I have seen others say that Lambert had no choice but to bring in Kozák now or face paying a big fee for a striker once Benteke leaves. I don’t agree. I would rather have waited and bought a promising young striker like Michy Batshuayi or Jurgen Locadia. Tottenham were smart by telling Madrid that they wouldn’t sell Bale unless they brought in replacements first. Villa could be equally tough when the time is right to sell Benteke. Kozák (so far) has been weak at holding onto the ball, weak at passing and weak at finishing.
Benteke’s understudy from last season, Jordan Bowery, enjoyed 15 minutes up front with Kozak against Hull, and managed a worse pass accuracy rate than Kozak with 50%. The question that arises from the use of these two players is perhaps, why does Lambert feel that Bowery and Kozák would be more effective up front than Helenius, Weimann or Gabby? If Kozák and Bowery are giving the ball away half the time, then wouldn’t it be preferable to use technically better players? Bowery has thus far failed to score a goal or make an assist in the twelve league appearances he has played for Villa.
Many fans do indeed enjoy having a player up front with the attributes of Benteke, but is the sheer physical size of Kozák or Bowery preferable to the development of a player like Niklas Helenius, who will certainly play as a 9 in future? In addition, would Bowery’s development be better served by going on loan? I cannot see the benefit of the young player having 15 minutes here and there in games when he is pretty far away from a fully developed striker. Burke, in my opinion, is perhaps a better rounded striker right now than Bowery.
Paul Lambert often says that Bowery can play on the wing, yet I have not seen anything to convince me of this claim in Bowery’s performances, as Bowery only managed to complete 2 out of 6 attempted crosses last season. Playing balls into two giants in the box can of course be effective, as Stoke would testify, but do we have the wingers to play like this and is it good for the development of the other young players?
More common justifications for a tactic of aerial bombardment of the penalty area is that, “We cannot play like Barcelona!” Sure, no-one can. But the team looked at its best in the second half of last season with Westwood pushed further up the pitch in front of Sylla and Delph, where Westwood was able to notch up four assists in two games against Sunderland and Norwich. Westwood hasn’t started this season well, but if Villa had bought an attacking midfielder this summer, then maybe we could have played a different way against Hull in the last match.
Another justification for Kozák was that the particular midfielder Lambert wanted wasn’t available. I’m not sure I buy this argument either. Usually when you want to buy a player you have a list of options and look for a ‘profile‘ of player, or a particular skill set, rather than just one player. Lambert, it is remembered, originally wanted Wilfried Bony last summer and then bought Benteke instead, when Bony was unavailable.
Surely Lambert would have had a list of creative midfield options who he could have signed for the price he paid for Kozák. Maybe Lambert has an attacking midfielder lined up for January? No-one really knows. But the attacking midfield position is not the only area in midfield that needs strengthening.
Many of Villa’s current midfielders have very similar skill sets. Westwood and El Ahmadi are deep-lying playmakers, like Michael Carrick, who can tackle. Delph and Gardner are also pretty similar aside from Delph’s superior athletic ability as a box-to-box midfielder. Gary Gardner will hopefully regain this ability once he has worked his way back from injury, but Villa are lacking a real defensive midfielder and creativity in the wide areas. Yacouba Sylla looks promising in defensive midfield, but as a defensive midfielder he is a middle-weight rather than a heavy-weight presence.
Paul Lambert’s email also stated that it would, “take time for the group to realise its true potential.” Perhaps Lambert counts exciting young players like Jack Grealish in this equation, who would certainly change the dynamic of the team, or Jordan Graham who would add creativity in the wide areas. It remains to be seen.
It would be nice for Lambert to explain what he means and how he sees the team playing in future, especially since the manager refers to the “quality within the group”, which was hard to identify at times against Hull. Lambert’s young side will need to do more now to show their “quality” in addition to their, “work ethic” in the games running up to Christmas. Lambert further said in his email that, “we are a different team from that (last season) now. Everyone can sense this and see it too.”
I agree with Lambert that Villa have better resilience this season, thanks largely to improved performances in defence, but in terms of quality, the team hasn’t yet hit the heights of last season. Furthermore, in respect of the teams ‘philosophy‘, Lambert said in his email that the players and fans are at the very centre of his ethos and philosophy, but he doesn’t really explain what this entails other than a “powerful collective desire”.
When I watch one of Jose Mourinho’s teams on the pitch, I instantly know that they are his team, even if he has only coached the team for a few months. The same can be said of Pep Guardiola. The precision, the style, the organisation is the same in all the teams they coach.
Maybe once the new Villa players settle, a more consistent pattern will also emerge where a recognisable Paul Lambert ‘ethos and philosophy’ will be clearly defined.