A new season is here and Astn Villa have begun this Premier League campaign the way they ended the last, a disappointing away loss to a newly promoted team. Some Villa fans will already begin to fear the worst for the nine months of football ahead, but although the result was the same on Saturday, the performance was very different.
Aston Villa finished last season against Paul Lambert’s Norwich, suffering a 2-0 defeat in a match which the Canaries could have won by plenty more. It was a game that they dominated for possession, quality and confidence, as Alex McLeish’s Villa side looked short in all areas. This time Villa can take heart in their performance against West Ham, although it was not the result Paul Lambert and the fans would have desired.
Villa dominated proceedings for much of the first-half, their controlled passing play in midfield a vast change to the rushed counter-attacks that were installed under McLeish’s era. Karim El-Ahmadi was superb in his use of possession. The goal for Kevin Nolan came against the run of play, and Villa ended the match with more shots on target and a slightly higher possession percentage.
Despite the positives that can be taken from Lambert’s first competitive game in charge, some of the problems faced by Villa last season are still there for all to see. Darren Bent was cut adrift up front for most of the game, as although Villa controlled the middle of the park, the formation Lambert chose did not provide Bent with the supply line he needed to be a threat.
After the final whistle Lambert admitted that it was a huge blow to lose striker Gabriel Agbonlahor before the game and his importance to the Villa team was evident on Saturday. Agbonlahor’s pace and movement gives Bent the freedom and support he needs to find space in the box. Bent is one of the best finishers in the Premier League, but without creativity around him, he will not be involved enough in the game to prove worthy of his hefty price.
Another weakness of Villa throughout the last campaign was the lack of physical strength in vital areas, and up against a strong West Ham that problem was still evident. Due to injury to Richard Dunne, the sale of James Collins, and full-backs Stephen Warnock and Alan Hutton falling out of favour, it was an untried and untested line up in defence. Their lack of experience was clear and was punished by the experienced Hammers forward line.
There are less than two weeks left of the summer transfer window and Lambert still knows he has a lot of work to do if Villa are to be a force this time around. A new striker and left-back must be top of his shopping list. Although a loss is not the best way to introduce yourself at a club, Lambert is the man to stabilise the team.
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