Aston Villa: Should Paul Lambert build a team around Stephen Ireland?
Should Paul Lambert build a team around Stephen Ireland? It's quite a big question to ask someone who has been in the job for little more than a month but one that’s definitely worth considering.
I don’t think anyone would deny Stephen Ireland is a talent but can he be relied upon to be the focal point of a team? Perhaps the biggest problem is that if he goes quiet in a game and sulks then there’s really no point in playing him for the rest of the match. If you’ve already based your entire game plan around that same player, the team is going to be in trouble.
Under McLeish, Ireland was played a lot but very rarely in his favoured position, just behind the front two or playing off a lone forward. It was tried a couple of times but with Villa’s weak midfield he rarely got the complete freedom he craved.
What surprised me most about last season was the fact that when he was asked to play in a two man centre midfield a lot of the time he would do all the running, chasing and hustling that was required, something I didn’t think he’d do. The main problem with that was once he had won the ball he was then looking for a person with similar talents to himself further up the field to get an attacking move going.
Of course there wasn’t anyone with the same vision as him playing for Villa last year so invariably the ball was given away, or played sideways for five minutes before the attack was broken up and Villa were on the back foot again. There’s nothing wrong with playing the ball sideways, it’s just when there’s no options further up the field you do start to wonder what the point is.
How frustrating was it last season when you knew Villa had players in their squad who could produce the goods but either didn’t show up or were being played completely out of position?
A team needs to take risks if they are to achieve great things and Villa could still be capable of achieving great things. Do I expect it to happen this season? Not at all. But do I see a manager in Paul Lambert who will be willing to give a player with Ireland’s ability the opportunity to terrorise defences and play the killer ball that was so lacking last season? Yes, I do.
Having listened to some of the noises that were coming out of Norwich, it would also appear Paul Lambert is a manager who enjoys attacking. It was great watching teams like Norwich and Swansea last season having a go at the big clubs and sometimes nicking a great result.
Villa went to Arsenal and lost 3-0. No-one was surprised with the result, but what was heartbreaking was how the team rolled over, kept 10 men behind the ball all game and got hammered anyway.
Villa appear to be in the market for a holding midfield this summer which, with Petrov out for a good while, is absolutely vital. If we can get a solid spine we could surprise a few people this season – I don’t think anyone’s expecting anything better than a top half finish but for me a good season would simply be to see some attacking football played with some flair and not having to look over our shoulders come April and May.
If Ireland clicks and knows he doesn’t have to chase balls back in his own 18-yard box he could really damage an opposition, especially if Bent is as hungry as he sounds pre-season and Gabby shows the same early season form he did last year.
Perhaps N’zogbia might even find the form that made us splash out about £10 million? With Ireland and N’zogbia on form it would be like signing two top class players, without parting with any extra cash. There’s always a clean slate under a new manager so it could happen.
It’s risky moulding your side around one player and to be honest I don’t think Lambert is the type of manager to do that, but if can work a system that allows Ireland to express himself properly, I think it’s got to be worth the risk.
Article by James Fisher
Calling all Villa fans: Do you agree with James? Are you optimistic of seeing an attack-minded Villa this season under Lambert? Should Ireland be the focal point of the team? Who should Lambert try and bring to Villa Park? Whatever your views, we'd love to hear from you.