The Road Ahead
Aston Villa’s third ‘transitional season’ on the trot sees football hacks and pundits predicting a wide spectrum of outcomes for Villa – from the outskirts of European places to the natural progression of last season – relegation. While the most optimistic of supporters hope Villa will ‘do a Newcastle’, the general consensus is a mid-table revival. In short, though, anything could happen.
A lot seems to depend on the Lambert factor and the change in attitude and heart, he’ll inject into the players. Although, some, especially the likes of Stephen Ireland need to start repaying a seemingly endless amount of second chances, asap.
The squad in terms of numbers is down on last season’s, which was considered then not to be up to the task. There are still a couple of weeks left to make necessary additions, and this could be key to Villa’s progress up to Christmas.
I’d be surprised if nobody else comes in before the transfer window closes. The likes of Warnock and Hutton, I think will be loaned out, if suitors can’t be found… after all, we haven’t publically given them glowing references in the press.
The US tour was useful in terms of breaking in a passing game mentality, although the team must release the inhibitions in the final third and be more creative. While the MLS teams were mid-season, they fielded a lot of squad players, so games weren’t that competitive, the positive results wouldn’t have hurt the players, whose confidence was dented last season.
What is also important this season is a fresh attitude from supporters. A change from the Brummie moaners attitude, that we are sometimes are typecast with – there’s no smoke without fire. I had to stand next to one gentleman at the Forest game who went berserk when Villa went 3-1 down, shouting that Lambert was ‘McLeish in disguise’, that nothing had changed, and that he was sending back his season ticket the next day. Oh, and then he started to shout abuse at Darren Bent. What’s the point of going to see Villa if this is the attitude already, without a ball being kicked in the new season? Bugger off and support Manchester City, mate.
As fans, we’ve been chasing our own tails for the past few years. Of course, it’s frustrating, being left behind by those freak teams who have endless money. Perhaps Villa need to adopt a siege mentality and focus on becoming a tight, never-say-die team – team meaning players and supporters.
Of course, you could dismiss this as idealist clap-trap, but I don’t think Lambert is here to fool around and accept mediocrity. He has a plan (European scout Michael Henke is the clue to that), but it won’t happen overnight.
We also have a 40,000+ stadium that should be a place where no matter what team you are, you don’t just waltz into town and pick up three points.
When Manchester United and City, Arsenal and the like, visit, most fans (and our last manager) don’t expect to get anything. That attitude needs to change, or we’re already dead in the water.
If you’re going to leave Villa Park with anything, a team should have to shed the proverbial blood, sweat and tears, and the Villa Park faithful should put them through hell along the way.
Will this happen? I doubt it, but then again, when you look at the support at the Olympics, you think, maybe it can. If you’re paying hard-earned cash to follow the Villa, then why not actively get your money’s worth?
Lambert’s ethos seems to be ‘We’ll give it a go’. Hopefully Villa supporters will also adopt that way of thinking.
The Team Breakdown
One department that Villa doesn’t need to waste time worrying about. Shay Given, while given a hard time during the Euros, wasn’t a 100% fit and also was playing in games where Ireland were always going to be under siege. Brad Guzan back in the squad is a big boost, as he is a good a number two, as you could wish for, and this season he will push Given hard for the top spot. I’d expect Guzan to get decent time between the sticks, especially in the cups.
Before Villa got dismantled 7-1 by Chelsea in 2010, Villa’s defence was the best in the league that season, in terms of the least amount of goals conceded. At Stamford Bridge that day, it was as if the dam that had withheld immense pressure all season, finally cracked and burst. The two seasons that followed the members of that defence were never the same.
Only Warnock and Dunne remain. Warnock was in the England picture a couple of seasons ago, but has astonishingly fallen from grace, and has used up all his lives. His shocking preseason performance against Forest was potentially the last straw.
Hutton, maybe Scotland’s current right-back, but he was only fourth or fifth choice for Spurs when he became McLeish’s miscalculated purchase. He’s simply not good enough.
With Collins and Cuellar departing, and with Dunne injured (surely he would have gone too), Ciaran Clark now steps up and with the granting of the number ‘6’ shirt is earmarked as a first choice centre-back. Unlike the majority of the younger players at Villa, Clark has made an impact on a consistent level.
Clark will need a powerhouse to partner him and Ron Vlaar hopefully is that man. At the moment, his self-proclaimed nickname of ‘concrete’ is a little premature. His two games in a Villa shirt have seen an average of three goals leaked and suggest he’s wearing ‘concrete boots’! Respect and nicknames are something that have to be earned.
He’s been sold to supporters by the club as potentially the new Laursen, Mellberg and McGrath, but hype in the end, fools no one. But, I’m sure once he settles in – and more importantly, a stable back four is found – he will become the defensive leader we seek and form part of the team’s spin.
Its Villa midfield that will define their season, with Lambert promising an attacking approach to matches. It’s also where Villa need to improve and reinforce the most. Stephen Ireland has been a day-dreamer footballer in his Villa career so far, yet it seems Lambert holds him in high regard and is willing to make him a centre point of Villa’s attacking play.
Ireland used to impress in a City shirt, but it has to be remembered, he wasn’t considered good enough for the Manchester City revolution and was merely an add-on in the James Milner deal. Ireland though, isn’t the midfield-general type, and that’s the kind of guy he needs alongside him in the Villa midfield to have any chance of flourishing.
Karim El Ahmadi looks useful, but is still unproven under the rigours of the Premiership. How he takes to it, could be key to help steady the Villa midfield in possession. He would have probably been playing in a Norwich shirt, if Lambert was still there. Both him and Vlaar were seriously viewed by Lambert last season and both may have been wearing Canary yellow, if Lambert hadn’t come to Villa Park.
Preseason has seen a tighter quartet of Bannan, Ireland, Holman and Ahmadi operating in midfield, with wingers largely sacrificed. Four competent players, but it’s hard to see them bossing games against the big guns. Personally, I’d prefer a talismanic ball-winning, match-winning, inspiring centre-midfielder and potential captain. The type of guy who can also win a game from nothing, with a set piece or a 30-yarder.
If the four midfielders mentioned can pass and play telepathically, Villa might get away without such a player. In the squad now, Delph was potentially groomed was that man, but doesn’t like he’ll make the grade. Herd is good, but will he be great? Gardner was long been seen as ‘the chosen one’, but he’s only just come into the outskirts of the first team. A goal and a run of games is needed before we know if he’s got the mentality for the task.
Darren Bent will be like a proverbial new signing, and since he is the record signing in Villa’s history, his return is a massive boost. Last season, it was as if Villa didn’t have anybody in their team to actually worry opposition teams before a game.
If Bent gets near the 20 mark, then Villa should have had a decent season. Gabby really needs double figures after falling from grace in recent times. Weimann is now older than when Gary Shaw was knocking in 20-odd a season, so depending on game time, now is the time to add to the vital goals he scored last season.
With Gabby currently injured and no target man striker in the team, I can see Villa going for a second striker playing deeper or an attacking midfield in the hole.
Rather than having a steady 11, the likes of Weimann, Ireland, N’Zogbia and Holman will have a certain amount of rotation in attacking-midfield/forward positions. With Albrighton, also giving the team options of more width when he returns.
The likes of Ireland and Bannan, the supposed technical players, need to start hitting the net from distance and set plays.
Holman could make a useful contribution. As he showed in preseason, he knows where the goal is. He’ll certainly make a better impact substitute than Heskey, if he starts any game from the bench.
The wild card of the attack is still Charles N’Zogbia. He can certainly give Villa a cutting edge we sorely lack, but it depends on his attitude. I personally think this season will define his career. If he fails to step up, I can see him being shipped out to the French League to play out the rest of his career.
Villa should also be more successful from set plays with Clark seeming to have a knack for grabbing useful goals, and Vlaar too, has been known to contribute his share in a season.
A Bent injury, Ireland not stepping up to the plate, Vlaar revisiting his injury-stricken past, and N’Zogbia being wishy-washy, could potentially derail Villa, due to the squad’s lack of quality and options. It’s a no-brainer that the team needs new acquisitions to build a stronger spine to the team.
Stephen Ireland, Charles N’Zogbia (both will also influence Bent’s effectiveness) and Vlaar.
Weimann could be a wild card surprise hit, if he gets a chance and his shooting boots on.
Predictions…for what it’s worth
League – 10th
League Cup – 4th Round
FA Cup – 5th Round
Other MOMS writers
League Cup – Quarter-finals
FA Cup – 5th round
League – 10th
League Cup – Quarter-finals
FA Cup – 4th round