1. Two games in, a 4-1 goal differential, zero points, and red card. What gives for the shaky start? What do you think it'll take for Villa to turn it around?
1) Well, there are multiple explanations; the most obvious one is that Aston Villa doesn't have especially good players at the moment, and that's fair. But there's the added issue that Villa's entire squad has been built to play a very specific style, and that style is not favored by Paul Lambert. The good news for Villa is that the team has been stripped down to such a degree that it's largely composed of the most promising youth academy graduates, who are largely quite good; the bad news is that they have been in the youth system since Martin O'Neill was in charge, and seeing how he built the youth system very much in his own image, the majority of Villa's young players have spent their entire careers playing the kind of football favored by the current manager of Newcastle's great rivals. I think that there will, at some point, be some significant improvement because I think that a lot of these kids are legitimately good footballers, but it's going to take some time.
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2. You took care of Tranmere Rovers handily on Tuesday night. What are your thoughts on Villa's chances in either of the domestic cups this year. For a "lower mid-table" team, a good run in the cups could be huge. How do you think Pail Lambert's priorities shake out?
2) Well, we've now been drawn away against Manchester City for the third round of the League Cup, and I don't have a great deal of confidence there. That could be a blessing in disguise, honestly. I love a good cup run, but the League Cup's mid-week fixtures can cause serious issues for a squad as thin as Villa's. I fully expect to be bounced by City, and that's quite alright for this season despite how much I enjoy the League Cup. Hopefully the FA Cup will be a bit more kind, but frankly this season is about A) staying up and B) taking stock of what we have, so it would be hard for me to be too disappointed by an early exit.
3. Speaking of Lambert, what are your thoughts on the manager? Any parting thoughts or words for Mr. McLeish?
3) I'm a fan. I like his philosophy, his understanding of where the real value is on the transfer market, and his frank appraisal of Villa's current situation. As for my feelings regarding Alex McLeish, I believe that this sums things up quite nicely.
4. You did make some moves this summer, including bringing in two players from Feyenoord (the breeding ground of potential superstars Luc Castaignos and Ryo Miyaichi). How do you think Villa did this summer? Where is the squad at its strongest and weakest?
4) I really like the signing of Ron Vlaar, and I am absolutely in love with the signing of Karim El Ahmadi. Brett Holman was a McLeish signing, but I've got reasonably high hopes. Matthew Lowton was a bit risky but he looks a decent player, and Joe Bennett is in the same camp. I'm writing this the evening before the close of the transfer window so it's possible (likely even) that Villa have made additional moves, but just based on what's happened so far I'm feeling quite good. There are still some serious holes in this squad, but this strategy so far is one of the main reasons folks were so excited when Lambert was hired; he knows what kind of players he's looking for, and he's knows how to spot a bargain.
5) Well, we'll see. I like Darren Bent. He had impossibly high expectations, and after arriving at Villa in the January 2011 window he almost lived up to them. But last season was a disaster through minimal fault of his own (though the crankier elements of Villa's fanbase don't quite see things that way) and I'm quite skeptical that he's really the kind of center forward that Lambert would choose given his druthers. I understand what Lambet is trying to do by naming him as captain and I don't doubt Bent's commitment to the cause, but I'm skeptical about his long-term prospects with the club and I'd guess that he is as well.
6. What would constitute a "successful" season at Villa Park?
6) Survival, obviously. Signs of a move in the right direction. It's odd being in the kind of position that Villa currently occupy, because the order of the table is largely meaningless; Villa finished 9th in 2010-11, and there weren't a lot of people that felt real optimistic when all was said and done. I think most Villa fans recognize that this is a transitional season in every sense of he word; as long as Villa stay up and get some promising performances from Lambert's new signings, I think the majority of the fanbase would be quite pleased.
7. Finally, a prediction for the match?
7) I'm a big fan of what's going on with Newcastle, and the path you've taken is one I'd love to see Lambert look down. But we're still a year or two away at least, and I'm not expecting much. I'll say 3-1 to Newcastle.