Team ethic the secret to Aston Villa success
Whilst Swansea City lapped up the plaudits for their fine start to the season, Aston Villa’s steady climb up the table largely went unnoticed.
However, as the Swans leaked four goals to a superstar Chelsea squad, Villa managed to stand resolute against the attacking impetus of Liverpool. Paul Lambert’s men are now gazing down upon the Welsh club, as well as the likes of Arsenal and Manchester City.
The Villans sit second in the Premier League, just two points behind leaders Chelsea, despite only shelling out around £7m, a fraction of their transfer fees, over the summer.
Whilst it is highly unlikely that the Midlands Claret and Blue will still be sharing shoulder space with the elite clubs come the end of May, they are now 9/4 for a top 10 finish with Coral.
Villa fans should enjoy the moment, and revel in their unfashionable underdog status. The Birmingham-based side endured a tense transfer window, with the future of the club still very much in the air. Whilst Randy Lerner was trying to find a buyer there was little change in the coffers for signings like Gylfi Sigurdsson, who became the Swans star summer acquisition.
Considering the uncertain nature of life at Villa Park, if the club continue to punch above their weight, much-maligned Lambert should be in contention for the next Manager of the Month Award.
Swansea coach Garry Monk was a deserved recipient of August’s top boss trophy, but it is always more of a challenge to turn around a long-standing unsatisfactory situation than to start afresh with a clean slate.
Lambert, however, has done just that. But what is the secret to Villa’s thrilling start to the season? Still unbeaten in the Premier League, the West Midland’s outfit have won three of four outings, and seen star midfielder Fabian Delph rewarded with his first England cap.
An organised and water-tight defence have certainly contributed, with the Villans stingy backline, including commanding captain Ron Vlaar and the surprisingly impressive free signing Philippe Senderos, conceding just once in the Premier League so far.
Last season Villa conceded 61 Premier League goals, but significant work seems to have been put in to turn that around, so that the West Midlands club can now field a rearguard that is a formidable prospect for top teams.
The Villans have also been able to play the consistency card, naming relatively unchanged sides, which has allowed them to keep momentum. It appears that the heart of their success so far, however, is a team spirit that seems to have risen from the ashes.
Previous Villa rosters, including the infamous ‘bomb squad’, have been rife with discontent and underperforming stars enjoying large wage packets. With club resources limited, though, previous fringe players have been allowed to come in from the cold, and a number of experienced Premier League faces have also been added to the fold.
The additions of the likes of Senderos, Aly Cissokho, Tom Cleverley, Joe Cole and Kieran Richardson has given Lambert’s squad a last-chance-saloon feel, and provided the club with players who appear to be determined to turn their reputations around.
Ex-Sunderland boss and Manchester United legend Roy Keane has also been credited with the team’s turnaround. The midfield enforcer arrived as assistant coach, and this unlikely duo of the former Red Devils skipper and Lambert appears to have struck the right balance.
Goal hero and Birmingham-born forward Gabriel Agbonlahor grabbed the winner at Anfield, and was keen to hail the ex-Republic of Ireland international’s influence. Speaking after the Liverpool clash, Agbonlahor said: “I think there is more togetherness, and a bit more experience to a good group of young players.
“Also I think young players in the side see Roy Keane here and they are going to listen. He’s perfect for the club and I think we needed someone like that.”
Keane has always been controversial, but it appears he is the secret of a happy camp, and a key component in success, at Villa Park.
Having only netted four Premier League goals so far this term, Villa’s increased defensive awareness and cautious approach may come at a price though. Andreas Weimann is currently leading marksman, having hit home twice, but only supposed relegation candidates, including Burnley and West Bromich Albion, have managed to score less than the West Midlands club.
It is a problem that needs to be addressed, but the impending return of Christian Benteke may go some way to solving the issue. Whilst the Villans have made an explosive start to the season, they will eventually need more than team spirit and defensive nous to stay in the upper echelons of the Premier League, amongst such esteemed company as Chelsea.