Aston Villa will be in Group Six when the NextGen Series begins again, likely in August (though the NextGen website makes it difficult to tell). Last year, Villa topped their group on the way to a quarterfinal run in the competition that is essentially a U19 Champions League. The Series is in its second year, and the field has expanded from 16 to 24 teams, including the addition of Chelsea and Arsenal.
Joining Villa in Group Six are Celtic, Sporting Lisbon, and PSV Eindhoven. I know almost nothing about these teams' youth systems, so I can't comment on the quality of competition. Villa, however, field one of the best youth squads in England year-in and year-out. Last year's exciting performance, ended by a 1-2 defeat to Marseille in the quarterfinals, proved that the youth system is also one of the best in Europe. Despite the turmoil of last season, the performance of the young Villans in the NextGen Series was a point of pride for the club, and rightfully so. Gary Gardner brought himself to everyone's attention and practically demanded playing time for the first team by distinguishing himself in the tournament.
We can assume that Villa will be operating for the foreseeable future with fewer pounds to spend than we'd all like to see. If the club wishes to be competitive, they'll have to combine shrewd moves in the transfer market with excellent home-grown players. The NextGen Series allows a chance for some of Villa's young academy players to gain experience in a setting that is closer to significant competition than the EPL Reserve League. This is a great thing for the team to be involved in, and I'm really looking forward to seeing how the squad does this year.
(H/T to Ted over at The Short Fuse for alerting me to the draw.)