they need
Experience. The Villa side last season was one of the youngest in the Premier League and it showed, especially over the Christmas period that saw them conceded eight to Chelsea, four to Tottenham and three to Wigan without reply. With former captain and fan favourite Stiliyan Petrov forced to hang up his boots there is a real need for a leader in central midfield.
Similarly an established central defender will be high on the list for Lambert, especially if he loses Dunne in the coming months. There is a wealth of talent coming through the youth team, highlighted by Villa winning the NextGen series, but young players likes Kieran Clark, Nathan Baker, Matt Lowton and Joe Bennett will only improve with some experience alongside them.
Who could join
Montpellier's attacking midfielder Younes Belhanda, who has been previously linked with Tottenham and Arsenal, has admitted that he would be interested in joining Villa. "Aston Villa is a great club with a big history playing in the best league in the world, so let's see what will happen," said the Moroccan. The attacking midfielder can play in a number of areas and has a Ligue 1 winners medal already in his collection.
There have been few other names connected with a move to Aston Villa but Crewe midfielder Luke Murphy is one, while Ipswich left-back Aaron Cresswell has also been mentioned. Both are young players just making a names for themselves and would fit in with Lambert's policy. With Randy Lerner unwilling to offer huge sums of money for transfers it is unlikely that many big names arrive.
Who could leave
Villa fans will pray that there best young talent aren't plucked away by the Premier league elite but that could well be the case. Benteke has been linked with not only the best sides in England, but there have been suggestions that he could join Atletico Madrid to replace Radamel Falcao. Rumours have also emerged that Tottenham would be prepared to offer Defoe in an exchange for the young striker but hanging onto the Belgian will certainly be a priority and a statement of intent that the club are ready to push forward.
Dunne and Given are seemingly set to exit, while it is also likely that Darren Bent will be shown the door after failing to convince Lambert that he deserved a regular run in the first team. The former Spurs striker will be desperate to find a club where he can have regular opportunities after consistently reaching double figures in previous seasons.
Weimann is another that has been heavily linked with a move. The Austraian scored 12 goals last season and looked sensational when Villa played at pace and on the break. The 21 year old has been linked with Newcastle, while Liverpool are also said to be interested after he excelled against the club in the 3-1 win at Anfield.
What the manager has said
"This football club has a magnificent history but you have to keep evolving as time goes on. It's not a small project," stated Lambert. "But it's not about me. This football club is more important than anyone. My job is to keep building it. It's been a really hard year. We deserve incredible credit for what we have done.