Stewart Downing has been charged with the task of wearing Gareth Barry’s prestigious shirt after the Aston Villa squad numbers for the new season were announced.
The England left winger, who is out of action for half of the season with a fractured foot, will wear the number six vacated by Barry following his move to Manchester City.
Martin Laursen’s number five is also available following his injury-enforced retirement, suggesting that manager Martin O’Neill is waiting to sign a new centre half to take the jersey.
New signings Habib Beye and Fabian Delph will wear 23 and 16 respectively while Marlon Harewood retains the number nine despite speculation that his days at Villa Park are numbered.
Marc Albrighton’s promotion to the number 12 jersey gives further credence to the teenager’s chances of being more heavily involved with the first team squad following an impressive pre-season.
Meanwhile, First Division championship and European Cup winning former favourite Ken McNaught has been impressed with Villa’s defence during the recent friendlies despite widespread concern that O’Neill lacks cover at the back.
McNaught cites the Peace Cup final shut-out against Juventus before Villa returned to Villa Park last weekend to stop another Serie A side, Fiorentina, from scoring.
“The clean sheets in the past two games have been great for Villa,” said McNaught.
“It’s as important for defenders to keep clean sheets as it is for strikers to score goals. We managed that against two massive clubs.
“The lads will have gained confidence from winning the Peace Cup too. That breeds confidence. Carlos Cuellar, Curtis Davies and Ciaran Clark will be very important this season. Without good, solid defending, you can’t even think about going forward.”
Along with Clarke, youth-team graduates Albrighton, Barry Bannan and Nathan Delfouneso have also caught McNaught’s eye and he believes an early taste of first team football could be the making of the young players.
“I think Villa have some really good kids coming through,” he added. “It looks great for the future. There’s a good blend here.
“They are going to get knocks. They will have drops in confidence and injuries and it’s a learning process for the kids to see how they handle that.”
O’Neill is confident that Stiliyan Petrov and Fabian Delph will overcome respective shoulder and foot problems to boost his midfield options for the commencement season at home to Wigan Athletic on Saturday.