Villa's worst-case scenario: Can they survive?

Jamie McDonald

Can Aston Villa survive another relegation fight if the worst-case scenario happens this summer?

If Randy Lerner can't find a buyer for Aston Villa before the summer is out, any transfers would have to happen under his watch and with his money. We've heard that some funds will be made available to Paul Lambert, but what if that's not true? Would Aston Villa be able to survive next season if they were unable to bring in any new players this summer?

On yesterday's Holtecast, Jack and I discussed this very scenario. I made one small caveat for the debate: Villa wouldn't be able to bring in any players, but Lerner would give just enough to renew any contracts over the summer that needed it. In other words: Paul Lambert would have to work with exactly the same squad he had last year minus Ryan Bertrand and Grant Holt.

I thought this might be a fun interesting topic for a Friday, and I'm really eager to hear your thoughts in the comments below, so please chime in! That said, my thought is that yes, Paul Lambert could make this work again. 

With the form that they showed at the end of the season, Villa would have almost certainly been relegated this year. Nathan Baker was rapidly becoming one of the club's biggest liabilities, and it looked as if scoring was a concept totally foreign to these players (the Hull City match excepted). There is obvious need for improvement on the back line and even moreso in the midfield and attack. 

Luckily for Aston Villa, even if Randy Lerner doesn't invest a dime, they will have the equivalent of a £20 million summer when the season begins. Charles N'Zogbia (bought for £9.5 million), Jores Okore (£4.136 million) and Libor Kozak (£6.16 million) are all slated to return from injury by the first match. Even if we play with current values (as estimated by transfermarkt.co.uk) that is the equivalent of a £10 million inlay.

Okore is one of the most exciting young center-backs in football, and it's an absolute shame that his season was cut so short this year. Even if he isn't world-class, he will certainly be an improvement over Baker or Ciaran Clark. Libor Kozak, too, is no world-beater, but he was having a quietly solid season before he broke his leg. He can perform quite well in replacing Christian Benteke and a pairing of him with Andi Weimann as an actual honest-to-goodness striker is quite intriguing. I will admit that N'Zogbia is a giant question mark, but if he could play at some semblance of the potential he had when he came to Villa, it would be a massive boon to the club. 

And this ignores the massive "transfer" Villa will receive when Christian Benteke (bought for £7.74 million but currently valued at £16 million) returns from injury sometime after October. Benteke is clearly this club's best player, and his presence in the attack is vital to the team's success. Yes, he's already a Villan, but getting him back will be like a January signing come early this year.

A Villa squad featuring those four players–one that utilizes players like Nathan Baker and Karim El Ahmadi in substitute roles–is a significantly better one than what we saw at the end of the season. Villa suffered mightily from injuries last year, and at the risk of irking the gods of torn ligaments, the same seems statistically unlikely to happen again. 

There would, of course, be problems. First off, the irreplaceable Grant Holt. Ryan Bertrand did suffer a dip in form towards season's end, but he was still a better option at left back than either of Joe Bennett or Antonio Luna. Jack and I wondered on the podcast if, in compensation for not having a great LB, Aston Villa could transition to being a 3-in-the-back squad. It would hardly be ideal, and the options for the third CB role are a bit depressing (didn't we just imagine a scenario where Baker/Clark wouldn't be starting), but it could be a way to get the most out of a limited squad in certain situations. Outside of that, it could be hoped that Okore's better defending could make up for deficiencies in the LB position. 

Would Villa survive if they had no money this summer? It's hard to tell. But I think they would probably do it. A few key injuries would make life incredibly difficult, and I don't think it would ever be easy. Nevertheless, it's comforting to realize that the Villa side we saw at the end of the season is not the one we should expect come the first match of next season. The one that we will see then isn't much better, but even one extra win would've put Villa above the traditional 40-point mark. Keep this squad as it is, keep the key players relatively injury free, and it's pretty easy to imagine them scraping out another year of survival. It wouldn't be fun, but it very well could work. 

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