By Adam Keeble
After a late defeat to Swansea, Villa’s bubble was burst and with a trip to Old Trafford beckoning, what can Aston Villa fans take from a disappointing week?
THE TWO BACUNAS
No player has divided fans more than Leandro Bacuna this season. In flashes, he was the provider against Sunderland, but he was still loose and not great getting back (in his capacity as an attacking fullback). Against Swansea he kept his place at right-back moving regular Alan Hutton, back from suspension, to the left side. It’s fair to say neither was as effective as fans will have hoped.
Under Lambert, Bacuna was never the solution as right back during Hutton’s bomb squad days. Like some of Lambert’s other young players, he was cheap as chips to bring in and was signed in the hope he would turn out to be a bargain while learning their trade. While Joe Bennett looked too lightweight and out of confidence, Bacuna would go from effective crosser of the ball and spectacular free-kick taker, to rabbit in the headlights watching the game pass him by or tackling like it was his first day.
Bacuna at his worst is a luxury Villa cannot afford to carry, at a time when they have to win. But Bacuna at his best could become Benteke’s best friend with his crosses and ability to beat opposing fullbacks. Should he play in midfield instead? Perhaps not, unless Sanchez is in there with him to cover his share of defensive duties.
He is the personification of Aston Villa right now: fans have mixed feelings about his chances of making a difference and getting a result. When he’s good, he should be among the first players on the team sheet. But putting in a above-average performance one game in three is not going to be good enough to get the points we need. No solutions offered – just an explanation that with Hutton back and Gil in the mix, it would seem until Bacuna can be more consistent he should be on the bench as a roll-of-the-dice chance to get the team out of trouble if we need it.
This week saw the 21st anniversary of Villa beating Man United in the League Cup Final at the old Wembley. It was the team’s first trip to Wembley since the Charity Shield of 1981, and came on the back of a similar run of failure then sudden optimism after the appointment of a charismatic manager to what the team is going through now. Not that Tim Sherwood can be considered the next Ron Atkinson (yet), but that cup final brought definitive success to a talented team and proved they could win against the big teams on the big stage playing the right way. And not just in attack. The defensive effort that day shut down Ryan Giggs and Eric Cantona almost completely.
The point here is that a hard-fought semi-final against Tranmere inspired the team to step up, beat a triple-chasing Manchester United and announce Villa’s return to glory. This season’s cup run could be the part of something just as notable.
LAMBERT HAS HIS SAY
Paul Lambert defended his work at Villa Park on Saturday’s Football Focus . “The club is in a healthier position than when I first went in there” he said. Well, maybe. His early line-ups included Richard Dunne, James Collins, Stephen Warnock and Stephen Ireland – all players who would probably admit they didn’t enjoy being at Villa and were never thrilled about being signed. They also included Barry Bannan, Karim El Ahmadi, Brett Holman and Nathan Delfouneso who have since proved they couldn’t cut it. Those players are all gone and the club got their wages off the books, if not much in the way of transfer fees.
But to ponder that he thinks “maybe I should have done that better or differently” isn’t saying much of anything. He had plenty of time, tried lots of different things, and it wasn’t working. He can have no complaints about being fired and should be grateful he got as long as he did to turn things around.
Denied by the bloody Lithuanian goalie, but reaffirming his place as an England regular. Just as long as he comes back healthy. At least one Villa player has got some practise on Wembley’s pitch for next month’s Villa business there.