It was a first pre-season under manager Steven Gerrard as he prepared for the new campaign with five new additions, notably the £26m acquisition of centre-back Diego Carlos and the free transfer swoop of Boubacar Kamara.
The former Rangers boss witnessed his side go unbeaten throughout the off-season as they thrashed EFL minnows Walsall 4-0 before picking up two wins and a draw over in Australia, including a win over top-flight rivals Leeds United, before ending the schedule with a win at Stade Rennes in France.
He’s now left with plenty of decisions to make heading into kickoff.
Much of the backline and engine room pretty much selects itself but in the attack, Gerrard has quite the conundrum, not at least in terms of starting striker and his wide options.
You’d imagine that Philippe Coutinho gets the nod in attacking midfield, given that Villa signed him permanently following a successful loan stint last season, whilst Ollie Watkins may well edge Danny Ings for that solitary spot up top.
However, it becomes rather murky on the flank.
Leon Bailey, who missed a large chunk of last season through injury following his £30m move from Bayer Leverkusen, may be fighting Emi Buendia for a place in the starting XI, with the pair likely to be ahead of Anwar El Ghazi and Bertrand Traore in the pecking order.
And it’s the Jamaican international who deserves to start, given his fine form throughout pre-season. The speedster delivered his third goal during the aforementioned clash with Rennes and that would have surely given Gerrard a timely reminder of what he can do in a Villa shirt.
“It feels amazing. I feel good, I trust my body more. This is what I’ve always wanted to do for the club, and I will always try and give 100% any time I get the chance to do so,” Bailey told VillaTV (via Birmingham Mail) after the game.
Buendia, meanwhile, was not involved against Rennes, which could be a telling sign in regards to Gerrard’s thinking. Normally, managers will deploy as close to their strongest starting XI in their final pre-season fixture, at least from the off.
The Argentine, according to FlashScore, has only provided one assist from his four 45-minute outings.
Therefore, Gerrard must turn to the 24-year-old, who scout Jacek Kiulig once dubbed as a “big talent,” for this weekend’s Premier League opener against the Cherries.
Bailey could be something of a secret weapon, given his lack of minutes last term, and that could stun the top-flight newcomers and help earn Villa a valuable three points to kickstart the campaign.
AND in other news, Aston Villa receive double boost ahead of Bournemouth clash…