It is common knowledge that ahead of the 2014/15 Premier League season, Southampton became a popular bet to be relegated on account of many of their star players departing the club.
The spine was considered to have been taken out of the team because of the exits of Dejan Lovren, Luke Shaw, Calum Chambers, Adam Lallana and Rickie Lambert.
Ronald Koeman was tasked with the challenge of completing full-body surgery over that summer, with Fraser Forster taking over in goal, Toby Alderweireld brought in on loan to partner Jose Fonte at the heart of the defence, Ryan Bertrand replacing Shaw, Dusan Tadic tasked with taking over Lallana’s creativity and Graziano Pelle expected to provide the physical presence in attack vacated by Lambert.
Sadio Mane, Shane Long and Florin Gardos also arrived to flesh out the squad, but even though the surgery was a success in terms of stitching up the puncture wounds, concerns remained over how well the new parts would gel together.
What actually happened was that the new-look team exceeded the old, improving one place in the Premier League standings to seventh and collecting an additional four points across the season.
This season it is Aston Villa that are having the heart ripped out of their squad, with five of their May FA Cup final starters no longer with the club.
Goalkeeper Shay Given has joined Stoke, experienced central defender Ron Vlaar has left on a free after his contract expired, captain Fabian Delph has upset virtually every Villa supporter by the U-turn of his switch to Manchester City, the energetic Tom Cleverley picked Everton over Tim Sherwood’s men and star striker Christian Benteke has made the club a substantial sum through heading to Liverpool.
Based on this mass exodus and the fact Villa finished 17th last season, it is no surprise that they are well fancied to be relegated at 11/4.
However, much like Koeman 12 months ago, Sherwood is proving an adept surgeon in patching up his depleted and run-down squad.
Key to this operation has been the recent recruitment of Hendrik Almstadt into the role of sporting director, who is heavily involved in the club’s transfer strategy and has ample experience of working alongside Arsene Wenger at Arsenal.
This knowledge gained of the French market has been noticeable in Villa’s plan, in the same way Koeman used his extensive Dutch knowledge to rebuild Southampton.
Idrissa Gueye is regarded as a ready-made Delph replacement with similar characteristics, Jordan Amavi was perhaps the most exciting left-back in French football and Jordan Ayew is fairly similar to the Benteke that Villa signed from Genk in 2012 – an unpolished diamond with vast potential.
Jordan Veretout is next in line from Nantes and he can take on the Cleverley mantle, while bringing a little more creativity to the role.
Micah Richards has replaced Vlaar and cost no fee, versatile defender Jose Angel Crespo should prove an upgrade on Matt Lowton and Scott Sinclair brings a direct attacking option after showing glimpses of his former Swansea self in last season’s loan stint.
But Villa still aren’t finished.
At least one other striker is set to arrive, with Blackburn target man Rudy Gestede a solid capture if Sherwood intends to stick to the fairly direct style of last season. Emmanuel Adebayor is also consistently linked and he blossomed under Sherwood’s guidance at Tottenham previously.
Add in that Carles Gil should now be more settled and in tune with the demands of English football and that Libor Kozak is back fit after missing all of last season with a broken leg and Villa’s wounds might not be as bad as first feared.
From a betting perspective, the 1/4 on Villa staying up may prove easy money, while the 5/1 on a top-half finish and 8/1 on a return to the Martin O’Neill era of being in the top eight may not be completely outrageous suggestions.