Is Paul Lambert’s rotation policy at Aston Villa starting to get to the players?
It hadn’t really seemed to matter whether rotating players every game was getting to the players or not until Darren Bent voiced his displeasure about being dropped against West Bromwich Albion on Sunday.To be fair he hadn’t been playing particularly well the past few games but that seemed to be more down to a lack of match fitness rather than anything else.
He was still chasing the ball with a lot of heart and despite the fact he clearly was not firing on all cylinders, he remains Villa’s top scorer once again – with a huge three goals.Bent isn’t the first player to feel the wrath of Lambert’s axe and he certainly won’t be last, especially with Gabby Agbonlahor coming back into the fold following his own injury worries. And with Christian Benteke seeing more first team action with each game there is genuine competition up front, possibly for the first time in Bent’s Villa career.
Charles N’Zogbia was one of the first players to be dropped by Lambert, but even he didn’t seem to complain. It was inevitable he would lose his starting place if he didn’t start the season with a bang – and that clearly didn’t happen. Having said that he’s a good player to have on the bench and if he does find his form again any time soon his presence will be like having a new £10 million signing. We’re still waiting for that to happen but he actually scored against Manchester City in the League Cup.Another player to get dropped fairly quickly was Nathan Baker. He was tried at full back when Ciaran Clark was preferred at centre half very early on, but he was soon rotated on to the bench while Eric Lichaj and Matthew Lowton cemented their places.
Again not too many complained about that, but Baker possibly had a right to feel hard done by. The only time Lambert has kept the same team was following the draw with Newcastle United, when Villa went on to beat Swansea City. Other than that the side has seen at least one or two changes, for little or no result.Against Southampton, Andreas Weimann made way for Benteke; against Man City N'Zogbia, Fabian Delph, Agbonlahor and Weimann came in for Stephen Ireland, Barry Bannan, Brett Holman and Bent (although that was a cup game); and then against West Brom, Marc Albrighton and Holman came in for N'Zogbia and Ireland.
The manager, however, seems content to stick with his back four of Clark, Ron Vlaar, Lowton and Lichaj, with Karim El Ahmadi holding, having only dropped Lichaj twice, for Baker and Joe Bennett.
That’s probably because the options are a lot more limited, but it still seems to be a settled defensive set up and then anyone’s guess who plays in front of them.Having said that, behind them there’s the Brad Guzan and Shay Given merry-go-round to see who plays in goal.
It’s going to be very difficult for players who are used to holding their first team place – admittedly because Villa have been pretty poor in recent seasons – just as much as it will be for the new signings who have been used to first team football with their former clubs, to suddenly be sitting on the bench.There’s also the matter of Villa’s youth players getting used to life on the bench again having experienced so much first team action when the squad was depleted last season.
It’s easy to do when the team’s playing well but when results aren’t going your way it suddenly becomes a lot harder to look a player in the eye and tell them they’re not starting.When that person has also been stripped of the captaincy in recent weeks, as has happened to Bent, relationships tend to get even more strained.
Bent hasn’t been playing brilliantly these past few weeks but I hope he’s on board with the manager’s plans because it would be a huge shame if he left.
Lambert has said all along it will take time to mould Villa in his image. We can only hope our best players stay the course and are still with team when that promise is delivered.
Calling all Villa fans: Do you share James' fears? Should Villa be concerned about Lambert's rotational policy or do you think making players fight for their places will make the team stronger in the long run? Do you think Bent will man up and do what's right for the club or do you think he will sulk and possibly rock the boat? Whatever your views, we'd love to hear from you.