Aston Villa’s draw at the weekend signaled the club’s worst start to a new league season since 1969, as yet again the individual errors continued to pile up, with Joe Bennett’s red card proving so costly this time around and with the club sitting just outside the relegation zone, are Paul Lambert’s immediate future and the club’s Premier League status in danger?
After taking just six points from their opening nine games, the current league table does not make for pretty reading for supporters and they sit in 17th place, just two points above struggling promoted outfits Reading and Southampton and an out-of-sorts QPR side.
The old adage is that the league usually sorts itself out after the first 10 games and that the cream will inevitably rise to the top, which looks about right at the moment with Chelsea and both Manchester clubs occupying the top three. Conversely, though, those teams set to struggle will sink to the bottom and unfortunately it looks already like the club are going to have a serious relegation battle on their hands this term.
Lambert has had a tricky start to the season in terms of league fixtures but he’s yet to play any of last season’s top four either home and away and the last two home games against Norwich and West Brom will go down as a missed opportunity that they drew both matches. While game away at Newcastle and Tottenham are more than difficult, they’ve been truly rotten on the road picking up just one point in five games so far and scoring just two goals.
The side have looked bereft of quality and most importantly creativity this campaign; we all knew that taking over from the ruinous reign of Alex McLeish was going to be a difficult job and a long-term one at that, but nobody banked on the club having quite the awful start that they’ve had. Charles N’Zogbia hasn’t been able to break into the side of late and Darren Bent continues to be bizarrely overlooked when they look short of goals in favour of the raw but profligate Christian Benteke.
A few more factoids for you – McLeish amassed 11 points from his first nine league games last season compared to Lambert’s six, Gabriel Agbonlahor was the only player to start against Norwich with more than 100 Premier League appearances under his belt and he hasn’t scored in his last 28 top flight games. They’ve kept just one clean sheet this season and they have won just one of their last 19 league games.
That last statistic will tell you that the problem is simply more to do with the manager, rather a systemic lack of confidence and crucially, lack of form and quality in key areas, so we cannot lay the blame entirely at Lambert’s door, nor should the club panic and seek to replace him.
However, you have to question the wisdom with bringing in a whole swathe of inexperienced lower league players in the way that Lambert has when the club are looking to establish themselves in mid-table. The likes of Bennett, Bowery and Lowton are unfamiliar with the demands of the top flight while El Ahmadi, Holman, Vlaar and Benteke all require a settling in period, even if the foreign recruits have all done reasonably well up until this point.
In that sense, it’s misplaced arrogance on Lambert’s part that he felt that by placing his faith in the club’s youth would be enough to see them through and he’s constructed one of the most vulnerable sides in the Premier League at present, all of his own making. Bolstered by how well his inexperienced Norwich side did last season, he’s attempted to replicate that young, hungry vigour at Aston Villa but it’s not worked yet and it ignores the fact that the Canaries had an extremely settled side after winning back-to-back promotions, while at Villa Park, the new players have been hamstrung by the doom and gloom around the place.
Of course, the obvious counter-argument to this is that Lambert has been urged from above to move on some of the club’s biggest earners and that this situation has been foisted upon him somewhat. Mark Hughes’ QPR side also serve to highlight that experience is not necessarily key to a team performing well given their terrible start to the new campaign, plus their 4-2 win away at Manchester City in the Capital One Cup hinted that there’s good side trying to break through, just that they lack consistency, which at least bodes well for the future.
This is Aston Villa’s worst league start in 43 years, even worse than the 1986-7 season when they were relegated from the top flight, so it shows you how serious their current situation is. While patience may be the watchword of Lambert’s regime at the moment, should they continue to struggle to pick up points on the road and at home, then owner Randy Lerner will be faced with a difficult decision. The 43-year-old boss has been saved by the poor form of others and comparisons to McLeish so far, but they cannot save him forever.
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