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Friday, 18 January 2013

Is it time for Aston Villa to call up the old guard?


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The last couple of months have signalled desperate times are ahead at Aston Villa. Back-to-back home defeats at the hands of fellow relegation strugglers Wigan Athletic and Southampton have confirmed the fans’ worst nightmares.

Villa’s team is not very good and relegation is looking more and more inevitable with each game that passes. It’s got to the stage now where it seems drastic measures are required because no-one can see where the next win is coming from.

It could, perhaps, have been very different had Villa took their chances at the start of the second half against Wigan when trailing 1-0, if Villa had held on to steal a win away at Swansea City the following game or if the forwards had managed to put away one of the many chances they had against the Saints during the second half.

The stark truth is, however, even though Villa had a few chances in each of those games the performances were well below par.

DunneandgabbyA lot has been said about the young nature of the Villa side but it is clear whatever manager Paul Lambert had hoped to see in his squad by this stage of the season, it has not materialised.

At the start of the season there was still time to work with what he had put all his faith in but now, with more than half the season gone, is it time to bite the bullet and recall some of the senior players?

Brad Guzan has done little wrong in goal but it could be argued Shay Given would have been more of a presence at the back. There is clearly no-one leading the defence – no-one even complains when yet another goal is conceded – so someone needs to take control.

Defensively there have been quiet murmurs about bringing Stephen Warnock back into the fray after a few less than convincing performances at left-back by Enda Stevens and Joe Bennett. After Warnock’s performances last year, calls for him to return really do show how poor Villa’s defence is at the moment.

When Ciaran Clark and Nathan Baker play at centre-half together, strikers appear to have a field day every time. News that Ron Vlaar and Richard Dunne are returning after being sidelined for a number of weeks will at the very least bring more competition back into the squad. But both have to be in for a shout of returning to the first team as soon as they are fully fit again.

There are no really experienced players coming back in midfield but should Stephen Ireland and Charles N’Zogbia be given more responsibility? Both have failed dismally since signing for Villa but it seems like neither has ever known what exactly their role is within the team.

Whenever Ireland plays, no matter who is playing in midfield with him, he never plays in the free role just behind the forwards. Why is anyone’s guess but whether it’s the manager playing him out of position or Ireland simply choosing to hide every game, if Villa even got a glimpse of his potential it could be enough to turn the side’s fortunes around.

N’Zogbia is always played out wide on the right – he stays there for about 10 minutes and then decides to drift inside and go missing for the rest of game. Perhaps if he was given a free role behind the forwards we would get more out of him – but then again, why should the whole team revolve around one player?

The biggest talking point is still Darren Bent. The more Villa fail to score and the more the forwards miss good opportunities, the more it could be argued his presence in front of goal is being sorely missed.

It could be argued even Christian Benteke should be dropped for a couple of games while he works on his finishing – it would be a drastic move but Villa are in dire straits at the moment.

BentBent went from being captain to not even featuring in the squad within a matter of months. Something must have gone on behind the scenes but the truth of the matter is while teams around the drop zone are beginning to pick up points, Villa continue to slide down the table.

There was just abject disappointment against Southampton on Saturday but what was worse was no-one seemed surprised by the result – they were angry and worried by the performance, but not surprised by the result.

Villa need to find their fight, passion and belief before it’s too late and that starts with a very difficult derby game away to West Bromwich Albion this weekend.

There are cases for bringing back players who haven’t really featured this season such as Given, Warnock, Dunne and Bent – Gabby Agbonlahor must also surely be in with a shout of starting after returning from injury – and then there’s the option of playing Ireland and N’Zogbia in more prominent roles.

Whether any of those players could actually make a difference to Villa’s fortunes this season is anyone’s guess but the question is, which of them could be worth a risk?

Calling all Villa fans: Do you think it's time Lambert turned to the more experienced members of his squad in order to turn Villa around? Who would you most like to see brought back into the starting XI? After slipping back into the drop zone, how confident are you of getting out of trouble? Whatever your view, we'd love to hear from you.

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Antony Melvin

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