The last season was a narrow escape for Aston Villa. Teetering on the verge of relegation, the Villans somehow survived, courtesy of Christian Benteke, who through his outstanding solo-performances had allayed the fears of going down.
The young striker from Belgium, almost singlehandedly carried Villa to the doors of safety. Just to illustrate how importance his role to Villa was, here’s a small stat – Benteke had created or scored 49% of the club’s total goals. A powerful striker whose game is centered on physicality, he was simply unplayable as the season progressed.
As always happen when any youngster from mid-table clubs perform so well, big clubs circle around him like vultures. Same happened with Benteke this summer and at point it seemed like he will leave the club to join any of the big London clubs. However, Lambert prevented his inevitable departure and convinced him to stay.
One of the few things that Lambert has done within short time is he changed the philosophy of the club’s over spending on players that are under-performing to a large extent, while has emphasized the need to give more opportunities to young and academy players. Though, it hasn’t worked completely well for him but it seems like he has got the full backing of the club’s owner for this.
This season, six new players have been signed by the club, all are aged 23 or under and are unearthed talents which Lambert hopes to tap their full potential by giving them a solid platform.
Defence was the major worry for Lambert last season. The club conceded a staggering 69 goals last term, which was the club’s worst defensive record since 1987. Apart from goal keeper Brad Guzan and right back Matthew Lowton, none of the defenders provided enough security at the back. Skipper Ron Vlaar was a huge disappointment while academy products Ciaran Clark and Nathan Baker also looked highly unconvincing.
To soothe the defensive crisis, Villa has signed 20-year-old highly talented central defender Jores Okore from Nordsjaelland for a paltry fee of £4 million. The Denmark international was scouted by Chelsea, but he turned down the offer for regular football, which of course he expects to get under the former Norwich boss.
Along with Benteke, the goal scoring burden will have to be shared by Gabriel Agbonlahor and Andreas Weimann, both of them contributed 16 goals last season. The strike force will be added by the presence of Nicklas Helenius and Leonardo Bacuna. But, both are too young and instant impacts are not expected from them.
However, it is the midfield that has been the major worry for Lambert. Villa are really craving for a creative and attacking play makers with the midfield that comprises of players like Fabian Delph, Barry Bannan, Brett Holman, Stephen Ireland (a massive disapointment), Charles N’Zogbia (scored two goals and more of a winger) and Yacouba Sylla have only contributed four goals among them.
The biggest problem that has remained unsolved is the situation of Darren Bent. The English goal-getter, who joined the club in January 2011 from Sunderland for a reported fee of £18 million rising to £24 million doesn’t enjoy the good books of his manager and was jettisoned by Lambert in the pre-season.
Bent’s market price has fallen down and Villa highly unlikely would reap double figure values, should they sell him. A strong mid-table finish, around 12-13th would be realistic expectations for the Villa fans. With Benteke around and a general stability pervading at the club; Lambert can look forward to steadying the ship at Villa Park.