Part I: Time & All Things Considered
Time is by far one of the most frustrating things for humans to experience. It is unwieldy, hard to control. It floats by all too fast at those moments (times) when you just wish it would slow the heck down so you can enjoy the fun (good times). It slows down when you least appreciate it, when situations (times) are tough and you just want life (time) to speed up.
March 10, 2012.
That was the last time Aston Villa Football Club won a Premier League (known as the Barclays Premier League for Corporate Sponsorship purposes) match. That’s a long time.
September 15, 2012.
That was the day that Aston Villa recorded their first win in the new Premier League (known as the Barclays Premier League for Corporate Sponsorship purposes) campaign, their first under Manager Paul Lambert.
It was the day that Ron Vlaar was handed the captain’s armband* for the first time since joining the club this summer.
It was the day that new signings Matt Lowton and Christian Benteke scored their first goals for the club**.
[* Aston Villa’s club captain Stilyan “Stan” Petrov is battling leukaemia. In his absence senior players, such as vice-captain Darren Bent have worn the armband. To show their support for Stan, at the 19th minute of every game, fans (usually of both sides) stand and applaud.]
[**Newness seems to be the name of the game under Lambert. Of the four goals scored by the club this season, only one has been scored by a player (Ciaran Clark) who played for the club last season.]
Part II: The Devil is in the Details
Watching Villa the past two gameweeks (going back to the draw at Newcastle) the thing that stands out most is the workrate of the players on the pitch. Paul Lambert has a bit of that Martin O’Neill in him, in that I can see that he pulls the best out of his players. Midfielder Brett Holman is easily the most visceral example as he runs up and down the field as a terrier chasing the ball, destructing the opposition buildup, and retrieving the ball for his team, while trying his best to be a positive force when in possession. On Facebook, Villa posed the question to their fans about the Man of the Match and looking at the comments it was Holman with roughly 90% of the vote. If that isn’t the definition of Fan Favourite, I don’t know what is.
Holman has some major technical flaws that can be observed when he is given any lengthy amount of time on the ball, or, indeed, when he is asked to quickly create something. But that is not unique to him. It’s almost a very Villa like trait. Matt Lowton didn’t score because he has a superb shot, but because he had some self-belief, a bit of control, a bit of luck (Swansea’s keeper Michel Vorm took a guess through a screen) and executed. Eric Lichaj*, playing on the other side of the back four really didn’t show a ton of high-end skill, but he worked his socks off and did his best to try and compete against Swansea’s very skilled attacking corps (along with Lowton, Vlaar and Clark). He took a yellow for his troubles (along with Lowton and Clark), but the only thing Paul Lambert should care about is that they were the first team this year to stop international sensation (and best value transfer in any league this summer), Michu.
Michu, or Miguel Pérez Cuesta to his parents (Mr. and Mrs. Michu?), had scored 4 goals in 3 games heading to Villa Park. After departing Villa Park, his statline now reads 4 goals in 4 games.
This is all good news for Aston Villa and my personal fandom, but man, did it ever mess up my Fantasy pool. I had three players for both teams, but made a hash out of my starting lineup, preferring Michu and Dyer to Barry Bannan and Vlaar. Apparently the only good call I made was making sure Clark was in my lineup and Angel Rangel (early candidate for name of the year) was not.
[*Eric Lichaj is also a candidate for name of the year, mostly because nobody seems to know how to pronounce it. Is it “Le Shay”? “Lee High”? “Lee Che”? “Lee Shee”? I’ve heard it called those and others, sometimes by the same announcers.]
Part III: Reassessing
Stick with me for a second, but Villa are under a bit of a renovation. I can’t call this a project, because apparently that’s what AVB is doing with
Chelsea Tottenham. What does that mean? Are they going to be a tighter team defensively? Almost certainly. Is Shay Given Brad Guzan going to lead the Premier League (known as the Barclays Premier League for Corporate Sponsorship purposes) in clean sheets? Doubtful. But who knows what that means for the campaign.
With all these new faces, there was always going to be some hiccups and the start of the season certainly had that dread about it. But with the transfer window finally closed, we can get a better look at what this team will be deeper into the season. I think once Paul Lambert gets things settled over the next few weeks in training, he’ll have a better idea what his starting XI will look like. It’s almost certainly going to include Christian Benteke.
From the short cameo from Christian Benteke, I’ve come to some quick conclusions:
1. He is physically and technically dominant. Lambert described him as “unplayable”. It’s an awfully mean thing to say about someone you just signed, but I’m sure PL will find a way to play him.
2. Playing alongside Darren Bent was confusing for several reasons. First, the names are very similar, as are their builds, though Benteke is taller (@MirrorFootball described Benteke as like Bent, but longer). Secondly, Benteke had come on in place of Andy Weimann who is clearly the Beta to Bent’s Alpha. Benteke is an Alpha. Off a corner ball, the two of them collided in the penalty box going for the same ball. Nobody got a good head on it. It’s something to figure out.
3. Seriously, he is so technically dominant. I wish I could find a clip of his goal, but I will describe it as best as I can. A ball was sent into Swansea’s end and their central defender (Ashley Williams* if my memory serves me right) tried to play it back to Vorm. Instead, a marauding Benteke collects it, pops it over the surging Vorm, meets the ball in the box and essentially walks it in. WHY AM I NOT ALREADY ORDERING HIS SHIRT FROM THE ONLINE SHOP?!
[*After watching Ashley Cole and Ashley Young – a former Villan – both miss penalties at the Euros, I asserted that’s why you can’t trust a man called Ashley. Unfortunately for Ashley Williams he is now on that list. Unfortunately for Aston Villa, Saturday also saw the debut of their new midfielder Ashley Westwood. His fate is TBD.]
So, essentially, having tightened up the defence (hopefully with more discipline), and brought in some quality up front (hopefully with less head-knocking in the box), I want to preliminarily assert that Villa might score more goals than they allow in the coming weeks. Bold statement, but I’ll stick with it until given new data.
I don’t want to get too excited, but I checked the Premier League (known as the Barclays Premier League for Corporate Sponsorship purposes) website, and Aston Villa are in 12th place.