The Fabulous Reincarnation of Fabian Delph

fabian delph aston villa
No wonder Delph was getting injured a lot. Crickey – a splits tackle on van der Vaart.


Regrettably, O’Neill’s advice was not heeded by an over-eager Delph who then ruptured his cruciate ligament a few months later and was removed from the training ground on a stretcher.   The youngster’s painful experience was something he was unlikely to forget as he remained injured for the next eight months.  Oscar Wilde once said that, “experience is simply the name we give our mistakes” and Delph’s mistake might have been avoided had he only listened to Martin O’Neill’s advice.  In any event, the painful error proved to be a harsh lesson in the youngster’s development as Delph remained plagued by injuries for the next two seasons.

Delph’s woes continued under Gerard Houllier when he broke down with an injury against Manchester City early in the season.  Alex McLeish then arrived in the summer of 2011 and Delph was keen to enjoy an injury-free campaign, “It has been up and down for me since I joined Villa, but I’ve stayed positive and I think I’ve got stronger mentally” the midfielder said.

Perhaps unsurprisingly, Delph looked rusty on his return to action under McLeish, and Villa fans feared that a yellow card was never too far away as the 21-year-old midfielder continued to make impetuous and rash challenges.  McLeish had praised Chris Herd early in the season who he saw as a dynamic option in midfield and it was clear that McLeish didn’t fully trust Delph.  McLeish eventually decided to loan Delph to Leeds after the player had fallen down the pecking order in central midfield behind Herd, Clark and even Heskey.  Delph joined Leeds in the January transfer window after only 10 Premier League appearances under McLeish.

Paul Lambert therefore inherited a dejected and football-starved Fabian Delph in the summer of 2012, and many Villa fans were uncertain whether the player still had a future at the club.  The rehabilitation of Fabian Delph under Lambert began languidly as Aston Villa made a dire start to the 2012 / 2013 season where Delph featured intermittently.

Paul Lambert began experimenting with the central midfield positions soon after he arrived at the club in order to find the best combination.  Delph (19 appearances), Herd (9 appearances), Westwood (28 appearances), Bannan (18 appearances), Holman (16 appearances), Ireland (9 appearances) and Karim El Ahmadi (12 appearances) were all given the opportunity to impress Lambert before the manager settled on a more regular combination of Ashley Westwood and either Delph or Bannan (and later Yacouba Sylla).

Delph did not convince his many doubters in early matches under Lambert, particularly after a stale performance against Norwich where Villa drew 1 – 1 at home.  Delph looked stiff, one-footed and unable to move the ball forward.  In addition, the midfielder seemed reluctant to make any runs or break through the lines.  Fans wondered whether the exciting box-to-box midfielder who Villa had bought from Leeds would ever regain his joie de vivre.

Barry Bannan then kept Delph out of the Villa team in a spirited 1 -1 away draw at Newcastle United which lifted Villa out of the relegation places.  Delph was forced to bide his time as Bannan continued to play well against Swansea in Villa’s 2 – 0 home win.  Paul Lambert then suffered a humiliating away defeat to Southampton, where Villa lost 4 -1 to the newly promoted team.  With a League Cup game next on the horizon, Lambert was able to give Delph and the other Villa substitutes a chance to play as Villa traveled away to Manchester City.   Surprisingly, Villa emerged with a 4 – 2 victory in which Delph impressed along with Gabby.


fabian delph aston villa improvement
Delph has impressed in 2013/14 against the big boys


Delph’s performance against Manchester City in a close 1 – 0 league loss marked a personal turning point in his season.  He was dominant, authoritative, bossy and passed the ball well.  Lambert was quick to praise the youngster after the match, “He is playing extremely well.  His level of performance in games is extremely high.”

Villa fans didn’t really see the real Fabian Delph however until around February 2013 when Lambert began playing a 4-3-3 formation with Sylla tasked to sit behind Delph and Westwood.  Delph started looking like a £8m player again as he tackled, passed and barked out orders from Villa’s midfield.  Sylla’s inclusion allowed Delph to drive the team forward, and Delph’s former inhibition as a defensive midfielder was replaced by a more daring and confident performance as a box-to-box midfielder.

Statistically, Delph retained the best pass success rate out of any Aston Villa player during the 2012 / 2013 season with an 88% success rate, which was 33rd in the Premier League rankings below Michael Carrick.  In addition, out of all the players in the Premier League who had attempted 20 dribbles, Delph had the best success rate with 85%.  The midfielder certainly dazzled in the second half of the 2012 / 2013 season and his performances in the 2013 / 2014 season have, so far, been even better.

Fabian Delph is now playing more like a £30m player compared to how he was performing at first, as the £8m player Villa brought; he has certainly emerged from three matches against Arsenal, Chelsea and Liverpool with considerable credit.  At 23-years-old, there is a lot more to expect from him, such as increasing his attempts on goal and gaining composure in the final third of the pitch, and whilst Delph is now making interceptions, dribbles, and controlling the midfield, what really impressed me against Liverpool was his close control and calmness when surrounded by opponents.  The young midfielder adeptly managed to twist and turn away from Liverpool players and start attacks for Villa whilst drawing opponents out of position.  It was the sort of thing I expect to see from top class players like Sergio Busquets rather than Fabian Delph.

Against Chelsea, the youngster was imperious.  He had the most successful dribbles – 3, recovered most balls – 9, made the most interceptions – 4 and also made the most successful tackles – 5.  Delph’s scintillating start to the season continued against Liverpool where he collected the most interceptions – 6 and had the most passes in the final third – 14.

It’s fair to say that Delph was man of the match in the games against Liverpool and Chelsea and should the young midfielder continue his early season form then Villa have a top player in the making.


Follow MOMS on twitter at @oldmansaid
Follow Shelley on twitter at @shelley_ozzy


  1. Definitely a top notch dribbler and a great work rate. We need to work on his vision for the key pass and his precision in delivering it. With his ability to control the ball in the middle of the park and evade tackles, having that deadly delivery of a final ball could make him a double-digit assist man.
    As for the comparable player to partner with him, I think Leandro Bacuna could become that player.

  2. Shelley_Ozzy Thanks Shelley – he’s looked superb for us so far and is a definitely a real talent. I don’t think he’s ready for the Premier League yet and your midfield is coming together really nicely so I’m not surprised Lambert didn’t go in for him in the summer. Funny to see the plight of Bannan – we had him on loan, as I’m sure you’re aware, and he never seemed to be given a chance. Seemed like a really bizarre thing to do, to be honest – why bring a player in and then not use him? Although we did the same with Jake Livermore, to be honest and as for what Colin did with Ross Barkley… I’ll employ the phrase “least said, soonest mended” on that one!
    I agree, Deeney is doing great with the Hornets – he looks a real quality player in this division. Not surprising that he didn’t make it at Villa, though . The difference between the two leagues seems greater than ever. 
    I forgot to say in my initial post: a superb, well considered and impressively written piece.

  3. Ha ha, yes Bates does like to see the colour of money, but we do seem to receive praise a lot with our transfer dealings under Randy Lerner. 
    He seems a straight forward guy.  Also agree that good players come alive around other good players, so hopefully if we get the attacking midfield in we need it will help everyone.  I like Will Hughes as he has skill / creativity but has a good tackle on him too and can play deeper, which would allow us to keep the midfield combination of Westy / Delph without needing someone stronger behind.  In terms of more pure creative players, I like Pablo Sarabia (Getafe) and Thauvin at Lille (who desperately wants to leave).  Prefer Sarabia as he’s a real pass master and Thauvin is more like Hazard.  But sure I’ll like whoever we buy.  Should be a fun season!

  4. Hey Pete, thanks for the comment.  Its great to see one of your academy players coming through.  I try to follow ex-Villa academy players as much as I can.  Troy Deeney is having a great time at Watford right now, its great to see.  Yes, you’ve finally seen the back of Bates.  Great news.  Hope Leeds have a good season too.  Luke Murphy is a great player and a really good buy.  I wanted Villa to sign him this summer but unfortunately we didn’t go for him in the end.  Sure he’ll give you a lot of fun times this year!

  5. Delph is a superb player who, I’m delighted to see, is finally re-emerging from the shadows at Villa. He broke through in pre-season for us and by the time the next pre-season rolled around, he had become the standout player in the side, resulting in Bates promptly sanctioning his sale (and, it would appear, personally pocketing the proceeds – certainly none of it went on squad building, at least). 
    The lad has a great future ahead of him and I could quite easily see him become part of the England setup in the future. It’s always a wrench to see your best players leave, but one to which we became accustomed during Bates’ tenure. Thankfully that time is over and we appear to be on the up again, led by a good manager and a board which seems prepared to support him as much as possible. It hasn’t been an easy decade or so for fans of the club against whom Savo Milosevic had his best ever game (yes, whilst we’d rather not admit it, we do remember a certain soft beverage cup final back in the 1990s).
    On a side note, I’m personally very pleased to see how Villa have come through the tough times of last season. Lambert plays superb football and he does it in the right way i.e. he builds up a squad of talented young professionals with no room for prima donnas. I never doubted that he’d turn things around for you, I just wasn’t certain he’d be given time to do so. Fortunately, he was given that time and I’m sure you guys are reaping the rewards of that. I’d be stunned if you didn’t finish top half this season and I don’t know what you’re expectations are, but I be expecting you to get into the Europa league places.
    UTV on your behalf, MOT on mine.

  6. StephenCullen MyOldManSaid CraigWright I’ve always liked Delph’s spirit. In his first Villa interview after signing from Leeds, when asked what he was looking forward to in the Premier League, he replied, ‘Giving top players like Rooney and Gerard a kick!’  That’s the kind of No Fear approach Villa need at the moment, to get back on track. Hopefully Leeds will get back on track too – sooner rather than later!

  7. Always a good read Ms O.
    But ‘Leeds chairman Ken Bates praised the manner of Villa’s approach for
    Delph, and it was perhaps this respectful approach which helped Villa
    secure the player ahead of other interested clubs.’ 
    Come on.
    If Ken Bates said that then it means only one thing – Villa paid way too much – and that is what secured young Delph.  Given the false messiah’s deep seated fear of public rejection this tendency to overpay was evident in all his dealings.  Let’s be honest.  We got Delph because we paid for him.
    As for the rest.  Spot on.  Delph is a little gem – he needs more polishing but the underlying quality is evident.  Yet imagine if he had an equally tricky team mate to pass to.  What fun we could see.  Barring visiting teams attacking us like rabid lemmings (hello Sunderland fans) – holding and controlling midfield is the key to winning at home.  Delph needs a kindred spirit to pass to.  Villa need another Delph.

    UTV and thanks.

  8. MyOldManSaid CraigWright die hard leeds fan – was very upset when we sold him. but i agree. defo starting to live up to his potential and if he continues the way he is going a possible future england captain

  9. 30m? No chance. He’s getting better and is a real work horse, but his technique and passing are nowhere near good enough to warrant that sort of money.

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