The Aston Villa School of Football: Half Time Report Cards
We are nearing the 19 game mark in the Premier League which signals only one thing: the halfway point. This is the stage where the big teams want to have lost no more than 2 games, and the sides at the bottom want to be on at least 20 points. As Villa fans, we convince ourselves we are a big team, but right now we are one of those looking above us rather than below. With that in mind, it’s time to assess our squad and give them their Christmas report cards to take back to their families so that they can either stick it on the fridge or throw it in the bin, depending on how they’ve done. Players are graded A-F on performance, with a little summarising scribble from the teacher. Mr Lambert is away today though so I will be distributing the dreaded report cards. Shay, you’re up son.
1.Shay Given – D
I think everyone thought the Irishman would be one of Villa’s most important players this year. Mr Consistent was culpable for a couple of mistakes early on in the season though, and lost the gloves to Guzan who has never looked back.
22.Brad Guzan – A
A natural transition between American goalkeepers called Brad was nearly foiled by Given, but now seems to be back in place. Guzan always considered himself a no.22 rather than a no.2 at Villa, but now seems to have the gloves and the number 1 spot for the rest of the season at least. Exceptional campaign so far.
4. Ron Vlaar – B
“Concrete Ron” has had a tremendous start to his Villa career. He is a natural leader and has already taken the armband on. His injury proneness continues to be a worry but when he plays he really does show international class. Needs to stay fit for Villa to stay up.
5. Richard Dunne – F
Extended truancy. When he’s back there’s doubts he’ll get enough games at Villa Park to be happy. Ageing ungracefully at 33 and no longer one of the first names on the teamsheet.
6. Ciaran Clark – B
This has been Clark’s most consistent campaign so far at the club. Still versatile, but established now as a centre half and has stepped up as our most experienced defender at times. Looks very solid alongside Vlaar.
27. Joe Bennett – C
Wouldn’t have been any fans’ first choice signing to fill the left back solution but Bennett has looked tidy so far. He is pacy, and comfortable on the ball but on occasions has been fairly rash in the challenge and over-keen to win the ball committing fouls. Only going to get better though.
29.Enda Stevens – C
Definitely took his chance debutising for Bennett. The 22 year old showed composure and heart in his first start for Villa against Manchester United, but looked shaky in his next game against counterparts Man City. Steady start.
30. Eric Lihaj – C
Not sure he is cut out for this level but has come in and done well at times. Unlikely to ever be a first choice in defence but a reliable stand in.
32. Nathan Baker – B
Has really improved at both centre half and left back for Villa this season. Will become a valuable asset at Villa Park if he continues to perform as he does.Could do with playing more games alongside experienced players though.
34. Matthew Lowton – A
Has probably been Villa’s most consistent figure all season. The youngster is yet another fullback product of the Sheffield United Academy, and hasn’t let down the club at all so far. He is still extremely young and learning the game, but has performed bravely and confidently down the right all season so far, even bagging a brilliant goal against Swansea.
7. Stephen Ireland – C
Against Reading, Benteke was the hero but Ireland was the difference. When he came on, he changed the way Villa played and he does add class on the ball in midfield. He is technically our best midfielder and does have the talent but it’s whether Lambert can/wants to get the best out of him.
8. Karim El Ahmadi – C
Looked to possess a lot of good attributes in his first game and looked to have settled in well but since then he has petered out and lost his way a bit. Tries to get stuck in but maybe lacks a bit of energy and strength and times. Still could play an important role this season.
10. Charles N’Zogbia– F
The enigmatic Frenchman really has failed so far at Villa Park. He’s failed to live up to his pricetag, failed to produce goals, failed to perform in all games let alone the big games. It really is sad to see our so called ‘top players’ rot on the bench, but if they aren’t worth a starting place then Paul won’t give it ‘em.
12. Marc Albrighton–D
Once a firm fans favourites, Albrighton’s performances of late have had fans on his back and that is something you’d never have expected from a hard-working winger like him. Opposing teams have either “figured him out” of magic Marc really has lost his way, but things aren’t working for whatever reason. It’s unclear what will spark a return in form but the fans will hope for a turnaround from the local lad.
14. Brett Holman – C
A steady start to his Villa career. Holman has been first pick for important matches, mostly due to his willing running and endeavour with and without the ball. He is an important player to Villa and one that will remain in and out the team much the way Park Ji Sung was at Old Trafford. Could be an unsung hero come the end of the year.
15. Ashley Westwood – B
He is probably the last person you’d expect to shine the brightest in midfield this year for Villa, but he really has in the last month. Trusted in big games, Westwood has offered stability in the middle. Comfortable on the ball and hard-working off it he’s another gem in the Lowton mould for Villa.
16. FabianDelph– D
There’s always hope surrounding Delph when he gets a run of matches but he never seems to be able to gain momentum from a decent game or two. Lost his place due to injury early in the season and hasn’t been able to produce any kind of real form coming back. Perhaps the most harshly graded in the team but that’s because of the expectation behind him. The Villa fans really do want him to succeed.
25. Barry Bannan– C
Just missed out on a higher grade due to the inconsistency of his performances. At times has been sparkling in the centre of midfield but other times has just looked lacklustre. Another young talent with high potential, but can go either way and needs to add grit to his play.
31. Chris Herd – C
A solid and trusted performer but never going to nail down a first team place at Villa Park unless injury problems do take their toll. Versatile and good to have on the bench.
9. Darren Bent – F
Took better to the number 39 shirt better than he has the number 9. There are things happening between him and Lambert that the fans don’t understand. We can only judge him on the pitch and when he plays, he hasn’t been scoring. Could leave in January, but could also return if Benteke gets injured. My advice, go and get your old shirt back Daz.
11. Gabriel Agbonlahor – B
It’s pointless banging on about Gabby’s goalscoring record anymore because that’s not what he offers the team. Under Lambert he holds the ball up, he brings others into play and he creates opportunities. Since hitting the gym a couple years back, he’s become a target man over the speed king we once loved. Different Gabby, but still effective and doing a good job this year feeding the Beast.
20. Christian Benteke – A
Really couldn’t have asked for more from the big man. A target, a willing runner, and a goal threat in the air and on the ground. Keeping Bent out the team and paying back Lambert, who stuck his neck out to bring him in before the clock ran out. A new Holte End Hero.
21. Jordan Bowery – F
26. Andreas Weimann– B
The Villa faithful were looking for the Austrian to build on last season and he has in a way. Shifted out to the wing more often than not he’s been a good foil for Benteke and given Villa another option up front. His progression may be hindered by Lambert’s style of play and preferred formation but he’s still doing a job for the team.
Team Performance – C
Although it doesn’t look nice seeing Villa grind out wins and hover above the relegation places, it’s a period we are unfortunately going to have to get used to whilst Lambert puts his spin on this team. It’s hard to watch talent and money like Bent (£24m),N’Zogbia (£10m) and Ireland (£8m est.) rot on the bench but such stubbornness can be a positive, and if these players aren’t prepared to get off their backsides and work they’ll be replaced by players that want to wear the jerseys. As fans, what more can you ask for when you’re in a relegation dogfight!
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