Paul Lambert’s first home game in charge of Aston Villa did not go how he had dreamt on Friday night. He had set up his team with more attacking intent than the previous loss against West Ham, with young Nathan Delfouneso getting his first start in a 4-4-2 formation. The fans roared as the team emerged, but the Villa lions choked. The result was a 3-1 defeat to a team that only two years ago would have been a major competitor for Aston Villa. Now the teams look leagues apart.
Everton began the game brightly, with their quick passing and movement too good for a slow and sluggish Villa side. Less than three minutes had passed before their first, and it was a goal that all Villa fans could see coming. Everton dominated the first-half from start to finish, and the 3-0 score line they went into half-time with flattered Aston Villa. It could and really should have been more, as a top quality Everton side made easy work of a very poor Aston Villa, who played like a team of strangers throughout the game.
So what can Villa and Paul Lambert take from this performance? Very little positive is the answer to that question. A team that was already desperately short on confidence and ability last season now also looks short on experience. Ciaran Clark’s dismal performance and sending off typified a shockingly poor defensive display, with Everton able to carve through the Villa defence at will.
Darren Bent once more looked a lonely figure up front, and apart from the final 15 minutes of the game, Villa did not offer a threat going forward. Last season Alex McLeish was lambasted for his negative style of play and Lambert promised the fans that they should not expect to have to wait 40 minutes for a shot on target. It took Aston Villa 75 minutes for their first shot on target against Everton, when new signing Karim El Ahmadi let fly from distance, scoring his first goal on his home debut.
With Clark’s dismissal, Carlos Cuellar’s departure, Richard Dunne’s long-term injury and James Collins sale to West Ham, Villa will surely now have to look at their options in the transfer market. Experience of the Premier League is what is needed, with all four defenders who started against Everton on Saturday barely having a season between them.
It is not just the lack of quality that is the problem for Aston Villa and Lambert, it is the attitude of the senior players remaining at the club. Due to the vast amount of quality players who have left during the last three or four seasons, Villa are not the club they once used to be. The likes of Stoke and Fulham now have better quality players, and Villa must realise that their proud history now counts for nothing in what is shaping up to be another tough season for the club.
Villa are becoming a small club with great expectations, which can be a very dangerous mix. Larger clubs with brighter histories than Aston Villa have been relegated during the existence of the Premier League, and if Lambert does not manage to coach his style of play and belief into these current crop of players, the Premier League may become a part of Villa’s past, not their present.
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