To look at the Premier League table as it stands you would see Paul Lambert’s Aston Villa sitting in 12th place.
Many neutrals, fans and pundits would tend to agree that this is exactly where they should be – the general consensus would deem a top half finish as the side exceeding expectations. Nonetheless, there are a multitude of teams and fans that would willingly change places with Aston Villa right now.
But it is the Villa Park faithful who have been feeling disappointed and short changed of late, and, with their beloved club only finding the net in 11 out of the last 21 games it’s easy to see why. They are the lowest scoring team in the whole country this season and the fact that they are even struggling to muster a shot on target – let alone actually score – is naturally leading the supporters to question Paul Lambert’s ability as manager.
In truth, Villa fans should be used to occupying the positions in the bottom half of the table. After all, they have finished in the bottom six for the past three seasons. However, compare that with their three year spell finishing in the top six (2008,2009,2010), and you can soon see the main source of frustration.
The club’s start to the current season (2014/2015) was full of optimism. Having earned 10 points from a possible 12 throughout the opening weeks, including an impressive victory over Liverpool, Lambert’s side seemed to have settled with an effective style of play. The appointment of Assistant manager, former Manchester United ace, Roy Keane provided a further boost, as all seemed well and good in the Villa camp.
Nevertheless, the old saying, “too good to be true”, soon rang true, as the Villain’s slumped to six straight defeats, scoring just a single goal in the process.
Currently, it is a question of whether the glass is ‘half full’ or ‘half empty’ for the Midlands side. Seeing a statistic reading “2 wins in 16 games” is naturally a worry – after all, it’s the form of a team battling relegation – however, this is accompanied by the fact the club have lost just two in their last 10 games; based on this ‘half full’ philosophy, progress really is being made.
Either way you look at Villa’s recent form, the league table does not lie. They are in a position many would agree they belong.
Ultimately, the club are lacking goals and the players to create chances. Draws against Burnley, Sunderland and Palace are all games that Villa should, and with more fire power, would be winning. Furthermore, the club’s 1-1 draw with United, during which Villa looked as if they could clinch maximum points – had it not been for the unfair dismissal of Gabriel Agbonlahor, they may well have done so – prior to another draw 1-1 with Southampton, saw them drop a further four points.
Based on the aforementioned five games, that is 10 points that the club have let slip. While I realise hindsight is a wonderful thing, and I’m not one for “if’s and buts”, however, that would have Villa sitting in seventh, alongside Sam Allardyce’s high-flying West Ham.
Obviously, this has not been the case, and instead, the majority of fans on forums and social media as well as at the ground calling for the manager’s head.
As for as the optimistic, and perhaps, more realistic Villa fans, Lambert has dealt well with the task of reducing the wage bill of the squad and operating shrewdly in the transfer market, all while retaining the side’s top flight status. As far as those objectives go, he’s completed his set of goals. An added bonus, of course, is the fact Villa have the best defensive record outside the top flight’s leading four sides. and have been unlucky
Unfortunately, though, it is the football that the fans pay to see, and the lack of goals (and commitment, some fans may say) is the frustrating and worrying part of being a Villa fan at the moment.
Lambert has opted to stick to his guns for the majority of the season, consistently selecting Andreas Weimann and Gabriel Agbonlahor in his starting line-up. It is the performances of this duo in particular that are coming under scrutiny.
Agbonlahor, a boyhood fan and talent who has been nurtured through the club’s ranks, has shown splintered glimpses of his ability for the past few seasons now, but often it comes across that he is not “giving his all” in games. Naturally, this leads to fans asking for him to be dropped from the first team.
Weimann, is another who has graduated from the Villa academy system. Although he is applauded for his commitment and work-ethic, it is his actual ability that lets him down on the pitch, with fans starting to question whether he is really good enough for the cut-throat requirements of the Premier League.
So, with the January transfer window now officially open, the rumour mill is in full swing. Villa fans now wait with baited breath to see who, if anyone, Lambert is going to opt for, to reinforce his side for the second half of the season.
The acquisition of Aly Cissokho has proven to be a good piece of summer business by the club, while Alan Hutton has been a stand-out performer. Overall, Paul Lambert has been successful in recent window – cause for optimism for the month ahead?
Even a non-football fan would pinpoint Villa’s lack of creativity, as well as an absence of talent out wide. With a fully-fit Christian Benteke now leading the line, if the chances are crafted for him, he has more than enough ability to convert (the goals against United and Palace are testament to what he can do given the opportunity).
Darren Bent has finally left the wage bill, following his loan move to Derby, freeing up funds to attract a few desperately needed players. Meanwhile, with Ron Vlaar and Fabian Delph yet to sign new deals, it seems they could be leaving this January. This would also stretch the budget to allow for new additions.
If Lambert does cave under the pressure of the club supporters, there are number of names floating around that could be within his anticipated budget.
Scott Sinclair – seems to have been forgotten at Manchester City, and after a pretty uneventful loan spell at West Brom, Aston Villa are being back as favourites to sign the English winger. He would give the team some much needed pace and width.
Aaron Lennon – not quite forgotten but has found his playing time dwindling away at Tottenham, he may be a bit expensive for Villa, but if Levy doesn’t price him out of a deal, he may be open to the idea of regular first team action under Lambert. If Spurs really do have an interest in Delph, we may see some movement with players going both ways.
Matt Jarvis – it’s hard to say if Jarvis would be willing to give up the prospect of “some sort” of European experience next season with the Hammers, but if he is open to a move Villa could be an ideal club to forward his career.
Fabio Borini – with his Liverpool career looking all but over Villa could well swoop in with a bid for the Italian forward. He looked sharp when at Sunderland, and I think his recent performances could have knocked a few million off his inflated valuation, leaving the door open for Villa to sign him.
Yaya Sanogo – Arsene Wenger has confirmed he wants the Frenchman to play Premier League football for the remainder of the season at another club, and Villa are the sort of team Wenger would let him go to.
Junior Hoillet – another pacey character that could see Villa as the team to keep him in the Premier League, allowing him to show off his true potential. He looked a class act at Blackburn, but has not set the world alight at QPR as of yet.
Danny Ings – a favourite as far as the social media sites are concerned. I think clubs bigger than Villa could want to lure him away and his fee might be pretty high for Lerner to stump up, but if he wants the guarantee of first team football Villa Park is the place to be.
Ravel Morrison – renowned “badboy” Morrison obviously has some issues off the pitch, but if Lambert can get him to knuckle down and then play to his potential he could be a great signing for the Villa.
Joey Barton – a controversial choice here, and although Villa’s disciplinary record suggests otherwise, they do need a bit more fight, heart and guile – Barton would provide this on and off the pitch.
Overall there’s not “much” to be thrilled about as a Villa fan right now, and still, there is nothing shameful about the club’s current league position. With a few “astute” signings and a positive run of results, throughout the early stages of the second semester, the top half won’t seem that far away, and the relegation battle will be for others to concern themselves with. That would make a nice change.