It had appeared that towards the end of last season that Karim El Ahmadi was among the group of players at Aston Villa that were surplus to requirements – if not to the level of Shay Given and Darren Bent then similar to the situations of Brett Holman and Charles N’Zogbia – with the January signing of Yacouba Sylla making the chances of a return to the first team on a regular basis looking fairly remote.
But the Moroccan has refused to lie down and has forced his way back into the fold, appearing in all nine of Villa’s fixtures so far this season in all competitions. He has made the most of his chance, putting in some very good performances, scoring a goal against Manchester City, while working well with Sylla, Ashley Westwood and Fabian Delph in a three-man midfield.
Last season, he did start as first choice, but he was unspectacular, with his contributions rather going unnoticed following his summer 2012 move from Feyenoord, aside from a deflected goal in a home defeat by Everton.
All of his starts in 2012-13 came before the turn of the year, as Sylla began to be preferred in the role of a hard-working, tough-tackling midfielder. Instead, he had to be content with a handful of substitute appearances, and it certainly looked as if his days at Villa Park were becoming increasingly numbered.
This time around he looks a much different player, and his presence is surely a factor in Villa’s recent defensive improvement, with Lambert’s side having failed to keep a clean sheet in all the months during which he was out-of-favour, and now two arriving in their previous three league games.
The focus now for the 28-year-old El Ahmadi will be maintaining his form and holding down a place in the starting XI. With summer signing Leandro Bacuna now establishing himself as a decent right-back, four players are currently vying for three positions, meaning El Ahmadi does stand a good chance of remaining in the side, barring a dip in performance levels.
El Ahmadi’s role in the team cannot be understated as he carries far more experience than his fellow central midfielders. He is a more sensible player than Delph, who finds himself booked all too often, and his solidity works well with the more creative minded Westwood alongside him.
While El Ahmadi is one of Villa’s unsung heroes, Christian Benteke rarely goes unnoticed. Controversially called up to the Belgium national squad for their final two World Cup qualifiers, Lambert will be hoping that he makes an appearance against Wales on Tuesday, as the ‘five day rule’ could see him unavailable for the next Premier League game at home to Tottenham Hotspur on Sunday.
With Belgium’s place in Brazil now assured, Villa supporters can now hope for even better performances from Benteke as he looks to make sure of a place in Marc Wilmots’ first-choice line-up for next summer, while the same applies to captain Ron Vlaar, whose Holland side qualified in September.
See what the expert tipsters are tipping on OLBG