For five games, at the end of November to mid December, Aston Villa’s young defence looked hungry, resilient and promising. Then, like a shy school boy, that had just began to generate the attention of some of the more attractive girls in the class, an astonishing burst of acne broke through and that boy became a loser again. That analogy has never rang truer: Aston Villa did literally become losers. Since December the 23rd Lambert’s adolescent Villa side have lost 5 out of 7 games, conceding 22 goals in the process. The problem of course wasn’t acne, but was closely linked to it: Youth.
However positive signs may lay on the defensive horizon for Aston Villa:
Ron Vlaar - The 27 year old Dutch summer signing has been on the sidelines for the past 7 weeks, but is now fit again to renew his acquaintance with Villa’s back line. Vlaar has made a quietly impressive start to his Villa career, having inherited the club captaincy from forgotten man Darren Bent after only 13 games to his name. Known affectionately by the Villa faithful as ‘Concrete Ron’ he was also the captain of his former club Feyenoord. His leadership skills alone will aid Villa’s shapeless, voiceless defence and bring some much needed organisation to what can only be described as a mess. Coupled with that, he is also an excellent defender that offers more strength and bite than his younger more fragile counterparts. It is no small coincidence that when Villa conceded 15 goals in 3 games, agains tChelsea, Spurs and Wigan, Vlaar was out injured. He will be warmly welcomed back and no doubt a shoe in to start against West Brom on Saturday.
Richard Dunne – The big Irishman is reported to be making a return to training this week after spending 6 months away from the game with groin and hip complaints. Dunne may be 33 years old, and with a contract due to expire at the end of the season, but he is still a man with a stomach for a fight. Some may question whether he lacks the pace now to be truly effective in the Premiership but, it’s not like Baker and Clarke are bursting with speed either. It is Dunne’s experience that will come in valuable, having appeared in more than 534 games in English football. It is no secret that Villa have conceded the majority of their goals of late from crosses and set pieces, Dunne’s aerial ability is nearly unmatched. Many football minds, particularly those of Irish men, will remember Dunne’s monumental 2011 performance for his country when he single-handedly stopped a dominant Russia team. Villa’s current predicament could be Dunne’s new Russian war.
Eric Lichaj – I for one am a big fan of the 24 year old American full back, even if Lambert’s liking of him flickers in and out. Personally I think he is a better option at left back than both Joe Bennett and Edna Stevens. I’m growing tired of Bennett running the ball up to the half way line, before predictably knocking the ball inside to the centre back or hitting an aimless diagonal ball nowhere near Christian Benteke’s head. His naïve diving in has also cost Villa crucial goals this season. Stevens is not a disaster but lacks positional sense and leaves Villa exposed at the back. Lichaj on the other hand is a better defender and enjoys a tackle. He also poses a threat going forward having contributed 1 assist in 8 starts, compared with Bennett and Stevens zero. Lichaj possesses speed and tireless energy down the flank but, perhaps most importantly of all, his 27 appearances for the club are nearly double the amount of Bennett and Stevens combined.
If manager Paul Lambert could add reported defensive midfield target Sissoko to the ranks as well, then the immediate future could suddenly look a lot brighter for Aston Villa. Help is at hand.
image: © David Shankbone