Considering Jlloyd Samuel played in all of Aston Villa's Premiership games last season and earned a call-up to the England squad in the process, the left-back was always going to have a hard act to follow this term.

The 23-year-old remains a regular in David O'Leary's side but, by his own admission, has struggled to recapture his impressive form from last season.

A combination of a nagging shoulder injury, loss of confidence, no real competition for his place and supporters' expectation has affected the former Charlton Athletic apprentice.

But there were signs in Villa's excellent 3-0 victory at Newcastle United last Saturday that Samuel is close to recapturing his best form once again.

The Trinidad-born player was steadfast in defence at St James' Park, where the hosts exerted a lot of early pressure, and rampaged forward to good effect whenever he got the chance.

Consequently, O'Leary believes Samuel is close to regaining his best form and says the defender will be a better player for his recent experience.

The Villa manager said: "I don't think Jlloyd has been the same as last year and been able to meet those standards.

"But I think Jlloyd will be a top player for this club when he goes through the learning process of coping with how to deal with expectation.

"He set some decent standards last season and he'll come through a better player for his experience this term."

Samuel is set to make his 32nd appearance of the campaign at home to West Bromwich Albion on Sunday.

And Samuel says everyone in the team will have to perform well in their remaining seven matches this season otherwise they could be replaced in the summer as O'Leary has been given £20 million to spend on new players.

Samuel said: "When you're at a big club like Villa, you always feel like you are having to prove yourself, and I feel like that whenever I go out onto the pitch.

"I'm always playing for my future and am always under pressure to perform. With a budget like the manager has got now, many places could be under threat."

O'Leary, who hopes to give Gavin McCann his first run out in the reserves tonight after cartilage surgery in January, should know by now what positions he needs to strengthen.

With Carlton Cole set to return to Chelsea, a new striker is a priority but O'Leary also needs a replacement for Thomas Hitzlsperger.

The 23-year-old German international is returning to his native country in the summer after agreeing a two-year deal with VfB Stuttgart because he didn't feel he got a "fair chance" from O'Leary.

Hitzlsperger said: "The manager told me that he couldn't guarantee me firstteam football and I said 'I know that' and that you do not get that anywhere.

"But I told him I wanted a fair chance. I feel I have always given everything and yet when the slightest thing went wrong it seemed to be me who paid the price - like the recent game against Everton when I thought it was unfair to drop me.

"I know I didn't play well but neither did other players and yet it was me who found myself out of the side for two games. I wasn't asking for a guaranteed place, I was asking for a fair chance - I don't think I got that."