One Word - Brad Friedel
Last season was a rollercoaster ride to be enjoyed by all. We had some great wins - beating Chelsea, Birmingham City, Derby County and Newcastle along the way, as well some disappointing results including the embarrassing 4-4 against Tottenham.
But what has changed? Why are Aston Villa riding so high in the league?
One word - Brad Friedel
Granted we have Martin O'Neill who has masterminded some great results and upsets over the last two and a half years. But Thomas Sorensen and Scott Carson both made mistakes that cost Villa games in O'Neill's first two seasons at the helm.
Around February 2008 it became increasingly evident that Villa would not look to sign Scott 'Frank' Carson on a permanent basis and much debate was had here on Vital Villa as to who we would like to see between the sticks, names such as Ben Foster, Chris Kirkland, Jussi Jääskeläinen, Carlo Cudicini and Boaz Myhill were thrown around, among others.
For me I remember being stood in the pub watching Blackburn Rovers play Manchester United in April 2008, and Brad Friedel was amazing making save after save, it was the best goalkeeping performance I had seen in my life, I turned to my friend and said 'I would love him at Villa'.
I was more excited when we signed him than I had been about any signing for a long time. I was at the Madjeski Stadium for his debut against Reading in a pre-season friendly. A few games into the season though I did start to think that maybe Friedel was past it, but since about October he has been incredible.
He commands his area, he is as solid as any keeper to have plied their trade in the Premiership, I do however feel given his age that Friedel may be somewhat of a stop gap, but what a stop gap he is!!!!
Having a top keeper between the sticks (something I would argue Villa haven`t had since Mark Bosnich left ten years ago) fills the defence with confidence, which in turn helps the rest of the team. The belief that if a mistake is made Friedel will be there to cover it, is a relief to a defence that had a shaky young lad in Carson behind them last year.
As for Brad Guzan, I cannot think of a better player for him to train alongside than Brad Friedel and if he can become half player Friedel is, then Guzan will become a very good keeper indeed.