Aston Villa’s inability to score goals this season has been nothing short of appalling.
The fact that Bournemouth scored more goals in one game in Birmingham this season – an 8-0 win at St.Andrews in October- than Lambert’s side have managed in their 11 home Premier League games this campaign speaks volumes on just how inept this team are at putting the ball in the onion sack.
You have to feel sympathy for the loyal Villa supporters who have to put up with this every week. From a fan’s perspective, there’s nothing more satisfying than seeing your team score goals on a frequent basis. It would be far more pleasing to lose 2-3 or 4-5 as opposed to these regular 0-1s that provide no aesthetic spark for the desperate watching eye.
Villa have now scored 11 in total in 23, which is the worst goals-per-game ratio of any team in Europe’s top five league or any of the 649 teams in all of England. If they dare continue at this rate, they’ll break the record for the fewest number of goals scored in a Premier League season. Their October Goal of the Month was cancelled due to the fact they scored no goals. Alan Pardew has seen his Cystral Palace side score more goals than Paul Lambert has. It’s ludicrous.
So where does the blame lie?
The biggest point of interest lies in there midfield, where Tom Cleverley, Carlos Sanchez, Fabian Delph and Ashley Westwood exert no playmaking authority on the game. They’re all players of a pretty similar mould- midfield screeners if you will. Competent at holding shape and keeping possession, but more reliant on someone with more invention and initiative to find the killer pass. They’re not specialists in any sense- not great creators or nor hounding destroyers, more competent team players who contribute to the side’s overall pattern.
Carlos Sanchez’s New Yar’s Day performance against Crystal Palace summarises what this category of players offers. He recorded the most passes (117) and touches (133) by an Aston Villa player in a Premier League game since the start of the 2003/04 season- but nearly all of those passes were lateral as opposed to vertical. Ultimately, he offered nothing, except a midfield screening and some possession.
It means that Villa look fairly good in defence, compact in shape, and effective at maintaining possession, but there’s zero midfield pentetration and a fundamental lack of guile. A 4-3-3 as sterile as this cries out for a designated playmaker as a number 10 and a general switch to a 4-2-3-1, but Villa don’t possess a man of that craft.
Some blame lies with Christian Benteke, who’s gradually regressed since his groundbreaking-19-goal debut season two years ago. Whilst lacking clear-cut-chances (he has had chances, but he’s not missing sitters) from those around him, he’s actually averaging more shots than he did in his last two seasons. Unfortunately his shot accuracy has plummeted to 37.5%.It would be unfair to blame one person on their team’s general shortcomings, and his lengthy injury in 2014 explains why he’s not the player he once was.
Villa’s inability to convert from set pieces is the final nail in the goal-drought coffin. Chris Hughton’s Norwich or a Tony Pulis Stoke became very reliant in previous years by nicking a header from a corner in tight low scoring games. Villa have managed just three goals from set pieces, which means their more reliant than ever to score from open play.
It’s difficult to predict where Villa are heading. They’ve been floating in the realms of mid-table mediocrity for a while now, devoid of inspiration from a highly unpopular chairman, shackled by the terms of their ongoing financial plight.
That trend looks set to continue – their defensive record is good enough to see them probably edge to safety again this season. Perhaps, cynically, relegation would galvanize the club for a new dawn. Would scoring goals in a successful Championship team be better than this?
You should be careful what you wish for, but if their impotency continues long into the future, perhaps, perversely, several steps back may become the way forward.