Since the long overdue ejection of Randy Lerner from Villa Park fans of the club have been eager to see who the new regime would recruit to improve the teams fortunes on the pitch. Most areas of the pitch have seen improvement but one long standing question remains, who is the best choice for right-back?
It’s a dilemma that needs to be revisited, and after what feels like a generation of sub par options on the scrap heap, let’s take a closer look at the problem in more detail, and the potential candidates at the club.
What’s The Big Deal?
Some might feel (including Martin O’Neill) that the full-back role is not traditionally linked to the solid spine of a team and shouldn’t have a huge effect on overall results. That simply is not the case and in recent years it has become abundantly clear why the role has been such a hindrance to on field success.
The first priority is obviously the ability to defend. The centre of Aston Villa’s defence hasn’t always been rock solid in the last few seasons but even the best of central partnerships stands little chance. Villa have shipped goals as a result of teams getting in behind the defence from the left flank. A chain is only as strong as it’s weakest link, at the moment that link is on the right side.
As a full back the ability to support midfield and attack has become equally vital within the game. The way Villa set up tactically requires a forward-thinking nature from a full backs, and the persistence of square pegs in round holes down the wings has been a huge factor in Villa’s ineffectiveness at both ends.
Aston Villa regularly deploy a narrow two or three man midfield and have rarely had the opportunity or tendency to deploy out-and-out wingers. This places a huge importance on the role of wing backs who can get up and down the pitch and essentially provide all of the teams width, especially without traditional wide midfielders to plug the gap between the back and front.
Without defenders who can overlap on the flanks and provide decent deliveries into the box then our target men are wasted (e.g. Rudy Gestede), and the team becomes narrow and two dimensional. The balancing act comes in recovering and defending counters. Richards and Hutton often gallop forward only to be left for dead when the opponent hits us on the break.
So what options does RDM have at the club and how how last season’s candidates fared in nailing down the role as their own.
Alan Hutton isn’t afraid to get stuck into a challenge when required but quite simply lacks the technical ability required for the role. The Scot has no fear when it comes to venturing forward but quality delivery, consistency, and the ability to quickly regain position, are not in his skill set. Despite this Hutton has had spells as our best right-back over the last two seasons (not a very competitive category) however the former Rangers and Spurs man appears to be past his peak.
Micah Richards arrived at the club demanding to play centre-back. When that didn’t work out many of us comforted ourselves with thoughts that he would be more effective once he returned to the right side of defence. He reverted to his more familiar right-back berth but the results were more of the same.
Villa need a specialised player in that position and the last year has proven that Richards is not specialised in remaining in any position. The defenders constant ability to lose the players he should be marking cannot be forgiven. Ironically, Richards failures at centre-back were compounded by being left exposed by the players to his right.
Richards doubtlessly offers a physical presence and on his day is a towering presence in the air but poor positioning and concentration has made his Villa career to a date a disappointing one.
The failure of Leandro Bacuna to cement the role also comes from the lack of specialisation. Unfortunately the constant shifting of the Dutchman from position to position has left him as a utility man who never developed into being particularly solid in any of his many jobs across midfield and defence.
Bacuna rubbed many fans up the wrong way last term but has shown some spells of improvement in some Championship games. Early in his career Bacuna showed signs of being a dead ball specialist but his all round play and lack of specific position has made him a target for opposition wingers. He has probably been the best option of a bad bunch this term, but is that enough?
Ritchie De Laet
On arrival De Laet summed up his playing style. “On the pitch I’m a hard working defender who likes to bomb forward. I think one of my main strengths is my speed and I like to use that going forward but obviously don’t forget that I’m a defender first and foremost.”
De Laet is talking the talk but can he plug the significant hole in Villa’s right flank? The Belgian didn’t see much action while at Manchester United but was a part of promotion campaigns for Leicester and Middlesbrough. De Laet even collected a Premier League winners medal and definitely brings relevant experience to the role.
Cynics would rightly point out that there is a reason that the full-back has bounced between clubs and loan deals over the years. De Laet has a good attitude and decent pace but when it comes to defending he’s hardly Paul McGrath.
The assumption is that he’s been brought in as first choice, but will he make the step up where so many others have failed remains to be seen. Or will he instead join Crespo, Illori, and Useless Del La Cruz as another forgotten man?
Beyond those listed above the only other options are to throw in some unproven youth or to adapt yet another non specialised full back to the role, but shoehorning Jordan Lyden into the position, for example, would just further avoid resolving a longstanding flaw.
Did we get the right man in De Laet? Do one of the others deserve another chance or should RDM dip into the transfer market once again? Who is the answer to Villa’s right-back problems? Let us know your thoughts in the below poll.
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