Villa fans will be happy to hear that Wilfred Bouma has finally resumed training after a dislocated ankle had kept him out of action for 14 months. The Dutchman said that: “training is great and I’m enjoying that. I am getting my strength and fitness back but I can’t rush it.” Once he returns to the Villa squad, Martin O’Neill will have another full-back in his ever-growing defensive ranks trying to break into the first team. However, despite winning the last three Premier League games in succession, there has been some criticism surrounding Villa’s need for an effective goal-scorer.
With two goals to his tally this season, Gabriel Agbonlahor will be looking to get on to the score sheet much more frequently in order to increase his chances of getting picked for England in the 2010 World Cup. Agbonlahor’s talents have been wasted in O’Neill’s 4-5-1 formation as the Villa front man is not as effective as a solitary striker. His pace, agility and intelligent play off the ball make him the perfect support-striker as he is able to challenge and commit opposition defences as well as make excellent runs for his teammates to pick him out. Therefore, to get the most out of his young striker, O’Neill must partner Agbonlahor with another striker to allow the Villa forward to play all aspects of his game and, in turn, more goal scoring opportunities will arise, with, one hopes, more goals.
Already in this campaign, Agbonlahor has asserted his position as O’Neill’s first choice front-man, however, who the Villa manager will choose to play alongside him remains the main question. John Carew appears to be the most likely striker to get the nod as he was Villa’s top scorer last season with 14 goals. The Norwegian target-man poses a huge threat to opposition defences not only with his goal-scoring ability but also with his height and strength which allows him to hold up the ball and create space for his respective strike partner. The match against Birmingham last Sunday proved how well the two strikers can play together and O’Neill will no doubt feature both forwards in his starting line-up on the weekend against Portsmouth.
Where does this leave Fabio Capello’s first choice striker for England? Emile Heskey still has not settled into life at Villa Park, despite being a vital factor in England’s qualification for the World Cup. The striker has only scored twice in 18 appearances since being at the club and this has been one of the reasons why he has not started in the past three Premier League games for Villa. O’Neill wants his striker to “get a wee bit more selfish” in front of goal as lack of goals is Heskey’s main weakness thus far. In truth, Heskey is a very similar player to Carew, however, the Norwegian’s deadly form in front of goal and the ability to change the game has been the reason why Heskey has remained on the bench. Nevertheless, O’Neill still plans to give Heskey plenty of opportunities in Villa’s claret and blue, in which, the England international will have to prove he has what it takes to be a first team regular. In cup ties, we could see the Villa manager play youngsters Andreas Weimann and Nathan Delfouneso against certainly weaker opposition. Weimann impressed in pre-season with an impressive goal tally, whereas Delfouneso’s particular style of play has drawn comparisons with Thierry Henry – both are talented players and will be able to provide the Villa attack with some much-needed attacking flair.
This weekend sees the Villans host a struggling Portsmouth side at Villa Park and with Tottenham Hotspur and Manchester City taking on tough opposition with games against Chelsea and Manchester United respectively, Villa will need to take all three points from the game to close the gap between these teams. Portsmouth will definitely be tough opposition as they will be looking for their first victory of the campaign, however, you feel as though Villa will need to raise their game and impose their superiority over a weak Pompey side. And in doing so, there will hopefully be of plenty of goals on the Villa front.