Cleat Geeks

VILLA SHOULD PERSEVERE WITH PAUL LAMBERT

Aston Villa’s FA Cup fourth round victory over Bournemouth on Sunday could kick start their season, providing they keep faith with manager Paul Lambert.

There hasn’t been too much for Villa fans to shout about in recent years. In 2010, under the stewardship of Martin O’Neill, Villa reached the League Cup final and the FA Cup semi-final as well as finishing sixth in the Premier League, finishing just six points outside the Champions League places. That season Villa spent around $37 million in bringing the likes of Stewart Downing, Fabian Delph and Richard Dunne to the club. The season before they spent just short of $50 million strengthening their squad, courtesy of the club’s multi-millionaire owner Randy Lerner.

The past five years have seen a marked decline in on field investment from Lerner. Consequently and, not surprisingly, Villa has tumbled down the Premier League table, finishing 15th in the last two campaigns, the position they now occupy with just over half the season gone. Since O’Neill left the club at the start of the 2010/11 season, Kevin MacDonald, Gerard Houllier and Alex McLeish have all tried and failed to turn the fortunes of the 1982 European Cup winners around.

Lambert took the hot seat in June 2012, and, as yet, has failed to arrest the slump. The Scot has not been helped by Lerner’s desire to sell the club, which has limited the transfer funds available to him. There did appear to be some light at the end of the tunnel for Villa at the start of the season, when Lerner announced he would become more involved with the club again, after failing to attract a buyer. This coincided with the team picking up ten points from their first four games. This proved to be something of a false dawn, though, and Lambert’s charges have mustered just seven more goals in their eighteen league games since, winning just twice more.

Understandably, the supporters are becoming restless. Sections of the Villa Park crowd have voiced their discontent at Lambert’s management of the first team and called for his head. Ahead of the 2-0 home defeat to Liverpool on the 17th of January, there was a threat of a protest against Lerner, who has continued his search for a buyer.

Sunday’s win over Bournemouth could be the catalyst for a successful 2015, which – given some of the high profile exits from the FA Cup this weekend – could potentially result in another trip to Wembley.

Lambert’s transfer acumen has been extremely impressive in his time at Villa. He has brought the likes of Brad Guzan, Ron Vlaar, Ashley Westwood, Jores Okore and Christian Benteke to the club. Belgian striker Benteke has netted 37 goals in 77 games in all competitions since his $7 million move from Genk. This campaign has been disrupted by injury, which has contributed to Villa’s lack of goals so far. Okore missed the majority of last season following a serious knee injury, but has done well in his 11 league appearances this season. Dutch centre-back Vlaar has only featured 12 times for Villa in the Premier League this season, again due to injuries, but has been very impressive and attracted a lot of interest following his World Cup performances. Goalkeeper Guzan has become first choice after being signed as a free agent, while Westwood has become a first team regular in midfield.

In a time of over-inflated transfer prices, Lambert has brought in the spine of his team for just over $16 million. His latest signing Carles Gil, who joined earlier this month from Valencia, scored a stunning goal in the Cup win over Bournemouth on Sunday and could help lay the platform for Villa’s strikers to start putting the ball in the back of net a little more frequently.

A lot has been made of Villa’s lack of goals this season, meaning their defensive exploits have been overlooked. They have conceded just 25 goals this season in the Premier League, the same number as Arsenal and West Ham, and less than the likes of Newcastle, Everton, Tottenham and Liverpool. You do have to wonder, if they had troubled the scoreboard attendant a bit more frequently, how much higher up the league would they be?

On the face of his Premier League managerial record, former Celtic and Dortmund midfielder Lambert is struggling. Just 37 wins from 136 games for both Villa and Norwich gives him a win rate of 27%. Yet, he has at least kept Villa in the division, reasonably comfortably, despite a lack of investment in the squad and an owner who wants to cut his losses with the club.

Given their defensive solidity, and the quality of the players currently at Villa, they should stay up again fairly cosily. With a bit of luck, they could well reach their first FA Cup final since 2000.

Aston Villa is a huge, world renowned club with a glittering history that has sadly become something of a sleeping giant. The fans have every right to be frustrated with the way things have been going, but really Paul Lambert is not the problem, Randy Lerner is. However, Lerner does need the club to stay in the Premier League in order for him to recoup as much of the $300 million he has pumped into the club, so he definitely does have something to motivate him to keep the club in the top flight.

Lambert seems to have been battling away with one hand tied behind his back and has handled himself excellently despite the pressure he is under from the supporters. Another question to ask would be: Supposing Lerner did dispense with his services as manager, who, realistically, could Villa bring in as his replacement?

Be careful what you wish for Villa fans…

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