Differing fortunes in attack, defence and the transfer market
After Villa ended their four-match winless run in the Premier League by securing their fourth home league win of the season – four home wins, now that’s value for money – here’s a look at the Good, Bad and Ugly of the club’s week.
Sunday was the first time Villa had scored four goals in the first half of a Premier League match since 1995 and considering it followed 326 minutes of action without the team scoring, it’s fair to say it was pretty unexpected.
Christian Benteke’s first, was simply superb, the kind of goal which reminds you that the big Belgian can inspire when he wants to, ironically from the kind of ball from Vlaar which has had a lot of Villa fans moaning about the side’s playing style this season.
Benteke’s second, two minutes later, was pleasing as well, as Villa finally managed to turn an Ashley Westwood corner into something profitable. Apart from popping up for his mid-transfer window surges of form in August and January, most of Benteke’s season has been entirely indifferent, but if he can step up the way he did in the latter months of last season then, as displayed on Sunday, he can almost single-handedly lead Villa clear of danger.
Despite Benteke’s spectacular acrobatics, Leandro Bacuna’s fifth goal of the season was arguably the best of Sunday’s game, Villa turning defence into a sweeping counter-attack move which ended with Bacuna showing wonderful composure to take a touch and turn his marker inside out before curling the ball left-footed into the bottom corner.
Matthew Lowton’s performances may well have been falling somewhat short of the standard he set last season, but I would argue that playing Leandro Bacuna at right-back is to waste him – in a midfield as rigid and limited as Villa’s, Bacuna is an excellent option to have.
The result at Newcastle last weekend was a huge disappointment. The Magpies were in awful form and Villa hadn’t had a better chance in years of taking a win away from St. James’ Park in years.
The galling thing was that Villa actually competed for the majority of the game. Even after wasting two or three decent chances to take the lead, Villa were always in the game, but as time wore on, it became merely a case of whether Villa would make it to the finish line without conceding.
The defending for the injury-time winner was dreadful and made worse by the fact the backline had been relatively resolute until that point.
Wes Hoolahan’s third-minute opener at Villa Park on Sunday really was the most predictable thing in football for a while, wasn’t it? The fact that Lambert spent all of January chasing him is still a sore point for me. Norwich were clearly never going to sell the midfielder to us, and the situation wasn’t helped by the first offer being so low. Once it was clear to Villa that they were going to have to work extremely hard to have any chance of managing to sign Hoolahan, Lambert and the club should have moved on to other targets.
Instead, the whole of January passed by with Lambert’s desperation to sign Hoolahan being public knowledge, and Norwich making Villa look like fools by refusing to relinquish their grip on all of the cards they held over their former manager. Hoolahan popping up to score rather summed up Lambert’s failings on that one.
The latest win over Norwich was absolutely vital and sends Villa into the break in eleventh place, seven points clear of Sunderland in 18th, although the Black Cats have two games in hand. If Benteke, Vlaar and co. can maintain their form when they return to the club, Villa will be hoping to stay clear of the drop zone despite facing some challenging fixtures in the next few weeks.
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