Is Aston Villa’s strike force strong enough to keep them up?
It’s been clear since the start of the season Villa’s defence and midfield has been for too weak to compete against most of Premier League’s clubs.
The back line is not entirely to blame by any stretch of the imagination because as the old adage goes – you defend and attack as a team.
With easily the worst goal difference in the league, Villa have been quite rightly accused of not scoring enough and conceding far too many goals. It’s simple maths that shows if you are doing things badly at both ends of the field you will find yourself in a relegation battle, which is exactly what has happened at Villa.
The defence is very inexperienced and the new additions haven’t really done much to stop what appears to be a worrying trend of pressing the panic button at least twice during a game. Although with Ron Vlaar at the back we do look a lot stronger.
It’s been a long time since Villa played a full 90 minutes without playing into the opposition’s hands. The last few games, for instance, have seen an own goal by Ashley Westwood against West Ham – which we went on to win – a mistake at Arsenal led to a 2-1 defeat, Ciaran Clark slipped up against Manchester City and Villa lost 1-0, and against Reading at the weekend Villa found themselves a goal down when Nathan Baker sliced the ball into his own net.
No-one’s taking away anything from the performance against Reading because it took a tremendous amount of courage to come back and win that game, but again the own goal and an offside decision, which went Villa’s way, could’ve meant a draw instead of the vital win.
The midfield is equally as weak but it seems Villa’s new French signing, Yacouba Sylla, had a good game against Reading, so maybe there’s hope there. Fabian Delph, other than getting booked every game, has also looked impressive in recent weeks, and Charles N’Zogbia is finally flourishing playing just behind the front two, when he stays fit.
Ashley Westwood has looked a decent player at times but doesn’t really bring much to the game and, unfortunately, the rest of the midfield has been found wanting for the most of the season.
That leaves the forwards.
It may seem surprising to say Villa’s attackers could be the one thing that keeps them up this season, especially as they have only scored 11 goals at home all season. But when you break it down there should be goals in abundance – and there’s telltale signs they could be starting to flow at just the right time.
The four internationals fighting for the usual three starting places all have goals and creativity in them. Belgian international Christian Benteke has been a revelation this season, scoring 16 goals in all competitions. When you consider how badly Villa have performed at times the tally looks even more impressive.
Andreas Weimann has now notched 10 in his first full campaign and the Austrian forward not only scores and creates the odd goal, his work rate is second to none. He is still my player of the season at Villa.
England’s Gabby Agbonlahor can be one of the most frustrating players in the side but when he’s on form not many defenders can handle, because of his strength and pace. It’s just a shame he tends to drift in games and has never seemed to be able to get his first touch sorted out.
The final forward is Darren Bent, who has unfortunately gone from being one of England’s first choice strikers to sitting on the bench at a team struggling against relegation. Despite his slight fall from grace, his goal scoring record speaks for itself and no Villa fans would have any fear putting him back in the starting 11 if needed.
Villa also have Jordon Bowery, who hasn’t looked too hot since signing in the summer, but is still young and has time on his hands. The signing of the American Simon Dawkins in January was a bit of strange one, but he has at least looked like he wants to attack when he comes on, although no-one’s expecting him to set the world alight.
But returning to Villa’s strongest front three – Benteke, Weimann and Agbonlahor – there could be goals galore there, especially when playing away from home. They give Villa pace on the wings, the chance to hold the ball up to bring other players in, and on their day they all have a keen eye for goal.
Despite losing two on the bounce against Arsenal and Man City, Villa roared back for the crucial win against Reading, thanks to goals from Gabby and Benteke. Going back as far as the 3-3 draw with Everton at the start of February, two from Benteke and one from Gabby should have given Villa the win.
Against West Ham Benteke and even N’Zogbia got on the score sheet. During the defeat to Arsenal, Weimann managed to get score, and against Reading Gabby and Benteke came to Villa’s rescue. What that shows, without getting carried away, is they are all starting to find the back of the net, hopefully at the right time as the crucial part of the season quickly approaches.
Another interesting fact is Villa have managed to 17 goals away from home – six more than their home record. The boys have enjoyed playing on the counter-attack for a number of years now and with the three-pronged attack the forwards have been causing opposing sides plenty of headaches.
If Villa can somehow improve their home record and, in particular, tighten up their defence – which to be fair has improved slightly in recent weeks – there’s every chance they can avoid the drop this season.
Starting against Queens Park Rangers on Saturday would be pretty handy too.
Article by James Fisher
Calling all Villa fans: Do you share James's sense of optimism? Is attack really Aston Villa's best form of attack? Whatever your views, we'd love to hear from you.