Injuries to key players can have very noticeable impacts on table at the end of the season. Staying injury free could easily be the difference between finishing as high as 11th or as low as 18th for a team like Aston Villa this season. Maybe it's not as important to stay completely injury-free but rather to see certain key players avoiding injuries. Looking at last season when Christian Benteke went down it was a big blow for the side, not just in terms of the side lacking a goalscoring threat, but psychologically as well because the team knew it.
Benteke won't be around for the start of the season, but there are a few other players that may be just as important as the Belgian hitman for this year's Villa team. Looking at the defense, we all know Brad Guzan did more than his share of work in keeping the club up last year, but when Ron Vlaar wasn't on the pitch it seemed the backline was just lacking something. Vlaar brings the leadership as captain from his position at centre back, but Villa may have another centre back who may be even better, we just haven't seen much of him. Jores Okore will start alongside Vlaar and will be instrumental to Villa's success this season, whether manager Paul Lambert decides to use two centre backs or three.
In midfield, the main issue last season was quality of depth. Fabian Delph had a breakout season and finally looked as if he has gotten over his injury problems of the past *knock on wood* and should be bringing more of his energy and quality this season. When a substitute had to be made though, and someone like Yacouba Sylla had to be relied on alongside either Karim El Ahmadi or Ashley Westwood, it frankly wasn't good enough. If Delph goes down, Villa will be in trouble.
Attacking-wise, Villa have a lot of depth, especially if Lambert goes with a one-striker formation. Darren Bent is back, and although Libor Kozák will miss the opener at Stoke, he should be available in the near future after recovering from a broken leg. With the return of Charles N'Zogbia and the arrival of Joe Cole, it looks as if Villa may have someone available to play a creative role this season. Let's be honest, we all expect Cole to get injured at some point, right? But seriously, if he can discover some of his old form and stay decently healthy, it could be a pretty good signing considering he was free. So far in preseason, N'Zogbia has looked a lot more like the player Villa bought from Wigan than the one they received. If he is able to sustain said form, and if other key pieces on this squad are able to stay healthy the whole season, we should see Villa finishing closer to 11th than 18th.