5 Reasons To Start Backing Aston Villa Now
Few clubs had as daunting a start to the season as Aston Villa. Having claimed 10 points from nine opponents with an average points total of 16, Graham Ruthven says it's now time to start backing Villa.
On the face of it Aston Villa haven’t improved much on last season. Paul Lambert’s side are currently perched just two points above the relegation zone in 14th place, but somewhat deceptively Villa are a team to be reckoned with. Here are five reasons to back Villa.
#1 – Villa Have Emerged Respectably From A Tough Start
When the Premier League fixtures were first announced Manchester United manager David Moyes voiced his anger at the tough start dealt to his side.
However if Moyes thought United’s start was unduly challenging he clearly had yet to glance at Aston Villa’s opening fixtures.
Paul Lambert’s side have faced six of last season’s top seven (Arsenal, Chelsea, Everton, Liverpool, Manchester City and Tottenham) in their first nine league games, giving the league standings a false impression of their true ability. Considering the daunting schedule Villa’s current 14th place represents a respectable start to the season, but Lambert’s team should now begin to surge up the table.
Villa face games against West Ham, Cardiff, West Brom, Sunderland, Southampton and Fulham over November and December, giving them the opportunity to rack up a haul of points heading into the congested festive period.
#2 – New Fluid Front Three
As relegation candidates for much of last season Villa were often criticised for a lack of creativity, as Lambert sought to shore up his midfield in an attempt to stifle opponents.
But Lambert has experimented with a new formation this season, deploying Andreas Weimann, Gabriel Agbonlahor and Christian Benteke as a fluid front three.
The change in system has reinvigorated Agbonlahor in particular and found an optimum position for Weimann, who had shown promise in recent seasons but spread himself between attack and midfield too thinly.
Against more illustrious teams Lambert’s commitment to playing a front three has left his midfield and defence open to the opposition counter attack, although wins over Arsenal and City demonstrated just how effective the trio can be, even up against the league’s most formidable defences.
#3 – Brad Guzan
The theory is that America’s rich heritage in baseball, basketball and American football explains why the country consistently produces such exceptional goalkeepers. Brad Guzan is next to come off the conveyor belt.
His performances for Villa over the past year have marked him out as one of the most accomplished keepers in the Premier League, supplanting Tim Howard as England football’s most dependable Yank between the sticks.
With Antonio Luna and Ron Vlaar the only settled defenders in front of him Guzan’s efforts have been undermined by Villa’s shuffling backline but the Illinois-born keeper has become Lambert’s first name on the teamsheet.
#4 – Christian Benteke
Paul Lambert made a number of signings over the summer, dipping into the market to strengthen his previously threadbare squad. However, his best piece of business was convincing Benteke to retract his transfer request and sign a new contract with Villa.
Injury has hindered the Belgian so far this season, but his record of five goals in just eight appearances still demonstrates his potency and has allayed concerns he might have cut a distracted figure, amid interest from Spurs and others.
Lambert has built his new-look front three around Benteke and there are few players in the Premier League who can lead the line in such a forceful and dominating manner.
#5 – The Fixture List Favours Villa
Villa may have a favourable run of fixtures to look forward to but their closest rivals in the league table have not been afforded the same privilege. Lambert’s side must use it to their advantage.
In comparison Swansea face awkward games against Manchester City and Newcastle United over their next six league fixtures, as well as an energy-sapping trip to Kuban Krasnodar in the Europa League.
Steve Clarke’s West Brom side have picked up where they left off at the end of last season but fixtures against Chelsea and City could see their league position drop off over the next few weeks.
And Hull City, who have been the season’s surprise package for many, will come up against high-flying Arsenal and Liverpool before Christmas, as well as Manchester United on Boxing Day.
Even Fulham, who for all the pressure on manager Martin Jol are still sitting in 13th position, will endure a tougher stretch of fixtures than Villa between now and Christmas, as they travel to Anfield before hosting Spurs on December 4th.
Lambert and his Villans have been afforded an opportunity to prop themselves up ahead of the festive period and are well placed to take it.
Aston Villa Odds - Odds as at 1st November 2013.
|Win Premier League||3001.00||2001.00||3001.00||4001.00||NA||2001.00|
|Top 4 Finish||151.00||201.00||251.00||301.00||251.00||251.00|
|Top 6 Finish||21.00||41.00||41.00||51.00||41.00||34.00|
|Top 10 Finish||2.88||2.75||2.75||2.50||2.88||2.50|
Follow Graham on Twitter: @grahamruthven
Read more of Graham's work at The New York Times Soccer Blog