Three consecutive away clean sheets has – for now at least – ended Aston Villa’s problems in defence after several months of conceding goals at an alarming rate. Paul Lambert’s team now look a much tougher team to break down, and the Scot may have identified ways to improve in recent weeks. However, the improvement seen over the past month and-a-half is thanks in no small part to the influence of captain Ron Vlaar.
The 28-year-old, who was signed from Feyenoord last summer, is one of the few members of the Villa squad who has several years of experience playing at the highest level. Prior to joining, most of that experience was of playing in the Eredivisie, but his consistent form has earned him 19 Dutch caps.
It certainly seems as though Vlaar is giving everything he can for Villa in order to give himself the best chance of breaking into the Holland starting XI for next summer’s World Cup. His efforts have gained the West Midlands club some points this season, with dogged performances in wins over Manchester City and Norwich City standing out in particular.
Although Vlaar admits that his form last season was inconsistent, the difference when he was not in the team was clear, especially over the festive period as Villa lost successive games to Chelsea, Tottenham, and Wigan Athletic, conceding 15 goals without reply. Overall last season, Villa conceded 23 goals in the 11 league games that Vlaar missed.
The skipper is undoubtedly bringing the best out of his central defensive colleagues this season, with Nathan Baker, who looked slightly out of his depth in the Premier League in 2012-13, looking a much better player this time around, while Ciaran Clark and Jores Okore have also played well alongside Vlaar.
The statistics back things up, with Vlaar having won 17 out of 21 tackles he has attempted in the opening 10 games, the best ratio of any centre-back in the Premier League in that time. He has also won 67% of his aerial challenges, proving that his all-round defensive ability is vital for Villa.
The only disappointment so far for Vlaar has been the failure to keep a clean sheet at home. Although all of Villa’s home fixtures so far have been against sides who currently in the top half of the Premier League, they have been let down at times by some individual errors, especially during the visit of Newcastle United, where both of the Magpies’ should really have been prevented.
The latest opportunity to put things right and achieve their first home shut-out since December 2012 arrives on Saturday, as Villa take on Cardiff City, who will be high on confidence after defeating rivals Swansea last time out. While one objective will be for the team to be defensively sound, there is pressure on the attacking players to end a four match goal drought, and getting points on the board at this stage is crucial, with the games coming up before the turn of the year looking set to define Villa’s season.
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