Aston Villa Focus – Defensive improvement easing pressure on strikers

After riding their luck and relying on goalkeeper Brad Guzan to secure a clean sheet at Norwich City in their previous away match, Aston Villa made it two in a row on their travels with shut-out in a goalless draw against Hull City, as the defence begins to show the solidity required to gain Premier League points on a more consistent basis.

It was an uneventful game, with very few chances of note. Villa did carve out the best chance with the returning Gabriel Agbonlahor shooting over from inside the penalty area, but the most pleasing aspect was the lack of chances the hosts afforded to the hosts – who have made an impressive start since promotion last season – with Guzan only forced to make one save all afternoon.

Such encounters have been rare during the Paul Lambert reign, with the strikers often having been put under some pressure to deliver their best due to the side’s poor defensive record. The Villa boss would have liked his team to have looked more threatening going forward, but overall it was satisfactory with the unbeaten Premier League run being extended to three games.

The midfield three of Fabian Delph, Karim El Ahmadi and Ashley Westwood have an important role in ensuring that the defence receive the necessary protection. From a defensive point of view, collectively they had their best game so far this season, with Hull’s talented midfield duo of Tom Huddlestone and Jake Livermore not being allowed the space to play their natural game.

El Ahmadi in particular has shown excellent form after reclaiming a regular place in the starting XI, with Delph never shy of commitment, nor Yacouba Sylla, who is another available option. Westwood is a more intelligent footballer, but he has displayed some of his physical strength.

Meanwhile, in the absence of Matthew Lowton, summer signing Leandro Bacuna has proved to be a very effective right-back. At Norwich he nullified the threat of winger Nathan Redmond, while on Saturday he was responsible for at least one potentially goal-saving block. Indeed, the Dutchman’s form could lead to Lowton struggling to reclaim his place.

In the opening few games of the campaign, Lowton had not shone as he did so often last season. His defending at times could have been a little better, and Bacuna has a very good work rate based on his appearances thus far.

On the other side of defence, there is no question that Antonio Luna has made the left-back position his own, appearing more solid than the man he replaced, Joe Bennett. Bennett still remains a capable understudy, but he has a tendency to give needless fouls away, which puts the team under more pressure as a result.

Villa probably recognise that they have slightly less cutting edge without Christian Benteke, which might have led to more emphasis being placed on the defending in recent weeks. If any work was done, it paid off, and they can now enter the international break in mid-table with a fairly relaxed attitude. And when Benteke returns, they would be looking all the stronger.

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