After a poor showing away to West Ham on the opening day of the season, and the dismal first home game defeat to Everton, many critics had already decided that relegation may well be on the cards for Aston Villa as they sat in the bottom three of the Premier League table.
Two games can change everything in football though, and a spirited performance away to Newcastle suggested that Paul Lambert’s plans may be beginning to take shape. Those plans were firmly in place against Swansea on Saturday, as Villa ran out comfortable winners against a Welsh side that were unbeaten prior to the match, and had started the campaign impressively.
Lambert is a manager who knows how important a team ethic is to the success of any football team. Manchester United are the most successful side in the history of English football, and Sir Alex Ferguson will be the first to say the reason behind that success is not down to Cristiano Ronaldo, David Beckham, Wayne Rooney or Ryan Giggs, it is down to the team
That logic was clear with Lambert’s selection, as once more Brad Guzan was in goal instead of the more experienced Shay Given, and big money signings Christian Benteke and, from the previous campaign, Charles N’Zogbia, both found themselves on the bench, with youth products Barry Bannan and Andreas Weimann preferred. It is clear to see that Lambert is a manager who picks players that deserve to play, whether that is from previous performances or the effort they have shown in training from week to week. Weimann and Bannan have impressed when they have played so far this season, and they did so once more against Swansea.
For the first time in many seasons Aston Villa’s bench looked very strong, with players such as Gabriel Agbonlahor, N’Zogbia, Benteke and Given all not chosen in the first XI. With the performances shown in the previous two games, it will be hard for some of those players to break into the starting line-up, and they know that they will have to impress Lambert with every minute of playing time they get if they are to achieve a starting place.
This was also different to the previous season under Alex McLeish, where several players consistently played poor throughout the season, and continued to be chosen to start. Lambert saw the individual performances of both Given and N’Zogbia in the first two fixtures, and decided they were not good enough for a place in his preferred side, and that decision has already paid dividends.
The victory achieved against high flying Swansea on Saturday was a first in 13 league matches for Aston Villa, but there was no sign of nerves or lack of confidence during any stage of the encounter. The Villa players too charge of the game, and although Swansea controlled possession of the ball in spells during the match, they only managed just three shots on target compared to Aston Villa’s eight as Villa certainly looked the more dangerous of the two teams.
With three points recorded on Saturday, and Villa’s next opponent bottom of the table Southampton, Villa fans can expect to continue to climb the table and hope to have a good season after a slow start to the campaign.
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