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Assessing Aston Villa's 2016-17 squad with a depth chart

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New manager Roberto Di Matteo will be getting to know his squad ahead of the season. We compiled a depth chart from the knowledge we have from watching these players in the past.

Lars Baron/Getty Images

With preseason matches starting on the 16th of July (yes, there are two of them that day), there isn't a lot of time for Aston Villa manager Roberto Di Matteo to determine the initial starting elevens he will roll out to kick off his tenure in Birmingham.

Wednesday was Aston Villa's first day of preseason training, and our Elis Sanford recapped it. While we saw how the players performed in roles under various managers in previous seasons, it's possible that Di Matteo may wish to use them in a different way.

One of those players is Jordan Ayew, apparently happy to stick around. Does that mean that no teams have bid for him yet, or is he actually glad to be in B6? Whatever the case may be, he certainly should be in the new manager's plans. Ayew was frequently deployed on the wing last season (14/30 matches), but just two of his goals came in those games. The other five Ayew scored when used as a centre forward. Additionally, he failed to provide a single assist in league play, though he did notch one in the EFL Cup (League Cup). That paltry assist ratio of 1:36 is significantly worse than his career average of an assist just over every nine matches across all competitions (his strike rate last season of 7:30 (23%) is in line with his career average of 47/234, or ~20%).

Therefore, now that we've determined Ayew should be playing up top, we have to decide if he should start over the other choices. If Di Matteo goes with a single-striker formation, the choice is really just Ayew or Rudy Gestede. For Gestede to score, he needs service. Fortunately for him, Jordan Amavi is coming back and will be the starting left back. He'll provide the service. I prefer Ayew by a slight degree over Gestede in most situations, but he certainly will see a lot of playing time, particularly if Villa employ a two-striker formation.

Sticking with attackers, both wings are interesting. Adama Traoré is the only true right winger, although Carles Gil can play there (if he stays). On the left, there figures to be a battle between Jack Grealish and Scott Sinclair for the starting spot. Please don't play Ayew there, Mr Di Matteo.

Problems could be posed if it's a standard 4-2-3-1 with two holding midfielders, as there's a glaring hole in attacking midfield. Villa have desperately needed a playmaker that can link the phases of play by providing service in transition. Again, Gil is an option here, but Grealish may be the best option. However, if RDM elects to go with Jordan Veretout, it could work. This probably wouldn't be a traditional number ten role, but further back to play closer to the two defensive midfielders.

Should Idrissa Gana Gueye fail to fetch a fair transfer fee, he'll be one of the first names on the teamsheet. Ashley Westwood and Carlos Sánchez should both excel in this role, albeit in different ways, in Villa's quest for promotion back to the Premier League. Jordan Lyden figures to see some action, and if played slightly further forward than a traditional number six, Gary Gardner could as well. Veretout is a great utility man to have, he could be functional in this role.

The centre of defence is a relative unknown. Any of the six candidates could win the job, and Sánchez can provide cover if necessary. Depending on if Di Matteo sees Micah Richards as a right back or not, that could help to clear the picture up. Nathan Baker gained valuable experience last season in the Football League Championship, and honestly could win a starting role. New signing Tommy Elphick played every single game for Bournemouth when the Cherries won the 2014-15 title in England's second tier, and only missed 27 minutes of league action. Jores Okore should be one of the two preferred starters, but who knows for sure? Joleon Lescott and Ciaran Clark could also make the starting job theirs.

Right back has considerable depth, with three players capable of playing there. Alan Hutton or Leandro Bacuna stand a fair chance of winning a place in the XI.

The aforementioned Jordan Amavi is a cert at left back. Joe Bennett could see time during cup matches and during busy periods, and Baker and Bacuna can fill in should an injury occur.

Between the sticks, it seems like Aston Villa are stuck with Brad Guzan until further notice. Mark Bunn and Jed Steer are nothing more than backups.

Possible starting lineup (4-2-3-1 double 6):

Image via LineupBuilder.com

Here's how it breaks down. Note that I didn't take into account players that Di Matteo may choose from the academy.

*Question marks denote players likely to depart the club, (s) indicates secondary position.

Goalkeeper: Brad Guzan (?), Mark Bunn, Jed Steer

Right Back: Micah Richards, Alan Hutton, Leandro Bacuna

Centre Back (2): Jores Okore, Tommy Elphick, Micah Richards (s), Nathan Baker, Ciaran Clark, Joleon Lescott, Carlos Sánchez (s)

Left Back: Jordan Amavi, Joe Bennett, Nathan Baker (s), Leandro Bacuna (s)

Defensive Midfield (2): Idrissa Gana Gueye (?), Ashley Westwood, Carlos Sánchez, Jordan Lyden, Jordan Veretout (s), Gary Gardner (s)

Right Wing: Adama Traoré, Carles Gil (s,?) Leandro Bacuna (s), Scott Sinclair (s)

Attacking Midfield: Jack Grealish, Jordan Veretout, Carles Gil (?), Gary Gardner, Leandro Bacuna (s)

Left Wing: Scott Sinclair, Jack Grealish (s) Jordan Ayew (s), Gabby Agbonlahor (s)

Centre Forward: Jordan Ayew, Rudy Gestede, Gabby Agbonlahor, Callum Robinson, Libor Kozák (?)

How does the Villa XI look to you? Is more business in the transfer market needed? Let us know in the comments!

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