Is Paul Lambert to blame for Aston Villa’s goal drought?
Aston Villa (10/3 with Coral to be relegated) appear to be suffering from a severe case of Burnley-itis. After being beaten 2-0 by relegation candidates QPR last time out, Paul Lambert’s men have now endured a worrying five games Premier League games without a win.
What must be most concerning for the Villa Park faithful, however, is that the Birmingham-based club are firing blanks. On paper, Lambert’s options up front are strong, with Gabriel Agbonlahor, Christian Benteke, Darren Bent and Andreas Weimann in the ranks.
However, injuries and poor form have seen the goals and attacking impetus dry up. As they continue their descent, dangling just two points above the Premier League relegation zone, Lambert must take action and shake up the status quo.
The Villans surpassed expectations early in the season after a barren summer transfer window, flying-high around the European spots. Warning signs were always evident, though, as even when Villa collected 10 points from 12 in their brightest spell, they notched up just four goals.
After stealing Liverpool’s scalp, Lambert was rewarded with a new contract by want-away owner Randy Lerner, and the situation has gone downhill ever since, with Agbonlahor’s winner in mid-September his side’s last goal.
The spirit that had inspired Villa’s band of merry misfits to dizzying heights at Anfield seems to have dissipated, following a string of defeats to Premier League giants Arsenal, Chelsea, Manchester City and Everton. Whilst those results were perhaps to be expected, the Birmingham Claret and Blues need to be able to take crucial points from the teams surrounding them.
Villa are now ominously the lowest scorers in the Premier League, below newly-promoted bottom-dwellers Burnley, who are yet to win a top-flight game this term. Lambert, though, appears to have hope his attackers will get back on track.
Speaking recently Lambert said: “I know we’ll be alright in that department because when Benteke comes up to speed, and with Gabriel Agbonlahor, Andreas Weimann, Charles N’Zogbia and Darren Bent, we’ve guys with goals in them. That’ll happen.”
The Villans coach has, however, not put his faith in club record signing Bent, who was brought back in from the cold this campaign after being farmed out on loan to Fulham last term. The former Tottenham and Sunderland striker is a proven Premier League poacher, but continues to be ignored, only coming off the bench against QPR, when the difference in firepower proved fatal to Villa’s points haul.
With Benteke having been out for over six months it was to be expected that he would be rusty upon his return, but Villa cannot afford to wait. Lambert himself acknowledged that the brilliant Belgian’s injury was “really severe” and that he “might have to wait for six or seven games before he’s really up to speed.”
Villa have seen their star man toil up front fruitlessly for the last few games with little support, and need to adapt their approach if they are to extract the best from him once more.
Benteke should be eased back into the starting XI more gently, with Bent waiting in the wings as an able deputy should he be given the chance. Current top scorers Agbonlahor and Weimann have been unable to add to their two goals and should face competition for a spot from wing whizz Jack Grealish.
The exciting, young academy product can be deployed in a variety of attacking midfield roles, so should be putting pressure on many underperforming first teamers including Charles N’Zogbia and Kieran Richardson.
With Chelsea rumoured to be circling for Grealish, and Benteke apparently close to departing Villa Park before he was sidelined, Lambert must utilise his sought-after duo correctly to get the Villans firing on all cylinders again, or else potentially face losing his star attractions in January.
The prospect of finishing this Premier League campaign without the options of Benteke and Grealish is surely a daunting one for fans, but their star men will not wish to be embroiled in a relegation battle if they are coveted by clubs higher up. Lamber then, must be brave and make changes to half Villa’s slide.