By Adam Keeble
After a fine win at Spurs, Villa head into the FA Cup semi-final on a high. What can Aston Villa fans take from the performance and three welcome points?
In the billed duel between Harry Kane and Villa’s talismanic Belgian striker it was Benteke who came out on top. Not just with the winning goal but with an all-round performance that validates his sensational form of late.
While Benteke was scaring the Spurs back line, Kane did his best work when he dropped back and knocked a couple of splitting passes through for others. On this performance alone though, Benteke outshone the player considered to be a key part of England’s future.
Goals win games and with the defence seemingly addressing the calamity against QPR – and dealing with the early loss of Ciaran Clark replaced by the impressive and calm Nathan Baker – this win is a real sign since dropping out into the bottom three under Lambert that the pieces are in place to pull clear and stay clear.
Benteke is over his injury, relieved of any overly defensive duties, full of confidence and bullying defenders like a cat toying with a mouse.
THE BACUNA IDENTITY
Who is Leandro Bacuna? Is he a right-back? A right-winger? More importantly, is he really any good? If you only watched the highlights of Villa’s games, you would think he is a key provider of chances for Benteke in particular.
But if you watch the games in full… it’s hard to say. It might be that he becomes something very special if he hangs around at Villa Park for a few more years. If he continues to knock at the first team door, Sherwood (who obviously likes him) can’t ignore him. And maybe he will have to settle for developing in the U21s for a while – he is only 23 by the way – if Alan Hutton sees out his contract – he’s 30 right now and surely the first choice if fit.
If the midfield continues to step up as Tom Cleverley has since Sherwood’s arrival, maybe Bacuna can be “carried” as others step up to cover his flaws. It sounds like Gil’s omission from the first team might genuinely be down to injury, which might mean the Spaniard might be snapping at his heels when he’s back in contention and if Sherwood decides to give him more than the few minutes he’s had to impress under the new regime.
But for right now, his identity and future aren’t as important as what he’s doing – even if it’s in fits and starts – in helping Villa stay up. The fine details can be figured out later (once we’re safe).
OOH AHH RONALD VLAAR
Named to the Match of The Day team-of-the-week, Vlaar has been written off by some Villa fans for his failure to sign a new deal, his constant injuries and a few iffy games.
Let’s say he leaves at the end of the season and Senderos retires. That leaves us with a back line of Hutton (30), Okore (22), Clark (25) and probably a new left back (unless 25-year-old Joe Bennett comes back from loan and makes a bid for the job… stop sniggering over there, it could happen). With Baker (23) and Lowton (25) on the bench, some might feel the need for a veteran presence. An international, like Senderos, who has played at the highest level, leads by example, has been chased by some of the biggest clubs in the world…
… so why not consider keeping Vlaar? Yes, Sherwood is playing down the fact his contract is running out and saying how he hasn’t bothered talking to him about it. And his agent is doing what agents do and stirring it up, but has there been any firm offers? Has Vlaar said he wants to leave?
It could well be his injuries have scared off Champions League teams already thick with talent and having played his part in Villa’s survival (yes, yes and in their relegation woes over the course of the season), it could yet be his first choice of club next season would be Aston Villa. A renegotiated contract, a chance to stay two more years where he’s already settled… more appealing still, the chance to be part of a more dynamic Villa than he’s experienced under the manager that signed him. When you put it that way, why would he be in such a hurry to leave?
Ahead of the semi-final, the team news isn’t likely to be very pleasant reading. No Sanchez, Hutton, Westwood or Gabby likely to feature and with Libor Kozak still not 100% and Gil either out of favour or out of breath, it’s going to take a gamble to figure out a way to beat Liverpool.
A Paul Lambert team getting this far would be predictable – defend, soak it up, and try and hit them on the counter (without Gabby, this would be long balls towards Benteke for 90 minutes). But Tim Sherwood has shown by daring to name an unchanged team between the 3-3 tie at home to QPR and the return to White Hart Lane where he made his name as a manager, that he has faith in his philosophy.
He described the QPR performance as the best Villa performance he had overseen so far, hence the unchanged team, but it took a brave man not to adjust and tinker after the defensive lapses. His reward? A clean sheet and a win. That’s why he’s the manager and we aren’t. And it’s why Liverpool will underestimate whatever team Sherwood puts out on Sunday at their peril.
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