Shifting the focus back onto the pitch, the horrific showing at the KC negated all of the positives to come from the Chelsea match and has left Villa in a desperate situation in the league. A key issue under Lambert was that there were far too many players being regularly picked who didn’t contribute anywhere near as much to the club’s cause as was required.
Prominent among these since his arrival has been Tom Cleverley. In the last GBU I wrote that I was still yet to see the point in him and I’m sorry to say that there has been nothing on offer to change this opinion.
The dropping of Carlos Sanchez for both matches was perhaps fair enough after a particularly poor showing at the Emirates last weekend, but at least on his good days the Colombian adds something to the Villa midfield. Cleverley is a passenger, a phantom in the centre of the pitch, and given the situation that they now find themselves in Villa simply cannot afford to be fielding players who let games pass them by.
Throughout recent weeks Gabriel Agbonlahor and Andreas Weimann as an attacking pair have continued to display about as much cutting edge as a rubber knife. Weimann’s display against Hull was perhaps the worst we have seen from him all season, which is an impressive feat given how little he has been contributing on a weekly basis.
On current form, if he was playing for the opposition in a Sunday League game he’d be the guy that nobody bothered marking. He is, however, a perfect example of a ‘confidence player’ – when he’s on a roll and believing in himself, he has the potential to be an important performer for the club, as he was during the club’s 2012/13 campaign.
Agbonlahor hasn’t been much better than the Austrian, and with Christian Benteke currently unrecognisable from the player we saw a couple of years ago it really is not surprising that Villa have struggled for goals so desperately. Having said that, failing to score against a defence made up of Ahmed Elmohamady, Paul McShane, Alex Bruce and Michael Dawson may perhaps have been a new low.
Chelsea’s goals at Villa Park at the weekend were shocking ones to concede, as if a side of their quality needed any help. Hazard’s opener was nicely taken but the defending by a normally impressive Alan Hutton was atrocious, letting the Belgian drift across him as he marked thin air. The winner was even worse, a calamitous shambles which resulted in Branislav Ivanovic (who must love playing Villa, with five goals in his last six starts against them) shanking the ball into the top corner.
As for Hull’s two goals, they would have been the worst that Villa had conceded in a while were it not for Chelsea’s double three days earlier. Ciaran Clark and Jores Okore, although impressive as a pairing on occasions in recent weeks, reminded us all of the potential issues of a lack of experience at the back.
The fact of the matter is that Villa were exceedingly lucky to still be outside of the relegation zone until Tuesday night’s defeat. The post-Hull table is a much more accurate reflection of what, whichever way you look at it, has been a season of despair and embarrassment since Villa took ten points from their opening four league games. Doesn’t that feel like years ago at the moment?
Since the win over Liverpool at Anfield on 13 September, Villa have won twice in 21 Premier League games, scoring eight times, and just the newly-promoted pairing of Burnley and Leicester now separate them from the bottom of the table. Things must improve now that the nadir that was Lambert’s time in charge is over, and they must improve quickly.
A home FA Cup tie against the Premier League’s bottom club Leicester City at the weekend is now a chance for a new era at Aston Villa to begin. If Villa can overcome the Foxes at home for the second time this season, whoever replaces Lambert will have the serious possibility of a trip to Wembley on the horizon. After that clash comes a run of crucial fixtures which are likely to determine whether Villa keep their place with the country’s big boys, or slip into the potential black hole that is the Championship.
Good luck new gaffer, whoever you are – we’re all counting on you.
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