Aston Villa: The way forward Part 1: Building from the back
With the 2012/2013 season less than two months away, Aston Villa are entering a definitive period in establishing a platform for success this season. The major question for the newly appointed manager/messiah Paul Lambert is; will the rebuilding of his squad be a process of revolution or evolution?
Beginning with the defence. The past two seasons have seen a major decline in the quality of performances from the collective at the back. At times it has been difficult to believe that it was once a stingy, top-six defence that conceded merely 39 goals in the league over the 2009/2010 season.
If the tenures of Gerard Houllier and Alex McLeish served any purpose, it was to illuminate the deficiencies in the Villa defence that Paul Lambert needs to fix. However for a manager whose side conceded the highest sum of goals (66) in the league outside of the relegated three, it presents possibly the biggest challenge for Lambert.
There are three major issues for Lambert to address.
Under Alex McLeish’s regime, Villa conceded more goals (23) from set pieces than any other team, while simultaneously failing to score a single goal from a corner in the league all season. Clearly both the defensive and offensive aspects of Villa’s set pieces require great attention.
The lack of a commanding central defender could be a catalyst for this trend to continue. Veteran Richard Dunne is struggling to produce age-defying performances and James Collins is being linked with a move elsewhere. Replacing the void left will require Lambert to enter the transfer market and find a defender capable of commanding the penalty area.
Building from the back
An issue first becoming apparent under the reign of Gerard Houllier, distribution from defence is an area desperately in need to addressing. Lambert’s endeavour to solve this problem will ultimately depend on his style of play.
If content to play a long ball game, either Richard Dunne or James Collins would be suitable options, however both have a tendency to hit long balls too often, especially when put under pressure.
Alternatively Ciaran Clark’s time playing in midfield is evidence of his comfort on the ball, but in the past he has struggled with the physical demands of playing at centre half.
What do you think; can Ciaran Clark make the step up to become a permanent Villa central defender?
Problems at full-back
Undoubtedly a pet hate of the Villa fans has been the performances of the full-backs over the past two seasons. Stephen Warnock, a player who was back up for Ashley Cole in the 2010 World Cup squad, has had two poor seasons following and now only has 12 months left of his contract. While Alan Hutton never showed any glimpse of the form he displayed at Tottenham.
Options on the market for established Premier League players include Maynor Figueroa and Kyle Naughton, who are in the last year of their contracts at their respective clubs and could be picked up on the cheap. Naughton has been strongly linked through his time under Lambert at Norwich last season.
Alternatively Lambert could stick with Warnock and Hutton, attempting to help return them to the form they have displayed in the past. Villa also have able back-ups in Eric Lichaj and Chris Herd, who deputised well in Hutton’s absence last season.
Article by Christian Dougherty
Calling all Villa fans: How optimistic are you of the season ahead under Paul Lambert? Do you agree with Christian's assessment of the defence so far? What would you like to see Lambert achieve at Villa Park? Whatever your views we'd love to hear from you.