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Saturday, 31 August 2013

Aston Villa: Four games in, how are we performing?

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The international break has come early for Villa – thanks to Chelsea’s European Super Cup final against Bayern – so the players will be getting an early rest.

After four games, including cup competitions, Villa have won two and lost two. One win was against Rotherham in the League Cup but a win’s a win.

The season started at a blistering pace with a surprise win over Arsenal  - at Arsenal - which saw the club sitting pretty at the top of the league. Again, you take what you can get.

To be fair getting three points after three games would have been a good start seeing as Villa’s opening matches were against Arsenal, Chelsea and Liverpool – and it was a good job too, because that’s how it stayed.

Villa celebrate v arsenalAny neutral would have to say Villa were unlucky to come away with nothing against Chelsea, but no-one could say we deserved anything from our first game at home to Liverpool.

If you cast your mind back to last season the only real positive to come out of that match was the fact it was miles away from the terrible performance that saw us lose 3-1 at home in the opening game of the season against Everton.

That result quickly burst any bubble even the most hardened Villa fan had that we were going to surprise a few people during the 2011/2012 season.

The most positive aspect of the opening three league games has got to be how competitive the team has been. Although Arsenal underperformed, and we had a few refereeing decisions go our way, we won.

Despite losing to Chelsea and seeing a few refereeing decision go against us – we put up a great fight for the whole 90 minutes. And even though Liverpool were the better side for much of the match at Villa Park, we stayed in it and could have nicked a point.

Against Rotherham we actually kept a clean sheet – enough said.

The biggest fear for Villa fans this season will be whether the young squad is capable of keeping their nerve throughout the whole campaign.

We keep going back to it, but that run over Christmas last season – when we scored none and conceded 15 in the space of three games against Chelsea, Tottenham and Wigan – still plays in the back of our minds. But it’s so far so steady so the next big question mark is how we will perform against weaker opposition – only time will tell.

Having signed six new players during the close season a look at how they have performed is also worthwhile.

Antonio Luna could not have made a better start, flying towards goal and scoring the decider against Arsenal.  Unfortunately he soon picked up an injury.

Jores Okore had to briefly bide his time before the unfortunate Nathan Baker picked up yet another injury, but since he’s come in he’s looked a very solid player – especially as he’s only just turned 21. Baker and Ciaran Clarke will know they’ve got their work cut out to break up his partnership with Ron Vlaar, even at this early stage.

Leandro Bacuna looked a little out of sorts against Liverpool but was a surprise starter at right back against Rotherham in the cup. He looked very accomplished in that position and although it was against lower league opposition, it’s great to know he can play there.

Nichlas Helenius looked good in pre-season but he picked up an injury early on and is still finding his way back. Having replaced Christan Benteke against Rotherham, to play in the lone striker role, the gulf in quality was quite clear, but it’s still very early days.

Aleksander Tonev seems very keen and clearly is not afraid to have a pop at goal – from any angle or any distance – but I don’t think we’ve seen the best of him yet.

Jed Steer did what he had to in the cup and hopefully he’ll look at Villa’s current number one, Brad Guzan, knowing that if you keep applying yourself the starting position can become yours.

The standout players so far have clearly been Benteke and Fabian Delph. 

Four goals in four games has been a frightening start from the big Belgium and long may it continue.  He does go cold at some points during a game but he’s such a threat defenders can never relax.  He’s so vital to everything we do going forward - and although I’d argue the case we are not a one-man side, we clearly need to keep him fit.

Delph started showing what he could do towards the end of last season and since manager Paul Lambert brought in even more new faces, he’s suddenly become one of the more senior players.

No-one has every doubted his passion but now he’s becoming a threat going forward.  His main problem is still giving away too many stupid free-kicks – which inevitably lead to yellow cards – but Wayne Rooney and Paul Scholes always played like that, so perhaps it’s not the end of the world.

Gabby Agbonlahor also deserves a mention because his performance against Arsenal was fantastic and he is still showing his hunger to play well for his boyhood club is alive and kicking.

It’s probably too early to point a finger a players who have looked out of sorts but it was great from Andi Weimann manage to get a goal midweek in the cup.

I’m still far from convinced with Joe Bennett, who still looks out of his depth, but with Enda Stevens going out on loan it’s best to get behind and cheer him on, rather than shake your head every time he gives the ball away.

There will be plenty of Villa players representing their country during the international break so we wish them all well – so long as they stay fit.

Newcastle visit Villa Park next on September 14 and it’s a game that will tell us far more about how far we have really come since last season.

Article by James Fisher

Calling all Villa fans: How would you assess the first four games of the season? Who has been your star man? Have your performances so far given you the belief that you may be challenging for a place in Europe this season? Whatever your views, we'd love to hear from you.

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