Paul Lambert has a happy knack of picking up points. His teams always seem able to change their set up and style at a moments notice, and get back into games they were behind in.
This requires a certain kind of player, and Lambert has been able to identify transfer targets that enable this syle of play. This season, as he has done previously at Norwich, he has made several relatively small money signings, Benteke being the £10 million exception, making use of players who have the work rate and flexibility to suit his management style. Brett Holman is a good example of this, even if he was signed by the former boss prior to his departure.
The tireless Australian is not a big name to have brought in, a 28 year old free signing is not someone that the fans will spend the summer discussing, but he has been infectiously industrious in the opening matches of the season.
The atmosphere of the club has shifted with Lambert’s appointment and his signings. There is an excitement about players like Benteke, Vlaar and El Ahmadi. The manager clearly has confidence in the signings he has made, most of the new players have already seen first team action, with keeper Brad Guzan even displacing the Premier League stalwart Shay Given. Vlaar has also been given the captain's armband.
The optimism and energy around the team couldn’t be further from the cloud that hung around Villa Park during the reign of Alex McLeish, a manager so defensive he sent Alan Hutton out as a winger for Villa when playing at Spurs. Lambert’s ousting of Hutton from the Villa first team, he is now behind Lichaj and the new signing Matthew Lowton in the pecking order, feels like a cathartic removal of the defensive excesses of the McLeish regime.
Aston Villa have always been able to count on young players graduating from their academy. Over the previous couple of years this reliance has become a little too heavy, as the Villains have struggled to sign players able to improve their team.
Lambert reputation is growing as someone who can identify players ready to either step up a league, or step across from Europe, straight into first team action. His players clearly are excited about playing for him, and as such they give the effort required to make his style of football successful.
Villa may not be troubling the top six this season, as they did when Martin O’Neill was at the helm, but Lambert’s team should be able to make up some of the ground lost under Houllier and McLeish.
image: © Ben Sutherland