With the 19 league game mark reached for Aston Villa this season, MOMS’ Scott Smith takes a detailed look at the Villa season so far at the half-way point, and assesses the performance of the Aston Villa squad player-by-player.

 

By Scott Smith

 

Season in a Nutshell

 

Five Highs

1) The League Cup run

2) Excellent win away at Liverpool

3) Beating Martin O’Neill

4) Christian Benteke

5) Progression of the young players


Five Lows

1) Poor start to the season

2) League position and goal difference (after last two games)

3) The Darren Bent scenario

4) The lack of contribution from the high earners

5) Dropping too many home points.

 

League Half-season Rating: 6/10

 

Cup Half-season Rating: 10/10

 

The Players

 

Defence

 

There’s a new captain in town

Brad Guzan

What a revelation the American has been, after leaving the club in the summer because we did not wish to renew his contract, the vision of Paul Lambert to re-sign Guzan and thrust him into action after some below par performances has been remarkable and definitely one of the success stories of the season up to now.

 

Positive Contributions: Consistently solid performances and such a commanding presence back there, making some vital saves at crucial times this season.

 

Concerns: His distribution at times has not been the best, but hey the best goalkeeper we had in the Premier League wasn’t the greatest kicker but an unbelievable shot stopper. We will see how he holds up during the business end of the season if we are really under pressure as it does not appear to be a situation he has been faced with before.

 

Half Season Rating: 9/10

 

Shay Given

Awesome last season in his debut season for the Villa, but suffered numerous injuries which unquestionably affected him during the Euro 2012 tournament and has shown little signs of shaking it off this season.  Had a terrible game at home to Everton and subsequently lost his place.

 

Positive Contributions: Has been decent in the cup run we have had.  Although he had a shaky game at times at Norwich, he did make a couple of superb saves.  His experience going in to the business end of the season will be vital for the younger players and will provide competition for Brad Guzan.

 

Concerns: Given is an experienced campaigner so no real concerns to be quite honest, but if he is rarely playing and has a few niggling injuries, we just have to hope that he does not suffer from lack of playing time if he does have to deputise for Guzan, as there signs of rustiness on Tuesday evening.

 

Half Season Rating: 4/10

 

Erik Lichaj

Another one of the young lads that have progressed through the youth system and has often played out of position.


Positive Contributions: Long throw! Apart from the long throw I would say he has a good engine and a very forward thinking nature, looks to get forward as often as he can which in the formation he plays is a good thing. He has created a couple of goals this season so he does have quality in the final third but is often disappointing.

 

Concerns: Very inconsistent.  His marking from set pieces is generally poor, often lets his man get in front of him, and can be very frustrating.  I am not sure he is the answer as a left back, maybe if we see him in at right back he could shine a bit more.  My view of him will obviously be clouded by the fact that 1) he is playing out of position, and 2) we are comparing him to what we had last season.

 

Half Season Rating: 6/10

 

Matthew Lowton

Good signing by Paul Lambert as Lowton has shown his versatility and has been recognised by a lot of fans for his performances so far this season.


Positive Contributions: Another full back with a good engine and looks to get forward as often as he can with a decent delivery at the end. Has shown good defensive ability especially in one-on-one situations.  The fact he has had to play in a number of positions and has done so admirably is a good thing for the club.

 

Concerns: The same with all the young players, will he burn out as the season goes on especially playing in a very demanding wing back role.  He is improving game by game as earlier in the season switched off a lot with a ball played inside him (most notably Southampton away) but I can see him going from strength to strength.

 

Half Season Rating: 8.5/10

 

Joe Bennett

Disappointing up to now as Bennett came to us with a good reputation but so far has had a frustrating start to his Villa career, but definitely has the talent to improve.


Positive Contributions: Has a good turn of pace and a good engine which seems to be what Lambert looks for in a full back.  Likes to get forward a lot and is decent defensively.

 

Concerns: Already in his Villa career, he has been sent off needlessly, and has struggled with injury.  This season may be one he has to write off as a lesson learnt in his progression, and we may need to bed him into the team over time to get the best out of him.  So going to base my rating off the contribution he has given to the team up to now and not his potential.


Half Season Rating: 5/10


Nathan Baker

Baker always looked like a promising player from the moment he stepped in to the first team.  When he arrived on the first team scene he was often described as rash, but he has added a bit more discipline to his game and is improving all the time. My rating will be based on the 19 game period which unfortunately we have not seen enough but the contributions he has made has been exceptional.

 

Positive Contributions: His recovery positions are very good in getting around on the cover and making last ditch tackles or blocks.  Very passionate and puts his body on the line and looks to play out from the back.  His strength, decent ariel ability and decent acceleration has really made him excel at times in the Villa side.

 

Concerns: Seems to pick up a few injuries which see him out the side for a while but hopefully those days are behind him.  His decision making at times has put Villa in trouble, but he is young and not had a consistent run in the team until recently so it will improve and has already shown signs of doing so.

 

Half Season Rating: 8/10

 

Ciaran Clark

I am probably going to upset people with my assessment of Clark which until the last 5 games would have been a lot lower than what I am giving him.  Has been a squad player for a number of seasons and has progressed despite not having a regular run in the team in his correct position until this season.

 

Positive Contributions: Composure in playing out from the back, and when he is on form he is very good defensively.  The ability to get on the end of set pieces in the attacking box is always a useful asset and will make him a crowd favourite if he can add goals to his game this season.


Concerns: Inconsistency, which I might add has improved in the last 5 games.  Before hand it would be a case of what Clark is going to turn up.  He would give away needless free kicks where there is no danger or no need to foul the player, and was guilty of it in the Stoke game, luckily a free kick had already been given otherwise he could have been giving his marching orders again.  One thing that has always concerned me is his ability to judge the flight of a ball, and has often got caught with balls over his head both from wide areas and long balls over his head.  West Ham, Everton, and Man Utd to name just three.  He is improving though I will give him that.

 

Half Season rating: 7/10


Ron Vlaar

What a signing!  Vlaar typifies everything a Villa fan loves, strength, determination, passion, aggression and the ability to play.

 

Positive Contributions: Leadership, strength and passion stand out the most, combined with his ability to play out from the back.

 

Concerns: Not a concern as such just something we all hope to see, which is the big man adding goals to his game.

 

Half Season Rating: 8.5/10

 

Defensive Performance

 

We have looked very shaky at the back to start the season, which was understandable due to a whole new back line and pretty much a whole new side.  It has improved in the last few games and Lambert who has often been described as an attacking manager has recognised the need to improve and tighten up an inexperienced defence.


Positives: The 352/532 has really benefited the players defensively, and has seen a massive improvement in Baker and Clark’s game.  I think having a third man back there which will be Vlaar when he is fit is excellent, because both Baker and Clark are prone to the odd error, so the experienced Vlaar as the extra body back there will be beneficial to cover them and tighten up the back line.

 

Concerns: A lot of the times this season we have caved in under pressure, but have shown signs of improvement in the last few games.  I just hold concerns regarding the latter part of the season whether the added pressure will be too much for the young and inexperienced players in the side to handle.  I hope my concern is wrong.

 

Half Season Rating: 5/10

 

Midfield

 

Tidy is his middle name.

Karim El Ahmadi

Looked brilliant when he first arrived and the Norwich game is hopefully the start of the improvement we are going to see in our new signing.  He is blessed with great technical ability and could prove invaluable for us going forward.

 

Positive Contributions: His technical ability and ability to pick a pass is very important, providing he has players in front of him with the same mentality, otherwise it really nullifies his game.  He reads the game very well, and has a good engine which is what we need in there.

 

Concerns:  Discipline.  He is often giving away needless free kicks and picking up bookings.  Don’t get me wrong, I am a fan of “the good foul” BUT when it does us a favour, not when we have 7 players back there and the player is going nowhere.  His form has dropped, and has been very negative as the season has gone on.  We need the El Ahmadi that will drive us forward and possess the ability to dictate games.  Personally at this moment, his place is up for grabs unless he steps it up.

 

Half Season Rating: 6/10

 

Ashley Westwood

When we first signed him, I knew he had talent but always thought it was a risk considering the players he was going to be playing with.  After an awful start he has definitely made the position his own and has impressed fans with the way he has settled in.

 

Positive contributions: His ability to keep the ball, displaying great technical ability and a range of passing to portray a calming influence across the side.  The best is yet to come.

 

Concerns: Not with him personally, but I think we need to sign another midfielder to go alongside him as at the moment we do not see Westwood in the final third as often as we would like, as he does possess the quality to open up defences.

 

Half Season Rating: 8/10

 

Barry Bannan

A player who again has enormous ability and we are waiting for the Barry Bannan to emerge that we can acknowledge as the player we need.  So far we are yet to see that other than in glimpses.  Has had a steady start to the season

 

Positive Contributions: Similar style to Westwood in terms of his technical ability, looks to keep the ball and has a good variety of passing.  Quite tenacious for his size and can occasionally deliver a good set piece.

 

Concerns: Big concerns as this man has been around the first team for a few years now, and his off the field problems has often got him in trouble, but now it appears they are behind him for the time being we need to see the best of him.  We have in spells, but he will play superbly for one game then average or poor for four games.  This is a player that has played on the international scene so we need that consistency especially as he is getting a run in the side.  His final ball is often EXTREMELY frustrating, but can at times deliver a ball on a sixpence.  Another one that if we sign in January needs to up his game to hold his place.

 

Half Season Rating: 7/10

 

Stephen Ireland

The most creative player in the squad in terms of ability possessed, but has often failed to deliver.  This is a player that if he is going to remain at the club needs to get a regular run in the side and up his game.  In the last two games in particular it has shown that Ireland is going to find it hard to get back in the side unless he ups his game.

Positive Contributions: Ireland has that clever nature of picking out pockets of space between the lines of the opposition, and when he is on song links the game up extremely well and is a real goal threat with the ability to control a game.

 

Concerns: Touching on what I just mentioned, despite all that ability we do not see it, and his game is not the highest of tempos so he is often left out in favour of Holman who at the moment warrants that place.  We need the consistency in Ireland’s performances that makes him irreplaceable otherwise this could be his last season with the club.

 

Half Season Rating: 6/10

 

Brett Holman

A very experienced international player that brings energy to the side with a real eye. He has been a good signing and looks to be improving game by game.

 

Positive Contributions:  Energy!  The ability to get forward, and he has scored two crucial goals whilst creating a couple of others.  His ability to chase down and hurry opposition is working well for Villa at the moment.  Holman is another player like Ireland that finds himself in little pockets of space in the final third.

 

Concerns: Despite his energy, he often burns himself out after 60 minutes or so which is fine if we have a good replacement. If Norwich is anything to go by, then we do in N’Zogbia.  His final ball can often be inconsistent but is definitely improving and will hopefully go from strength to strength.

Half Season Rating: 7.5/10

 

Fabian Delph

I am not the biggest fan of Fabian Delph in terms of what he brings to the side.  However the cup performances away at Man City and Norwich are a real demonstration on the ability Delph has.  We have got to see more from him if he is to force his way in to the side on a regular basis.  I’m not sure what anybody else thinks, but I personally think he would make a better left back

 

Positive Contributions: Very tenacious and loves a tackle.  As I previously mentioned if we can see the Delph that we witnessed vs Man City and Norwich then we could be in for a treat, but in the time he has been with us, he has not produced it often enough.

 

Concerns: Are we ever going to see the best of Fabian Delph.  He has often been to negative in possession, choosing to play sideways and backwards when there is a far more productive pass going forward.  

Half Season Rating: 5/10

 

Chris Herd

A versatile player who has had a hit and miss season.  In my opinion a very limited player but makes up for it for his engine, work rate and passion.

Positive Contributions: He is far more assertive in my opinion as a full back and has done very well as a third centre back because he can play out from the back.  He is decent in the air but I would not want to see him back in central midfield position again as we need an improvement on what Herd can offer, but in fairness to the lad he has excelled in the back three.

 

Negative Contributions:  I personally I see him as a good utility player in the squad.  Will consistently give us 6/7 out of 10 every game but will rarely go beyond that.  Can’t really say nothing overly negative because he fills in and does a job when he plays and rarely lets us down.

 

Half Season Rating: 6/10

 

Marc Albrighton

What has happened to this guy.  When he first come on the scene he looked excellent, and an exciting prospect.  Where is the Marc Albrighton that we all put in our starting XI’s?  If we do not see a return to the form that put him in the first team squad, then his days are numbered at Villa Park.

 

Positive Contributions:  This season, hate to say it but nothing.  He has seen very little action and when he has it has been very disappointing.  Of course the length of time out of the side and lack of playing time will affect a player like Albrighton but if he is staying we need the Albrighton from a few seasons ago to return.

 

Concerns: Do we have time to safely give him a consistent run in the team? At the moment, no because there are better performers.  He has become very predictable for defenders to work out and has often been shut out the game.

 

Half Season Rating: 2/10

 

Charles N’Zogbia

I am going to base my rating off the entire season up to this point, which has been largely frustrating as we have not seen much of him.  The bits we have seen have been inconsistent from a player we need the best out of,


Positive Contributions: In the Norwich and Man City cup games he was awesome in the role he played and we need to see that from him in the remainder of the season.

 

Concerns:  His attitude, does he want to be a part of a team where he is not the start attraction with a regular starting place.  I am not so sure, but we need to get him consistently playing to the best of his ability.


Half Season Rating: 5/10

 

Midfield Performance

It has been a transitional period at Aston Villa so we have often seen the midfield take different shapes.  We definitely need extra quality in there at this moment in time, and the star attraction has been Ashley Westwood.  To get the best out of him we need extra quality with consistency and experience in there to be able to get him in the final third to affect the game more.  We are crying out for an extra creative player and ideally a wide player if the ones we have do not step their game up.  The introduction of Westwood has been a breath of fresh air, but over all I would say the midfield has got to control games more if we are to have any success this season.


Half Season Rating: 7/10

 

Strikers

 

Benteke, pretty much player of the year, so far

Darren Bent

A man that was purchased to score goals.  He did that when he arrived and kept us in the league.  With a fully fit Darren Bent last season for the whole season I am sure we would have been a slightly higher.  Darren Bent in a two man attack can work, Darren Bent by himself up front is a no go for Aston Villa.


Positive Contributions:He has scored a vital goal against West Brom, and has hit the back of the net on two other occasions.  Cannot say he has contributed a lot more other than a good display of his link up play for 20 mins against Swansea with Benteke.


Concerns:  Firstly, are we going to keep or sell him?  That is the question on everybody’s lips.  If we do keep him, we cannot use him as a sole striker for the obvious fact that Benteke contributes more.  Bent does not hold the ball up and is not dominant in the air which is what that role requires under Lambert.  The 532 formation has really opened a door for Bent to force his way into the side to link up with Benteke.


Half Season Rating: 5/10


Christian Benteke

What a signing.  He possesses everything that typifies what we need here at Aston Villa.  A centre forward that suits any type of formation, and an instant crowd favourite.


Positive Contributions:His beastly strength, combined his great technical ability, ability to link up play, run in behind and score goals.  A vital part of our side.


Concerns:Can we keep hold of him? Please let’s hope he does not get injured.


Half Season Rating:9/10


Andreas Weimann

This Player reminds me of Dirk Kuyt for the simple fact, that for large parts of the game you will look at him and think “what are you doing?” or “wow is he even playing?” then BAM GOAL!  A useful player to have, and can only improve.


Positive Contributions:  Natural finisher. Has scored crucial goals for the club both last season and this season.. Has a high work rate, not giving the opposition a minute’s peace, and has proven he can score goals from the wide areas.  He played his way in to the side with important contributions.  That knack of popping up with a goal out of nowhere is a good habit to have.


Concerns: Are we going to get a level of consistency from the player? I hope so.  My only real concern at the moment is will we get to see the best out of him because it is well documented we are in the market for a new striker.  His link up play was letting him down at times, but he has improved that dramatically over the last few weeks.  Fair play to the kid.


Half Season Rating: 7/10


Gabriel Agbonlahor

People will say “not enough goals” but what people fail to realise is the contribution Agbonlahor gives to the side.  Yes we want to see the Gabby from a few seasons ago, but we need to work out where he is best fitted into the system.  In a 532 formation he is very useful through the middle.


Positive Contributions: Used correctly his pace and strength can be unplayable at times.  IN the formation we are currently using his pace on the break can be vital to the way we play.  Scored some important goals in the cup and away at Sunderland.


Negative:Goals!  Yes we want to see Gabby score more goals, but if we use him properly his pace will always create goals.  His link up play has improved a little bit, but his consistency has to dramatically.  If we can get a fully fit Gabby firing off all cylinders on a consistent basis then we will be fine.  We need the Gabby that we saw alongside John Carew, it is the same recipe for success with a big target man, and the pace, strength and ability to grab goals alongside him. 


Half Season Rating: 7/10


Attacking Performance

The performances of Christian Benteke have been a revelation for us this season and with the emergence of Andreas Weimann who is adding goals to his hard working displays it is looking very encouraging.  The link up play is improving week by week.  If you asked me a week ago my rating for this section would be a lot lower than what I am giving now because we have often struggled to break teams down, but the last two performances have really been encouraging and a fluency in the side seems to be appearing.

 

Half season rating: 6/10


Team Performance

 

 

With the transitional period we have been going through and the changing of formations throughout the season we have found it difficult to add consistency in the attacking performances.   Paul Lambert has always been re-known for his attacking style of play, but unfortunately when he came to us we did not really possess the creative quality to match his style, which left us far too open at the back.  Fair play to Lambert he had adjusted the system to tighten up at the back and it looked like it was bringing the best out of the squad both defensively and offensively…until the young lions wilted against Chelsea and Spurs.

We seem a lot more comfortable away from home than we do at home, and my only concern here is as the season goes on when the home points become even more important will we be able to break teams down at home as we have struggled to so far.  Unquestionably the performances leading up to the Christmas nightmare were breath taking. So let’s hope we can pick-up this form again and manage to transfer this form to home games and put teams away like we should have against the likes of Stoke, Norwich, and West Brom at Villa Park.

 

PS – This report was initially submitted before the 12-goal Christmas bashing!

 

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