The Aston Villa Ten Commandments for Improvement
Bar an incredible finish to the season, Aston Villa would not have improved much on last season’s offerings. Currently the team are a point down on results in equivalent matches of last season and the same old defensive frailties of last season have started to creep back. Christian Benteke will also have to go on a rich vein of form to match his tally from last season too. So looking ahead to the summer and next season, how can Villa improve? MOMS thinks these following ten commandments should be etched out in stone to be followed… UTV
1. Thou shall loosen the purse strings
We’re not talking about Lerner dropping £20 million odd on a Darren Bent-like purchase or wasting millions on the inflated wages of average players (ala Martin O’Neill’s reign), but simply upgrading the Villa squad in the key positions (see the next commandment). Two or three quality key players would bring the improvement that Villa supporters seek at a much rapid pace. Instead of climbing snail-like up the lower half of the league, we would do exactly what Southampton have done this season. Remember, they were in the mire with us last season, but a couple of key purchases later, and the Saints are comfortably in the top half. Since the bottom half of the league isn’t anything special, it doesn’t take that much to get in the top half if you have a plan. Like Southampton, the right buys could click the rest of the team in place. After all, as Villa’s record against the current top four teams testifies, there is potential there.
2. Thou shall buy a decent midfielder
It’s getting to the point where we might have to tattoo this commandment onto Lambert’s forehead, although I get the impression he knows it by now (and the word on the street is Villa have tried to bring such a player in already) . When we say midfielder, it can be one of two types of midfielder (if not both). For starters, you’d love an all-rounder, the often desired Steven Gerard type player. A presense in the middle of the park, which helps your defense start at midfield, a player with vision to pick a pass to open up any opposition defence, and a player with goals in his locker – from distance, from well-timed runs, or from dead balls.
Of course, these talents don’t grow on trees, so the bottom-line is a decent attacking midfielder who would help Villa in possession (when you’ve got the ball, you don’t need to defend) and provide the key to open up defences at Villa Park and provide the team with more dimension to their play.
3. Thou shall not ball watch.
The Villa defence has made inroads into improvement this season until old habits came back to haunt them in recent months. Watch any replays of goals conceded and the main cause seems to be the school boy error of ball watching; allowing the opposition to make runs unmarked into goal scoring positions. The fundamental concept of picking up your man, needs to be drilled into some of our young defenders. I mean, how was Wayne Rooney (who gets paid £300,000 because he’s good) allowed a free header from six yards out without a Villa player in sight? This is just one example of a whole collection of poor goals we’ve conceded due to defender’s attention being with the ball and not the opposition players. Better reading of the game is needed, as it undermines the back four’s undoubted effort throughout the rest of the game.
4. Thou will FINALLY sort out the fullback situation
Speaking of the defence, when are Villa going to sort out the fullback positions? In recent seasons the fullback position has been a bit of a perpetual nightmare for Villa on both flanks. It took Martin O’Neil an eternity to sign a proper right back and he also signed a couple of left backs (Nicky Shorey and Stephen Warnock) without complete satisfaction. For Paul Lambert, the fullback positions have already provided a transfer and selection circus, that has put question marks on the manager’s judgment.
At right-back, we’ve seen Hutton discarded, Lowton demoted and Bacuna trialed and questioned. While at left-back we’ve seen Lambert sign two players in Bennett and Luna, and has been so unhappy with them, the Villa boss felt he had to loan in Ryan Bertrand. I appreciate the saving on wages by avoiding signing top talents, but surely getting in three players instead kind of defeats the object of the exercise when you’re racking up comparable wage costs with three players.
Lambert needs to have a serious think this summer to sort out both flanks for good. It’s fundamental to the defence settling as a unit and also to provide an effective overload on the flanks going forward.
5. Thou shall not pick up long term injuries
In recent seasons, Villa have been afflicted with such a curse (think Bent’s injury under McLeish), frequently with the injuries coming outside of the 90 minutes of play. I mean, Villa players are even making a habit of getting injured during the pre-mattch warm-ups.
Pretty much the cornerstone of any Villa improvement this season was going to be the signing of Jores Okore in the summer, but not even a handful of games into his Villa career, he was out for the season injured. With the lynchpin of the Villa defence the injury-prone Ron Vlaar unlikely to be ever-present for a whole season (especially around Christmas time), Villa were left with Clark and Baker for cover. While both have arguably improved this season, they would have benefited from being drip fed into games, rather than thrown-in. Should Lambert have replaced the long-term injured Dunne last season, rather than giving the responsibility to his young pair of centre backs? Luckily, it didn’t matter in the end.
Libor Kozák’s injury was also a bit of bad luck. Like Okore’s, he had shown promise in the few games he played. With Benteke going through lean spells, an extra option would have been very useful in the past few months.
Hopefully next season, Villa will get a bit more luck.
* This commandment was broken within a week with Christian Benteke picking up his serious injury.
Click on ‘Next’ for the other five commandments