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Saturday, 14 September 2013

Aston Villa: Will the visit of Newcastle be our first real test of the season?


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Having played Arsenal, Chelsea and Liverpool in our three opening games of this season, suggesting Newcastle will be Villa’s first major challenge may seem a bit bizarre.

But if you weigh up how results against all four teams would show how much progression, if any, has been made by this young Villa side, it makes more sense.

The win at Arsenal was a fantastic result and one that got everyone involved with the club dreaming of a good season. Two defeats later – despite only losing by the odd goal – suddenly everything came crashing back down to reality.

Villa celebrate v arsenalA cup win against Rotherham soon steadied the ship and then there was the extended international break. It seems like the whole season will be kicking off again on Saturday, especially for Villa who have enjoyed a topsy-turvey start.

There have been far more positives than negatives, but Newcastle’s visit on Saturday will be Villa’s first big test - simply because it’s a game Villa are favourite’s to win. Villa are not awarded that tag very often these days and over the past two years we haven’t exactly covered ourselves in glory.

The run towards the end of last season when we picked up vital points against the likes of QPR, Stoke and Norwich showed we could be the better side on our day against lower league opposition, but it all depended on which Villa side turned up on the day.

The other big issue is how we play at home. Home advantage can mean little at Villa Park because we really struggle to break down the opposition. Everything becomes flat at home because we rely so heavily on hitting teams on the break. If Newcastle sit behind the ball and just soak up pressure they could be very dangerous.

I’m sure Villa manager Paul Lambert is aware of that but we haven’t seen any signs he’s worked out how to solve that particular problem. Perhaps that’s being too negative because the fact we have managed to give three of the league’s top teams a good game shows we certainly have moved forward from last season but, again, we’ve been the underdogs so far.

The bottom line is we need to find some creativity going forward and that starts in midfield. Ashley Westwood has been Mr Dependable, but we need him to start finding the strikers with some of the through balls he seems capable of delivering.

The player with perhaps the biggest weight on his shoulders is Fabian Delph because he has improved the most over the last few games. He seems to spend a lot of time chasing after the ball, which is part of his job, but if the team can somehow get him to make a few more darting runs into the box he could be the missing link between midfield and attack.

If Villa play three in midfield that leaves one more position up for grabs. Karim El Ahmadi has done his job so far, shoring up the middle of the park, but we really shouldn’t be looking to do that against Newcastle at home.

Aleksander Tonev hasn’t really settled yet but could be worth a shout – he’s certainly got the confidence. Bacuna is mainly a midfielder but seems to have played better at right back in the few games he’s been involved in so far. Yacouba Sylla plays well when called upon but isn’t exactly the player you turn to when looking for a creative spark. 

 I would love to see Gary Gardner given a chance. He’s still returning from injury and is still young, but even if he gets thrown on for part of the second half it would be worth it. His talent has been whispered about around Villa Park for a good few years now so it’s time to get him on the pitch.

Too much pressure too early is a phase that gets banded about a lot in football these days but when’s the right time? No-one really knows so it’s best to give it a go rather than wait and watch any real talent fizzle out.

Gardner could be the box-to-box player we’ve been looking for. It’s the void in the team we’re struggling to fill most at the moment and seeing as we haven’t brought anyone in during the transfer window who fills that position, we may as well give our home grown prospect a chance.

The other option is to completely reshape the team and look at the problem from another angle – maybe starting Benteke and the new signing Libor Kozak. A combined height of just under 13 ft would be enough to trouble any defence. Perhaps Lambert’s already seen that and we’ll see a surprise when Villa line up against Newcastle? 

 There’s no reason why we shouldn’t win – let’s hope we also put in a strong home performance that will really give us some momentum for the rest of the season.

Article by James Fisher

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