Aston Villa are a club in limbo in more ways than one. With Randy Lerner having put the Midlands outfit up for sale and seemingly no nearer to securing a buyer, the transfer window gone by was somewhat of a curious one and it's fair to say the supporters still don't really know what to expect. Many fans had turned on the American owner and were relieved at his decision to step aside. It speaks volumes that Lerner, despite facing his fair share of criticism, felt it right to make money available to Paul Lambert as the window drew to a close.
The early incomings at Villa Park were largely ridiculed but after three matches a number of those have made a real impact, along with some of those that had been previously cut adrift. The later additions of Carlos Sanchez and Tom Cleverley were certainly more eye-catching, adding options to an area where Villa could be labelled a little one-dimensional.
Ashley Westwood and newly-capped England international Fabian Delph were two of the players that the majority of fans didn't feel needed replacing but along with Karim El Ahmadi, who has since returned to Feyenoord, they comprised a lightweight midfield. The arrival of Carlos 'The Rock' Sanchez was warmly welcomed due to the physical presence he can add to the midfield more than anything.
The side has been much changed in the opening three games of the season, with new signings Philippe Senderos, Aly Cissokho and Kieran Richardson starting every game along with Alan Hutton and Charles N'Zogbia, neither of whom kicked a ball for Villa last season. The fact that they have been so much more organised has been a surprise then, with the joint best defensive record in the league having only conceded courtesy of a set piece against Hull.
It's this defensive resolve that saw Villa enter the international break up in third. While their seven point tally is impressive anything less than six from the opening three games would have been a worry given the unenviable run of fixtures they now face. Paul Lambert's side tackle Liverpool next in the first of a string of games in which they face each of last season's top five. If they had seven points after eight games it wouldn't exactly be a surprise.
Their defence has got them to that points total but will be put to the test in the coming weeks. Villa's success in holding opponents at bay thus far - with only four sides conceding fewer shots on target (9) - has actually masked the fact that there has been very little change in the style of play that the fans have grown so tired of.
Villa's three goals have come from a league low of five shots on target. Only two teams have had fewer shots in total (28) and only three have averaged less possession (41.1%) and a lower pass accuracy (74.8%), despite the fact that the Midlands outfit haven't faced a side from last season's top 8 as of yet. Their problems on the ball persist but with Christian Benteke potentially in line for a return by the start of October there is still reason for optimism.
The pressing issue at present will be thrashing out new contracts for stars of the present Delph and Vlaar, and of the future in Jack Grealish. The teenager had his first taste of competitive action at Villa Park in the most recent victory over Hull and was given somewhat of a 'frosty' reception by the opposition, who seemed to view the youngster's penchant for wearing the smallest shin pads known to man as some form of target practice. Grealish had just seven touches of the ball and was fouled four times, three of which heralded a yellow card for the guilty party, though all four were perhaps worthy of as much.
Villa's faithful are desperate to see the 19-year-old get more playing time having lacked a spark in the final third for too long. There's been a lack of excitement surrounding the club but Grealish's potential is creating a buzz perhaps last matched by the emergence of Gabby Agbonlahor, who has gone on to become Villa's longest serving player, recently signing a new four-year deal.
Whether the current positivity can be maintained after the next five league matches is up for debate but Villa clearly set about picking up the points required in anticipation of this nightmare run. It's something they must do throughout the season when facing 'beatable' opposition and an area in which they failed drastically last term, with sock victories over Arsenal, City and Chelsea ensuring their survival in an otherwise stagnant campaign. The early turnaround in that respect is encouraging but the feel good factor never seems to linger in B16 for too long nowadays.
The added numbers from last season do at least give them alternatives. One of the main issues last season was a lack of plan B. Underperformers were never really at risk of losing their place. The fact that the likes of Andreas Weimann and Agbonlahor have looked brighter at the start of the current campaign is perhaps borne out of a realisation that Lambert has senior options at his disposal. He's fielded 10 players over the age of 25 already this season having fielded just 5 over the entirety of the previous campaign.
The 'project' that the Scot embarked upon when he joined the club has been all but ditched. The recognition that as much was a requisite may well save his skin.