By David Michael

 

The week began with the alarm bells ringing. Aston Villa had just been beaten 5-0 by Manchester City, were in the relegation zone with their worse ever Premiership start, and their record signing Darren Bent, who’s goals had saved them from the drop in the past couple of seasons, looked like he was heading out the door as soon as the January transfer window sprung open. Despite the circumstances, the majority of Villa fans remained positive. The young team were showing signs of improving fast, there was still the placebo of a League Cup run, and Lambert was playing a long-term game that the fans were starting to get. In short, things could only get better…and hopefully so, with three games within a week.

 

Villa in the relegation zone…are you kidding me?

Villa’s point against Arsenal, prevented a third successive defeat, which despite the caliber of opposition would have been a tough pill to take, and would have jolted the confidence of the young Villa team still looking to gain some traction in the season. Now after a tough three games (United, City, Arsenal) of deep end learning,  it’s akin to the spark plugs being put on a car engine after a few tweaks and adjustments have been made. The next couple games will see if the engine fires up.

In terms of the team’s confidence, Reading is perhaps the most important game of the season yet and the archetypical six-pointer. Villa need to start putting daylight between themselves and the relegation zone fast. Avoiding defeat at QPR at the weekend is also essential, and to be honest, if Villa want to achieve their first back-to-back wins since May 2011, now is the time. Wins in the next two games would go along way to neutralising the relegation threat in the short-term.

There’s a triple whammy of Chelsea, Spurs and Liverpool to come, so points in the next three games are essential for confidence going into those games and to begin 2013 with new hope after the annus horribilis of 2012.

The Darren Bent situation is now officially interesting.

Eyes normally glaze over when Bent is once again  linked to Liverpool, as per every transfer window. But if Bent is missing from the squad against Reading, then it’s ‘defcon one’ in terms of his Villa future.

Is there an add-on fee that will cost Villa a few million if he plays before January? Bent signed for £18 million plus add-ons up to £24 million. If Bent is earmarked to go in January then, if they could save the club a few million, you can see the business logic at least. But the damage that could be done by then to Villa’s chances of Premiership survival, if matters on the pitch are not satisfactory, would be more costly.

Is it likely a transfer has been teed up? Hard to say. The perpetual Liverpool link has twisted this time into a loan deal, since a) they haven’t got the cash to buy outright, b) yet need some quality support alongside Suarez. Then there’s QPR, who have been pushed forward by their press due to their money and the Rednapp factor. There’s obviously some beef between Bent and Lambert, despite what Lambert tells the press. You just have to see where Bent’s celebration of his last goal for Villa was directed. Lambert constantly using the phrase ‘what’s best for Aston Villa’ when answering Bent questions is a bit unnerving. Does he mean financially best?

 

Darren Bent used to be Villa’s No.1 up front, now he’s struggling to even be No.4

 

Bent, 28, while he has a journey reputation, has bagged over 100 Premiership goals and has scored a decent 20 goals in 43 Premier League starts for Aston Villa. This record also has been managed in decidingly average Villa teams and constantly interrupted by injury.

Bent is contracted to Villa until the summer of 2015, so fans were expecting at least another season out of him. The potential pairing of Bent and Benteke to most would be seen as a dream ticket, and would give any defense something to think about. Lambert though, with an evident weakness in the middle of the park in terms of experience of personnel has adapted a 4-2-3-1 formation to counter it. In such a formation Bent is deemed a luxury, with Benteke’s hold-up play essential to the function of the formation.

If Bent’s future hasn’t been decided yet, then the purchase of an experienced ball-winning midfielder would help matters and provide a spine to the team to allow the partnership of Benteke and Bent to exist and hopefully flourish.

It’s arguable that if Bent came to Villa a season or two earlier to Villa, he would have been the missing link for a Champion’s League place for Villa. Villa have been crying out for a  proper 20-league- goals-a -season striker since Dwlight Yorke. Apart from one decent season from Juan Pablo Angel, a reliable target men have been an anomaly at Villa Park.  At the moment, Villa are blessed up front with their striking quartet, the team’s strongest area, that needs midfield strengthening to unlock it’s full potential.

It’s an important week. If Villa stutter further, then there’s no doubt that if Bent’s agent hasn’t already found his client a new club, he will do asap… like a rat deserting a sinking ship.

It was Bent’s arrival to Villa that changed a lot of Villa fans perceptions of Gerard Houllier and brought the Villa boss time (until he squandered it with his FA Cup team selection against Manchester City). If Lambert discards Bent in Villa’s time of need, Villa fans perception of their manager will change again, but this time for the worse.

 

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