Tuesday, December 31, 2013

Premier League Midseason Review - Aston Villa

Games Played: 19
Games Won: 5
Games Drawn: 5
Games Lost: 9
Goals For: 18
Goals Against: 25
Goal Difference: -7
Home Form: 8 out of 30 points (18th in league)
Away Form: 12 out of 27 points (8th in league)
League Position: 13th

Summary of the season so far:

After last season’s close escape from relegation there was genuine hope at Villa Park about Paul Lambert’s team kicking on this season with a group of young players that were now battle-hardened. In stead, Aston Villa have played some uninspiring football, especially at home where they have managed a pitiful haul of seven goals in 10 games.

After a promising start to the campaign which featured exciting wins against Arsenal and Manchester City and two close defeats to Liverpool and Chelsea, the Villains have gone off the boil. Christian Benteke has looked a different player since getting injured in September, while the midfield has been devoid of possession and creativity in what has to be classified as a mediocre season for Aston Villa so far.

Player of the season so far:

It’s taken a long time to happen, but Villa fans are finally beginning to see why the club splashed a huge amount of money on Fabian Delph. Delph can hold his head high after a first half of the season that has been epitomized by energy and running coupled with good defensive discipline as well as an eye for a good pass. With his fellow midfielders all struggling Delph’s form has been crucial in holding Villa together.

A quick mention for Brad Guzan and Libor Kozak. The goalkeeper has made vital saves to ensure Aston Villa have at least sneaked some wins on the road, as well as escaping with draws in matches where the team has been thoroughly outplayed. Kozak has chipped in with some crucial goals to help the team, and while the Czech forward is not at the same level as Benteke, his hard work and finishing ability are at least reaping some rewards for the team in the final third.

Underwhelming players:

A lot of players fall in this category. In the interests of time and space, I will highlight only a few. Benteke started the season at a canter, but his injury clearly stalled his momentum. I don’t want to be too harsh on the Belgian, as one can never make a clear judgement about the physical and more importantly — psychological scars of returning from and injury. The sense remains that all Benteke needs is one goal to kickstart another good run of form.

Leandro Bacuna and Antonio Luna bring some flair going forward, but both have been caught out defensively on numerous occasions. One would have hoped the centre-backs would have improved after last seasons horrible displays, but Nathan Baker and Ciaran Clark continue to show positional naivety. Finally, after looking so assured with the ball in midfield last season, Ashley Westwood has regressed to passing the ball sideways this season much to the detriment of the team.

High Point of the season so far:

The win at home against Manchester City was special. Villa were outplayed for vast swathes of the game, but a stunning free kick form Bacuna and a calamitous error by Joe Hart resulted in a shock win for Aston Villa. Two surprise wins on the road against Arsenal and Southampton demonstrated Villa’s strength in the counter attack, especially when Gabriel Agbonlahor and Andreas Wiemann are fit and in form.

Low Point of the season so far:

It’s a small matter of solace for Aston Villa that they haven’t been humiliated in any fixture. However, that doesn’t justify the drudge they have served up at Villa Park this year. Worst amongst the home losses was a 1-0 loss against Crystal Palace, while stalemates away to West Ham and Hull were easily the worst games of football to be watched this season.

January transfer requirements:

A decent central midfielder is badly needed in Aston Villa’s starting eleven. Delph’s energy is crucial, but Westwood’s failure to progress this year means Villa don’t have a midfielder capable of linking with the attackers, nor do they possess the ability to slow the game down in the centre of the park. This has been the reason for their downfall at home, where they have proven incapable of breaking down the opposition. An experienced centre-back wouldn’t be amiss either, especially if the Villains find themselves in a relegation battle again.

Prospects for the second half of the season:

Aston Villa are one of the most unpredictable sides in the division. Despite not being blessed with creativity, Aston Villa’s threat on the counter means they are capable of getting points away from home even when being completely dominated by the opposition. However, serious questions are starting to be asked about Paul Lambert’s style, and there is only so much longer the fans will tolerate the manager if the quality of play does not improve. In their current guise it’s hard to see Villa improving to the point where they jump ahead of Swansea and Hull, but there is just enough quality in the squad to keep the club from being relegated this season.
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