Tim Sherwood may have done most of his summer shopping abroad but when his new-look Aston Villa team step out against Manchester United, he will be looking to a player more familiar to English audiences to lead the way.
That man, Micah Richards, knows all about taking on United from his days wearing the light blue of Manchester City and Sherwood believes his new captain, signed on a free transfer, will have a big role to play not just against United, but over the season to come.
“It’s a great stage for him,” said the Villa manager. “He has been outstanding since he has been here, which is why he has the armband on. He has a good aura about him and the boys look up to him. He leads by example and he is vocal. He is not frightened to share his opinion with them as well.”
Richards, a Premier League winner with City in 2012, brings much needed experience, given that Villa lost the spine of last May’s FA Cup final team with the departures of Shay Given, Ron Vlaar, Fabian Delph and Christian Benteke.
The imminent arrival of teenage winger Adama Traoré for £7m from Barcelona will take their summer spending over the £50m mark, but of Sherwood’s 10 signings only three have Premier League experience. Hence Sherwood’s delight in bringing Richards to Birmingham, following the 27-year-old’s season on loan at Fiorentina. “If he can reproduce what we know he is capable of, we are getting him in his prime,” he added.
Villa Park has not witnessed a league victory over United since 1995 and the 3-1 win that led Alan Hansen to make his infamous observation that that season’s eventual Double winners could “win nothing with kids”. If the long, long wait is to end – in a fixture switched to Friday evening owing to an English Defence League march taking place in Walsall on Saturday – Sherwood may need to gamble on the fitness of new striker Rudi Gestede, a £6m recruit from Blackburn.
Sherwood joked that Rudy was a “good name” for a song, though it was the Benin international’s debut winner at Bournemouth that had the Villa fans in good voice last Saturday. The way he powered in the only goal after coming on as a substitute underlined why he has the record for most headed goals in English football over the last two seasons.
Gestede had a limited pre-season owing to injury but Sherwood might well be tempted to throw him in from the start. “He has that outstanding quality where you stick it in the box and he is going to put his head on it and cause defenders a lot of problems. [The fans] have taken to him and, hopefully, he is a hero for the future. He is more than a target man, though – he can pull people around and is quite cute with his movement.”
The fact Villa Park will be sold out suggests a new mood of optimism even if owner Randy Lerner’s attempted sale of the club drags on. Sherwood said he was grateful for Lerner’s backing – Villa’s net spend, when the Traoré deal goes through, will be around £15m – but he was wary of talking up their prospects after four seasons fighting relegation. “We sold a lot of players so we needed to replenish them and we brought in a lot of money. The owner has reinvested that in the squad. It’s too early to say whether it’s a better squad [because] we lost 42 per cent of our goals with one player [Benteke].” The Holte End will swiftly think otherwise if they can finally end the long wait to beat United.Reuse content