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Thursday, 13 February 2014

Aston Villa: Why are Villa so reliant on Vlaar?

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It’s quite shocking when you actually look closely at how badly Villa have performed when their captain hasn’t been available over the past two seasons.

Any team would struggle without their best defender, but Villa seem to have taken it to a whole new level.

Ron Vlaar is a Dutch international, he’s easily one of the most experienced players in the side and he’s easily the most assured at the back. The main problem this year appears to be Villa’s lack of a second option if Vlaar picks up one of his many niggling injuries, which he seems to keep picking this season.

It would appear that with Vlaar in the side, Villa have mustered a huge 1.37 points per game – nothing to start a song and dance over, but not disastrous either.

Ron Vlaar 2The 0.16 points we’ve picked up without him though is perhaps more than a cause for concern. That was before the Cardiff game, but seeing as that ended in another draw it won't have changed the stats too much.

Vlaar hasn’t really had a good run in the team and when he’s out Villa are left with Ciaran Clarke and Nathan Baker shoring up the defence.

If anyone was in any doubt about how capable that defensive pairing was they only had to see the performance against West Ham at the weekend to realise they cannot cope in Premiership.

If either one of them plays alongside Vlaar they look okay although I’d still give Baker the nod if they were both fit - and his performance against Cardiff was quite assured.

The evidence was there to see last season so some of the blame also has to be laid at the feet of the tactically inept manager Paul Lambert.

The fans' patience is running very thin with him these days, not just because of the embarrassing number of home defeats Villa have suffered under his leadership but mainly due to the manor of those defeats.

When the forwards and the midfield are completely clueless as to how to attack the opposition, make space or simply push forward it puts so much pressure on the defence.

When that defence has already lost all its confidence and is just waiting for the crowd to turn on them it’s a recipe for disaster – and so it has proved in recent months.

It could be argued Lambert had planned ahead when he bought in Jores Okore, who did look good in the few games in played before suffering a season-ending injury early on, but he didn’t make any moves in the January transfer and he could still regret it.

Aside from the central defensive pairings, if you look at the full backs there’s not much to get excited about either. Matthew Lowton has just gone backwards since the first whistle this season. Every side we’ve played against has simply attacked down the left, knowing Lowton will be completely out of position.

Antonio Luna scored against Arsenal the first game of the season and looked a great prospect. And then he seemed to be sucked into Villa’s negativity and has done nothing since. He’s been dropped for Ryan Bertrand who, although he was skinned a few times on Saturday, has looked good – but because he’s on loan it’s hard to get too carried away because it’s highly unlikely he’ll stay beyond the summer.

The other full back is Joe Bennett and, to put it very mildly, he needs to put a lot of work in behind the scenes before being considered for the first team. But then again, in the world of Lambert, he perhaps is the answer because he was in no doubt that what Villa needed, when trailing 2-0 at to fellow strugglers West Ham, he brought on Bennett for Bertrand. Can someone please explain that one to me because that substitution left me scratching my head more than any other I have seen at Villa Park. Actually, can someone please explain to me why he was played left midfield against Cardiff.

It is very easy to criticise a team when they’re playing bad, pointing out how rubbish each player has been, but it’s difficult to see how Villa can win a game when Vlaar is injured.

More importantly it doesn’t seem the Villa team can see it either because they are so negative and panicky without him.

Some harsh truths need to be said and that’s the fact Clarke and probably Baker just aren’t good enough. It’s great they were brought through first team and given a chance but how many more chances can they get?

Lambert was quick to sell Eric Lichaj to Nottingham Forrest but was he any worse as a right back than what we have now. Everyone knows the huge blunder O’Neill made, selling off Gary Cahill, but there’s no point looking back and thinking ‘what if?’.

Most mangers will tell you a team’s strength starts at the back and that explains why Villa have none at the moment. If we are to make any progress at all under Lambert we need to improve defensively – it may be boring but there’s no point in the team looking so vulnerable, no matter who we play against.

If Vlaar stays fit, Okore becomes the player he showed glimpses of and Lambert buys another decent centre back, we should be okay. If he doesn’t we’ll keep shipping goals, we’ll lose our decent players to better clubs and the team will be going only one way – down.

Article by James Fisher

Calling all Villa fans: Do you share the same view as James or are you more upbeat about your chances? Whatever your views, we'd love to hear from you.

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