Matchday Preview: Scouting Aston Villa
On Tuesday evening, Aston Villa will become the next in a long line of top flight English clubs, including the likes of West Bromwich Albion, Manchester City and Sunderland to have tested the Timbers in an international exhibition match over the last handful of seasons. Portland hosts the Birmingham-based club for a 7:30 p.m. kick-off at JELD-WEN Field in its second international exhibition of the season; the Timbers previously welcomed Spain’s Valencia CF to SoccerCity USA on May 23.
The Villans visit Portland for the last of a three-game, preseason tour of the United States, having already beaten the Philadelphia Union and Chicago Fire in the last week by the same 1-0 score line at PPL Park and Toyota Park respectively.
A New Manager, Staff and Players
After a disappointing 2011-12 campaign in which the team finished 16th in the 20-team English Premier League (ELP), Aston Villa parted ways with manager Alex McLeish and hired Paul Lambert as its 27th manager in its 137-year history on June 2, 2012. Lambert promptly brought Ian Culverhouse and Gary Karsa—both of whom worked with him in previous stops at Norwich City, Colchester United and Wycombe Wanderers—to Villa Park to continue on as his assistant coach and head of football operations respectively.
Preview: Wilkinson & Jewsbury on AVFC
Lambert is a rising star in the EPL’s coaching ranks, having overseen successful stints with lower level English sides Wycombe and Colchester before leading Norwich to two successive promotions from League One to the League Championship and on to the EPL in two short seasons. Norwich finished 12th in the EPL at the end of the 2011-12 season, coincidentally defeating Aston Villa, 2-0 on the final day of the season.
Since Lambert has taken over, the squad has seen little turnover as only two players have been released and just a pair of new summer arrivals have occurred at Villa Park. Young defender Matthew Lowton was captured from Sheffield United and midfielder Karim El Ahmadi was recruited from last season’s Dutch Eredivisie runners-up Feyenoord Rotterdam. American international goalkeeper Brad Guzan also re-signed with the club after his previous contract with the Villans had expired.
The Squad that’s Come Stateside
Lambert has brought a full strength squad with him on the team’s U.S. tour with the likes of England international Darren Bent and long-time Villa striker Gabriel Agbonlahor making the trip. Also on board are Republic of Ireland internationals Shay Given, Richard Dunne and Steven Ireland as well as U.S. National Team defender Eric Lichaj and French international Charles N’Zogbia.
Most fans of the EPL will recognize Bent and Agbonlahor, who scored against the Fire on Saturday, as both are proven top flight strikers in England. Unfortunately for Tuesday’s match, both players have picked up knocks so it is unclear if they will feature against the Timbers. Their absence however, will give fans an opportunity to take in the talents of English starlet Nathan Delfouneso, who provided the Villans the winning goal against the Union in the first game of their U.S. tour. Fellow youngster Andreas Weimann, a current member of Austria’s U-21 National Team, and Australian international Brett Holman could also feature against Portland.
In midfield, new recruit El Ahmadi has drawn praise for his displays against the Fire and Union while N’Zogbia is a season removed from a career-best nine-goal campaign he turned in for Wigan Athletic before moving to Villa Park last year. Steven Ireland could compete against the Timbers for the second time in three years should he make an appearance for Villa, as he previously visited Portland with Manchester City in 2010, scoring the opening goal in the Citizens’ 3-0 win at Merlo Field. The Villans’ other Australian talent Chris Herd picked up an assist against Chicago and has looked dangerous getting forward along with English starlet Fabian Delph, who, only in his early 20’s, has seen opportunities with Villa’s first team.
Aston Villa’s defense is anchored by EPL veteran Dunne, who, just back from Euro 2012, will compete in his 19th EPL campaign this season. Alongside Dunne is a pair of EPL regulars in James Collins and Steven Warnock. The Villans have a fine collection of young defensive talent as well with the likes of Lichaj, Lowton, Enda Stevens and Ciaran Clark, who captained the England U-19 team at the 2008 European Championships though has now switched with the opportunity to play for the Republic of Ireland.
In goal, Villa’s well known duo of Given and Guzan have teamed to secure the Villans a clean sheet in both of their games against MLS opposition to date on the team’s U.S. tour.
After a solid showing against one of Spain’s best teams in their first exhibition this season the Timber’s will look to go one better on Tuesday and prevent Aston Villa from sweeping the last of its MLS competition in its final match on U.S. soil.