Aston Villa: 3 Players That Could Help Us Avoid the Drop
For the past three seasons, Aston Villa have slowly but surely flirted with the darkest depths of the Premier League, so much so that relegation to the second tier of English football is now a stark reality. The poor display of form shown from Paul Lambert’s men has plunged them into their worst run of the season, at a time when other relegation rivals appear to be picking up momentum.
Lambert’s philosophy of bringing through younger players was greeted warmly by supporters, with the club having a previous history of high-earners and over-paid washouts. However, the Scot also controversially shunned a number of high-profile senior figures, the most puzzling of all being the clubs’ record-signing, Darren Bent. Whilst the confidence instilled in youth is applaudable, the belief that these players can survive without the help of a few experienced heads is a little bit naïve to say the least. The squad needs some bulk, and needs it quick.
For many teams, the most important aspect of their side is the strength it possesses through the core, and unfortunately the spine of the current side is looking increasingly fragile. Lambert has been dealt a rough hand with injuries to centre-back duo Richard Dunne and Ron Vlaar but equally the central-midfield options are also increasingly lacking. If creativity in the middle of the park is the biggest miss, then the ability to win the ball is not too far behind, for the current options don’t provide a great deal of either.
Instead of inexperienced players with potential in abundance, the focus needs to be shifted to targeting ready-made players. The club need players who can stand-up and be counted, restore some resilience, and can fight their own battles as well as the clubs. Following the news that the clubs’ head of European scouting, Michael Henke, is set to leave for a coaching role at German second division club, FC Ingolstadt, the following are three targets who could improve the squad based on those observations.
The first of the targets would be an all-action midfielder to provide some sort of backbone to the middle of the park, and that could arrive in the shape of Moussa Sissokho. The French midfielder, who currently plays in Ligue 1 with Toulouse, is a player who can break up the play and sit behind the defence when needed, but can equally provide attacking impetus going forward. Coveted by a trail of top European clubs throughout his career, the 23-year-old French international has only six months remaining on his contract and now looks destined to leave for another club. He was lined-up as a potential target for the club in Gérard Houllier’s ill-fated stint during the 2010-11 season, yet a move would be far more plausible now and at a relatively cheap price too.
An alternative would be a return to former £8.5m man, Nigel Reo-Coker. The midfielder only recently left Ipswich Town after he rejected a fresh contract offer, and would be a welcome return to a midfield that has lacked any real bite since his departure two seasons ago. In current circumstances, his place in the first team would be guaranteed, and he would offer a real sense of grit and determination which is missing from the current crop. Most importantly, he also possesses great leadership skills, which is something there is a distinct lack of in the dressing room at the moment.
The theme of reuniting former players with their old clubs is something that continues with this next potential target, but makes the most perfect sense of them all. Olof Mellberg is a player loved by fans of the club and it would be a masterstroke by Lambert if he decided to sign him. The Swede currently plies his trade in the second division of Spanish football with Villarreal, so luring him to Villa Park shouldn’t be too much of a tall ask, especially considering he would return with open arms to a club he cherishes.
His pedigree speaks for itself, and despite the fact he turns out in the lower leagues of Spain, he still has enough about him to do a job – his man of the match performance against England in last summers’ European Championships is testament to that. He is strong, determined, and powerful in the air. The club is lacking those qualities at the moment and his aerial ability will shore up a leaky defence that has a woeful record of defending set-pieces. He recently turned 35, but he would still have plenty to offer to Aston Villa both on the pitch and off it.
Although he won’t admit it himself, Lambert has often used the youth and inexperience in the squad to hide from his own shortcomings. He has used the age of the side to gain himself more time from the fans and the chairman Randy Lerner, who, despite his best of intentions, has little understanding of the English game. He has also omitted senior players from his match-day eleven, or in some instances, from the squad entirely. Surrounding himself with so-called ‘high-profile’ names is something Lambert has never been used to at any of his previous employers, and you have to question whether the omission of Shay Given, Alan Hutton, and Stephen Warnock was primarily due to football reasons, or whether he just doesn’t like players with proven pedigree. Darren Bent, Richard Dunne and Stephen Ireland are others who appear to be going down this route.
For the long-term vision of the club, Lambert is right with his investment in younger players. However, it doesn’t matter where a player comes from, but where they are now, and judging by the performances in the first half of the season, some of the players brought into the club are struggling to cope with the demands of the Premier League and need urgent support. It takes a bigger man to swallow his pride and admit his failings than one who sits and does nothing, and Lambert needs to cut his losses and bring in players who can help navigate the club out of a potentially disastrous waters.
If Aston Villa do fall through the Premier League trap-door, they will fall like a house of cards. It’s hard to fathom exactly how they would regroup from the shock of relegation, for the club simply does not have the characters to battle in the Championship. It could take a long time for Aston Villa to regain their top-flight status, which, as many relegated teams have found, is a problem all too familiar. That is perhaps the most worrying thing of all for the club, and that is a scenario they do not want to play out.