LIVERPOOL, ENGLAND - APRIL 02: Leon Osman of Everton scores the opening goal during the Barclays Premier League match between Everton and Aston Villa at Goodison Park on April 2, 2011 in Liverpool, England. (Photo by Alex Livesey/Getty Images)
After a rousing win at home on Monday, Everton take their newfound optimism and brand of football to Aston Villa on Saturday. We spoke to the SB Nation blog 7500 To Holte regarding the team and changes they made during the offseason. For the uninitiated, Holte refers to Sir Thomas Holte, the owner of Aston Hall on the grounds of which Villa Park is located. Read on after the jump for responses from Aaron Campeau. We also answered some questions that Aaron had for us, click here to read them.
RBM - Villa fans must be very excited by the appointment of Paul Lambert. A defensive midfielder in his own time, the teams he has coached play attacking football, something that Alex McLeish seemed to know little about. What are your thoughts?
7500TH - I was quite happy with Lambert's appointment at the time it was made, and if anything I've become more optimistic the more I've listened to what he has to say and seen the way he's approached putting together his squad. The players he seems to be targeting are the kind of players I've been begging Villa to target for years, and he's been clear that scouting Europe is going to be made a priority. Lambert has been candid in his appraisal of the situation at Villa; this is going to take some time, but it's going to be done his way. Depending on the manager that can be either the most reassuring or most terrifying thing you'll ever hear, but in Lambert's case I think it's a very positive thing.
RBM - Moroccan international midfielder Karim El Ahmadi seems to be the solution for adding some steel to the midfield, much in Lambert's own mould. Who else did Villa pick up in the offseason?
7500TH - The other "big" signing was El Ahmadi's Feyenoord teammate (and former club captain) Ron Vlaar, a big central defender that looks to be an upgrade over James Collins and Richard Dunne. Brett Holman, an attacking midfielder that tends to play on the left, was signed on a free transfer by Alex McLeish; I think he's going to be a nice pickup, but he seems more well suited to being an impact sub/spot starter than a true first-choice player in an ideal world. Matthew Lowton, a 23-year-old right back from Sheffield United, was Lambert's second signing after El Ahmadi; he's still a bit raw, but he currently looks to have the upper hand over Eric Lichaj in the starting XI. If I'm reading between the lines correctly, I'd expect another two or three signings before the close of the transfer window, but it's exceedingly unlikely any of them will feature against Everton this weekend.
RBM - Speaking of the first game, one match a season does not make.. it will take Lambert some time to get his system up and running. Do you like what you have seen so far?
7500TH - I like the general direction the club is going and their new style of play is a breath of fresh air, but there are still some pretty glaring weaknesses in the squad. Darren Bent is not the kind of striker that creates his own chances, and the creativity that you'd hope would be provided by the likes of Holman, Stephen Ireland and Charles N'Zogbia was completely lacking. West Ham has a very good defense and they were (correctly) set up to cut off the supply to Bent, but there's nothing preventing other teams from taking the exact same approach. It's going to be significantly better than it was under McLeish, but this team is still a long way from a finished product.
RBM - What are your hopes for the season? Would you consider this year a wash as it's a rebuilding year, or do you think Villa will be in a position to contend for Europe?
7500TH - It depends on a few variables; what (if any) signings do Villa make before the window closes? How do the newcomers adapt to the Premier League? Can Stephen Ireland and Charles N'Zogbia fulfill their potential? If everything goes well, I think Villa could have an outside shot at qualifying for the Europa League. On the opposite side of the coin, there's still a fair bit of downside potential in this team and another relegation scrap isn't entirely out of the question (though it would surprise me a great deal more than a push for the top seven.) The most likely outcome, however, is somewhere right smack-dab in the middle of the table, in the 9th-12th range. And provided the rebuilding process is being handled as well as it seems, that's just fine by me.
RBM - How about your match predictions then?
7500TH - I was rather impressed with Everton on Monday night and I think they'll be knocking on the door of the Europa League (at least) all season, but I am (for now) pretty optimistic about this Villa team, especially at home in front of what should be a more supportive crowd than we've seen in the recent past. I'll go with a 1-1 draw, which I think would be a very nice result.