- The big news of the day would have to be the injury woes of Villa's central defenders. James Collins did not play in Portugal at all, leaving Richard Dunne and Carlos Cuellar as the first-choice pairing for the Guadiana Cup. Cuellar was replaced very early in yesterday's loss to Beneifca, and while at the time my assumption was that he was simply fatigued, the Birmingham Mail is reporting today that he suffered a hamstring injury. I haven't read anything else about Cuellar's injury, but while it doesn't sound especially serious it's certainly something to keep an eye on. Hamstring injuries can become nagging problems, and with Luke Young being the only true RB that appears ready for first-team action in league play this could end up having an impact on Villa's depth at several positions.
- The bigger story in the linked Mail article may very well be the revelation that Curtis Davies suffered a knee injury during the Benefica match and was seen leaving the stadium on crutches. Davies is at best third on Villa's CB depth chart at the moment, but coupled with the injuries to Collins and Cuellar that leaves only Richard Dunne and Ciaran Clark to man the middle of the backline. In the space of two weeks, Villa's greatest strength appears to have become at least a momentary cause for concern. Neat!
- Also mentioned: Ashley Young left the match with a knee injury, which I believe anyone watching could have told you. My initial impression would be that Ash took nothing more than a bit of a bump and was brought off due to the relative unimportance of the match, but I am also hopelessly pessimistic about these things and a small part of my brain that hates me is convinced he will have his leg amputated.
- Stilyan Petrov also suffered a concussion during the match, which shouldn't have too many long-term consequences but is always cause for concern. If the captain recovers normally (as should be expected) he should be ready for West Ham on the 14th, but head injuries are scary no matter what the case. Get well soon, Stan!
- Nothing new to report on the James Milner front. Given the fact that the deal has been as good as done and as good as dead more times than I could possibly count, I will be functionally ignoring anything written on the issue that does not involve a photograph of James holding up a baby blue shirt with Etihad printed across the front. We've entered the realm of the ridiculous here folks, and I cannot wait for this whole thing to be over.
- Not news necessarily, but worth pointing out; the Guardian posted their preview of Aston Villa's 2010/11 season this morning. It was written by Stuart James, a man I am increasingly convinced has a framed photograph of Alex McLeish by his beside, but is certainly worth a read. The Guardian's staff picked Villa to finish 8th, and while I find that to be a tad pessimistic their reasoning is sound. Credit where it's due, Stuart makes some reasonable points about where the team is relative to their direct competitors in terms of movement on the transfer market. While it's well known that Martin O'Neill tends to unleash a flurry of transfers at the last possible moment and that it's a strategy that has done him well in the past, I'd be lying if I said it was an approach that I am entirely comfortable with. Villa have some real and urgent holes on the squad that need to be addressed (especially if they wish to have the depth to compete both domestically and in Europe) and so far nothing has changed. Here's a point that I think deserves special attention:
Milner, who filled Barry's shoes so brilliantly last season, seems certain to leave. Many Villa supporters will feel that £25m-plus for the midfielder is a decent deal, but if Manchester City hold off from coming up with the money until nearer the end of the month, which remains a possibility, where does that leave O'Neill in terms of bringing in replacements?
While I am increasingly skeptical that Milner is in any way "certain to leave," on the balance it's a fair point. While many expect Stephen Ireland to be included in any Milner deal, it's worth noting that Stephen Ireland is not James Milner. There's a fair-sized gap in terms of quality, and perhaps more importantly there's an even bigger gap in terms of what the two players bring to the pitch; Milner can work box-to-box, functioning as an attacking midfielder when the club is in need of a goal or something approaching a holding midfielder when possession is key. He's capable of playing on the wing or as a fullback, of worrying defense in numerous ways or marking forwards and helping to stymie the opposition's build-up. A tremendous amount of Milner's value is in his competence in numerous roles. Stephen Ireland is a perfectly serviceable attacking midfielder, but he is what he is. He's a downgrade from Milner in the one capacity that he is truly capable of playing, and to expect him to step in and pick up where Milner left off is folly. Without Milner, Villa will need to upgrade at least two positions to play the style to which they are accustomed, and while such an arrangement might make the team better depending on who is brought in, if no one is made available to fill those roles Villa will need to change course. Wait too long and that change of course might not be possible.
I don't mean to sound as though I am predicting gloom and doom, as that is certainly not my intention. I just feel as though it is important to realize what the team is up against should they aim to improve or even hold steady in the coming season. This needs to get wrapped up, no matter what the outcome, and it needs to have been wrapped up weeks ago.