We're thoroughly into Aston Villa territory now as we continue our week-long series of roundtable previews. Today we're taking a look at Aston Villa's squad and their manager. As always, give us your answers in the comments!
Who do you think Villa's key player will be this season?
Aaron: Ron Vlaar. Villa's defense with Vlaar is mediocre, but without him it's a tire fire. Senderos is likely an improvement over Clark and Baker and if Okore performs as well as is hoped that's definitely going to improve things, but Vlaar is clearly the rock of the back line and without him at his best for any extended period of time Villa would be in real trouble.
Kirsten: Brad Guzan. Ok, maybe not the key, but he's perhaps even more important this season than last. With Jed Steer out on loan, that leaves Shay Given to take over if Guzan gets injured. When was the last time the 38-year-old played a competitive fixture? The idea of him mopping up after the defense's many mistakes is terrifying.
Robert: I think Andi Weimann may help determine the fortunes of this club. We know Benteke will score, and while he in reality will probably be Villa's key player, I think that if Andi is scoring too we'll be okay. If he isn't, we proved last year that this isn't a team that can get by on just their Belgian striker.
Andrew: I think it's Benteke. They'll have to tread water while he's out but when he's in the lineup the possibility for a goal from nothing always exists. No other player gives Villa that kind of threat. He can do almost everything and he will have to keep Villa up and he'll be motivated to do so.
Matt: Christian Benteke. I'm convinced that if he wasn't hurt in the stretch run of last season, that Villa would have been out of the running for relegation way earlier than they were. There are certainly others (Vlaar, Delph, etc) that are hugely important, but without Benteke, Villa have almost no outlet to score.
Jack: Fabian Delph. He made a massive impact last year, and finally stayed healthy as well. If he can improve from last year the midfield may actually be decent. He will need some help in the midfield, so if Ashley Westwood or Gary Gardner can be reliable, we will see Delph able to make an impact all over the pitch.
Alex: Charles N'Zogbia. I've been big on Villa's number 28 this preseason and think that his ability to break opponents down and create chances going forward will be vital. Joe Cole's going to get hurt a lot and you can't put too much of a burden on someone who's 18. He's looked good so far early on-both in linking up with strikers and in scoring directly from free kicks-and he should hopefully be able to take some of that load off the strikers. After all, there's still a reason he cost £10 million.
Thomas: Charles N'Zogbia.Villa's lack of options in attacking midfield last season was a huge issue, with Marc Albrighton having to do it all himself. If N'Zogbia can find form, which he seems to have done in pre-season, he could be a big player for us this season. He can make something from nothing and break down a defence, so particularly home games he could be the key.
What does Paul Lambert need to do in order to avoid the sack?
Aaron: Assuming the ownership situation doesn't change, I think being out of the relegation battle by Christmas would do it. It might not even take that much, given how nasty the first few months of fixtures are. I really get the sense that Lerner doesn't want to sack him. But if a new owner takes over, his leash gets exponentially shorter.
Kirsten: Some luck with the players he's brought in on free transfers. Lambert was known as a manager who could get the best out of youngsters with little experience, but the last two seasons didn't back up that assumption. If he can't provide results with players oozing Premier League Experience, he's gotta go.
Robert: Given the fact that Randy Lerner is so busy trying to sell the club that he doesn't care about what happens on the pitch, I imagine that Lambert is safe so long as he's out of the actual drop zone by February. That's not asking a lot, and I think Lambert can deliver.
Andrew: I think while you can very easily make a strong case for sacking Lambert at any point over the last year or so we're probably lucky he's been willing to stay on through this painful and possibly neverending new owner search. Lambert will get to try and obtain a respectable league position with a healthy Christian Benteke, whenever he comes back. If Benteke's presence isnt enough to keep Villa ahead of the drop zone I think you could see Lambert go in the winter. Lambert just has to do what he's been doing to avoid the sack which frankly isn't much.
Matt: Have it so Villa aren't a huge sack of terribleness. After the end of last season and what's happened in the off-season, that's what I'd be happy with. I'm kind of expecting Villa to be in the relegation battle for at least a portion of next, so if he can keep Villa's head above water for the rest of that, I think he'll be fine.
Jack: With under a year left on his contract, I doubt Lambert gets axed unless Villa are stuck in the bottom three for a considerable period of time. He also needs to win the games that the team should be winning at Villa Park. Is hoping for a cup run too much to ask?
Alex: Not be rooted to the bottom of the table come New Year's Day. Villa will want to stick with continuity and the only way I see Lambert getting the sack is if the team absolutely tanks during the 11-match stretch that sees them play Palace twice, Leicester twice, and Burnley with just one probably-can't-win match, that against Manchester United.
Thomas: Very little to be honest. Unless we're in the relegation zone for a long period of time, his job is safe for the season. I highly doubt his contract will be renewed though and any potential new owners will surely look elsewhere.