Aston Villa have conceded just 19 goals in their 25 Premier League games this season, the best defensive record in the division. This ability to keep out the opposition has propelled them into the League Cup final and within two points of the Champions League positions.
With the arrivals of James Collins, Richard Dunne and Stephen Warnock last summer, along with a more contained approach from Martin O’Neill, Villa have proved to be one tough nut to crack and these changes are reaping their rewards. But if the West Midlands outfit are going to push on over the coming seasons and really impose themselves among the elite, then they will need that something ‘extra’.
Many have made calls for a new striker or two to be purchased and some world class ability up top could definitely prove to be the icing on the cake. Gabriel Agbonlahor is an exciting talent but I’m not sure if he possesses the movement or finishing ability to propel Villa to the next level over the coming years. John Carew has been inconsistent this campaign and we all know about Emile Heskey’s strengths and weaknesses – he is never going to score enough goals to really make the difference at the highest level.
But in the short term, should Villa take a few more risks in order to secure a top four placing in May? They have enough ability in midfield to really put teams to the sword but they seem to have become slightly more cautious over the past couple of months. The excellent, and underrated, Stiliyan Petrov has the capability to cover for his more attack-minded midfield colleagues so perhaps they should be given slightly more freedom over the remainder of the season.
And while there is no doubting the defensive heroics of Dunne and Collins this year, should they have the confidence to bring the ball out of defence more regularly rather than opting for the long ball? Or is this one of the reasons they have been so effective?
This article should not be seen as a derision of this Villa team’s efforts so far. They are on course for their first piece of silverware since 1996 and as I said last week they have a great chance of doing a cup double this campaign. But, there is a great chance for them to become just the second team in seven seasons to break into the quartet that has dominated English football in recent times. With a bit more creation they could really achieve this and due to their English core and hard-working style I believe many neutrals will be happy if this happens.
Great teams are built on solid defences and there can be no questions that O’Neill has created one of those at Villa Park. Once he throws in that missing ingredient they really will have a team to be feared by all.