Aston Villa only secured their Premier League status in the final weeks last season and with no discernable change in transfer policy from owner Randy Lerner, Paul Lambert’s team look a big price at 13/2 for relegation this time out.
The former Norwich manager was brought in last summer to improve the Villans’ fortunes after Alex McLeish’s disastrous stint in charge left them two places above the relegation zone at the end of 2011/2012.
Lambert was given little support in the transfer market by Lerner as the blank cheques available to former bosses Martin O’Neill and Gerard Houllier – who spent around £20 million on misfit Darren Bent – were replaced by limited funds for young players with potential.
Christian Benteke has been a great success and while Joe Bennett and Ashley Westwood showed glimpses of talent, Villa could only improve by one place into 15th in a campaign fraught with cagey relegation battles.
Lambert may have unearthed another gem in the form of 20-year-old centre-back Jores Okore, who already has Champions League experience with Nordsjaelland and seven full caps for Denmark.
He has also brought some bodies into a small squad with forwards Aleksandar Tonev, Nicklas Helenius and Leandro Bacuna coming in from Lech Poznan, Aalborg and Groningen respectively, as well as keeper Jed Steer from Norwich and Spanish full-back Antonio Luna, all of whom are under 23.
This policy of buying potential may be Villa’s undoing, as the squad was already one of the league’s least experienced and bar Crystal Palace and Hull rivals for relegation are outspending Birmingham’s top side, with the £8 million Cardiff paid for Steven Caulker a little less than Lambert has spent altogether.
They have to go back into the market for an experienced midfielder to cover Fabian Delph, but with a nightmare opening set of fixtures away to Arsenal and Chelsea and at home against Liverpool capable of leaving them in trouble early, Benteke may have to repeat last year’s 19-goal haul to keep Villa in the division.