Whilst I feel for Shay, I think I speak for the entire Villa Park faithful when I say that this is a breath of fresh air following the previous manager’s apparent reluctance to tinker with any more significant than the colour of the font on the match day programme. Having bolstered the troops during the transfer window, PL will be faced with a lot more of those decisions before the Swansea match. As managers regularly tell us, they love these kinds of problems; it’s an indication of squad depth and of competition for places, which can only be good for a football club. But what exactly are the decisions that will be grinding the cogs in Lambert’s mind on the eve of our next fixture?
Joe Bennett – Left Back
Of all the new signings, Bennett appears to be the most likely candidate for a starting berth against Swansea. Both at Norwich and during his short time at Villa Park PL has previously always played four at the back - this is unlikely to change, meaning that the entrance of Bennett into the fray wouldn’t affect the shape of the team, nor would he be replacing anyone who has made the position ‘their own’. Lichaj performed admirably against the red-hot Ben Arfa against Newcastle, but anyone can see that he is far happier on the right-hand side of the defence, so a straight swap for Bennett is an obvious option for PL. The troublesome left back position has been handed around like a Michael Owen sales brochure during pre-season, as well as the first few league games, so starting an experienced and specialist left back as we have in Bennett, seems like a no-brainer.
Verdict – Likely to start at left-back against Swansea in place of Lichaj.
Ashley Westwood – Centre Midfield
PL has plenty of options with this guy in the squad. He seems like a similar sort of player to KEA; a deep-lying, energetic playmaker who enjoys the crunching sound of a good firm tackle. That’s not to say that he and KEA couldn’t take to the field at the same time, PL likes his full-backs to ‘bomb on’ which means they’ll often need cover from the midfield – having two defensive minded central midfielders could provide the assurances needed for the full backs to get forward more. However, this system really works best with a 4-5-1 formation, as with a 4-4-2 it puts the onus on the wide areas to make chances for the two strikers, and I’m not sure we have the wingers for that system do that at the moment. With a 4-5-1 we could have three central midfielders, two holding (KEA and Westwood) and one attacking (Ireland), giving us a central attacking threat to take pressure of the wingers to create chances. However, with the narrow 4-4-2 formation that PL deployed against Newcastle, Westwood could also take up the position on the right-hand side of the diamond, replacing Holman. Whilst I think that Holman’s work ethic is top-notch and that he deserves to keep his place after his performance against Newcastle, he’s not currently displaying the quality that we need from a player in such a pivotal position.
Verdict – Will probably start on the bench against Swansea, becoming a first XI regular as the season progresses.
Benteke is the signing that has really got Villa fans excited this summer. The will he, wont he, deadline day saga made his arrival all the more pleasing when the deal was finally completed. But will he go straight into the team? Fans were crying out for PL to sign a new striker this summer – big, quick and strong were the physical characteristics that were on most people’s shopping list. We now have all of those in Benteke. The welcome return of Gabby is also another thing for PL to think about. PL will be conscious of not rushing Gabby back after injury, but he’s bound to come off the bench and make an impact as he did against Newcaslte – he’s too good (and quick) not to. Benteke could fit straight into a 4-4-2 against Swansea, replacing Weimann and providing a target for Bent to work off, something I think we all agree was missing last season. Interestingly, this guy seems to fit the bill for being the stereotypical ‘lone frontman’ in a 4-5-1 formation – whilst I don’t see Bent being dropped anytime soon, if his form isn’t sparkling after ten games or so, he could find himself the latest victim of Lambert’s ruthless streak.
Verdict – Will start against Swansea in place of Weimann, being replaced by Agbonlahor as the game wears on.
Whichever players PL decides to run with, if the Newcastle game is anything to go by, we’ll see an attacking Villa team who pass the ball, retain possession and work harder than Joey Barton’s therapist. We know that there is undoubted quality in the team, so combined with the attributes that PL is slowly instilling in the team, there are many reasons to feel positive about the season ahead – Starting with Swansea next weekend. UTV!