Is Paul Lambert’s long-term project compromising Aston Villa short-term ambition?
As previously mentioned, while his drastic model would have served a newly-promoted team well in terms of expectations (there was also a cup semi-final), after such a season of consolidation, Villa fans wanted more this season. But how much more, can we realistically expect?
Keeping Christian Benteke for the season ahead raised Villa fan’s expectations. It also provided Villa with a chance of making some kind of short-term impact while the overall rebuilding took place. If an attacking midfielder or a bigger midfield presence was brought in (even on a season’s loan), it would have surely benefited the effectiveness of having Benteke in the ranks.
Instead, the biggest purchase in the summer was made in Libor Kozák. It could be argued that it was good to start to bed in Benteke’s replacement, but what about the now? If you keep your best asset, why not maximize his potential, rather than investing in covering his departure?
With a season’s experience in the bag, one benefit seemed to be the improvement of the much maligned Villa defence. That problem seemed to be solved, with an improvement in results even when faced with a tough bunch of fixtures to start the season off with, but suddenly Villa got unlucky with injuries.
Jores Okores was the new signing expected to make the biggest impression in improving the team, his injury was a massive blow. Yet, Ron Vlaar responded and stepped up to improve on his less than convincing first season. There’s no doubt his absence in the last two games against Fulham and Manchester United was pivotal to the two loses.
Of the other new recruits, it would be difficult to argue that any of them have improved the first eleven this season.
Antonio Luna is still an average left-back at best at the moment; like Joe Bennett, more experience can only help his cause. Is Bacuna better than Lowton at right-back? Nope. Does Tonev add anything to the midfield? Not yet, he doesn’t.
Up front, Helenius hasn’t had a sniff, and while Kozák has added a functional presence when called upon, he seems to be a squad player at the moment.
Increasingly this season Villa have been found out and especially struggle against any team with a disciplined, capable and experienced midfield. Counter-attack successes have only came against decent midfields, if the opposition breaks rank and gets into fire-fight with Villa, by over committing players forward (see Arsenal, Manchester City and Southampton).
With the alarmingly OBVIOUS lack of dimension in the Villa midfield and lack of ability to dictate a game, Benteke has been rendered increasingly a frustrated figure.
If Lambert’s plan is to evolve the current squad with minimal additional investment (i.e. supplementing the squad with the type of young inexperienced players he’s brought in so far), then while it may bare fruits in two or three seasons time, it underlines Villa distinct lack of short term ambition.
Lambert’s policy of ‘young and hungry’ to gel the foundations of a tight-knit team is a sound one, only when players with proven pedigree and quality are added to up the level of the team’s capability as they go along.
Yes, their wages cost a bomb, but it’s only a short-term spend. No five-year drainage like Shay Given’s £55,000-a-week.
Lambert might argue that having such players on those wages would demotivate his close-knit younger players on considerable less wages. Maybe, but surely it would inspire them too and give them increased confidence in the team’s potential. There is no substitute for ability and experience, if the player’s attitude is good. Certainly Villa have been crying out for such a player in the middle of the park.
While I agree with Lambert’s overall ethos, with the January window approaching, he needs to address the short-term, because tomorrow may never come.