Aston Villa's ultimate XI of the 21st Century - including big James Milner and Ollie Watkins calls
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Christmas is a time of reflection, for looking back over the past 12 months and assessing the good, the bad, and everything in between. For Aston Villa, however, there has been far more positive than negative.
Revitalised under Unai Emery, the Villans have hoisted themselves into contention not just for Champions League football, but potentially a Premier League title too. In fact, were it not for a stumble against Sheffield United at the weekend, they would have headed into Christmas at the very top of the table.
But while we're in the business of reminiscing, we thought we might as well take a look back a little further, all the way back to the turn of the millennium, in fact. And so, with that in mind, here is our very best combined Aston Villa XI of the 21st century so far...
It would be impossible to compile a team like this without including World Cup winner Emiliano Martinez. The Argentine has been an absolute revelation since arriving at Villa Park from Arsenal a few seasons ago, and his growth as a player has been nothing short of phenomenal. Not only does he boast holding the grandest prize in world football, but he has also been recognised by the illustrious Yashin Award for his international heroics.
A bargain buy from Cardiff City, Delaney would spend the best of the next decade at Villa Park impressing at right-back in his typically understated manner. A Welsh international to boot, the defender may not be the flashiest name in this XI, but he was popular nevertheless.
A virtual ever-present at one point, Mellberg impressed from his very first appearance in a Villa shirt, towering in a 0-0 draw against Tottenham Hotspur. Seven years and 263 appearances later he would sign a pre-contract agreement with Juventus, but not before etching himself into the hearts of the Villa faithful.
It took a little while for Laursen to get going at Villa, but what an impact he made when he finally did. After an injury-struck couple of years, the Dane really came to the fore during the 2007/08 campaign, scoring six goals from the heart of defence as Martin O'Neil's men finished sixth in the Premier League. Solid and classy in equal measure, the centre-back was appointed captain before a knee injury curtailed his progress in January 2009.
Who knows what Bouma could have achieved at Villa Park were it not for the cruel ankle dislocation that effectively ended his time in England. The Dutchman was a £3.5 million David O'Leary signing from PSV Eindhoven, and hugely endeared himself to Aston Villa supporters everywhere before suffering the devastating injury that would ultimately bring an abrupt stop to his time in England.
Super John McGinn - the word on the street is that he may or may not be better than Zidane. The popular Scot is the very definition of a midfield dynamo, and between his tireless worth ethic and the moment's magic he regularly produces, it is little wonder that he has established himself as such a key figure at Villa Park in recent years.
Nobody has played more Premier League matches than Gareth Barry, and there is a good reason for that. The midfielder was as assured a presence in the engine room as any club could reasonably wish for, and it is a further measure of his quality that upon leaving Villa he went on to win a top flight title with Manchester City.
An honourable mention to Bulgarian maestro Stiliyan Petrov, but Milner just pips him into our side here. The veteran midfielder really found his feet as a relative youngster at Villa Park, and his shift into the centre of the park during the 2009/10 campaign was nothing short of inspired. Twelve goals in that role helped catapult Villa up the table, and ultimately earned Milner a move to Manchester City.
The boy wonder who broke Villa hearts, Grealish is a local lad done good, who was nothing short of magical at various points during his stint in the Midlands. Eventually, the clamour from the top six became too strong and he would be sold to Manchester City, winning a treble with Pep Guardiola's men last season, but there is no denying that he was a special presence at Villa Park.
It can be easy to forget, given his struggles since, just how imperious Benteke was during his stint with Aston Villa. The Belgian was in many respects the complete centre-forward - lethally sharp, fiendishly clever, and irresistibly powerful. A stunning tally of 49 goals in 101 outings was enough to secure a doomed move to Liverpool, and to cement his status as a Villa Park hero.
And finally, we could have gone with Juan Pablo Angel, or perhaps even Ollie Watkins, but instead we have opted for Gabby Agbonlahor. To this day, still the club's all-time Premier League top goalscorer, the jet-heeled forward, with the exception of a couple of short loan spells, spent his entire career with Villa, and even earned three England caps between 2008 and 2009.