Who is Aston Villa’s most important outfield player? Ask any Villa fan that question and the answer would probably suggest it is talisman striker Christian Benteke, which is a completely fair answer.
Benteke has scored 28 goals in 51 games for Aston Villa since his debut in August 2012, a startling return for a young player playing on English soil for the first time. Benteke has been simply superb. He is a touch of quality and can narrow, or erase, the margin between defeat and victory for the team. However, he cannot do this without help. In fact, there is a pattern I have noticed since Martin O’Neill’s first season at Villa in 2006-2007, long before Benteke joined the club.
Since that season we’ve seen Juan Pablo Angel, John Carew, Darren Bent and now Christian Benteke lead our line and, generally speaking, they always scored a decent number of goals. I haven’t looked this up because I honestly wouldn’t know where to look and I don’t have the time yet I would be willing to bet that all four of those leading men were at their best and most potent when one other man was in the team alongside them: Gabriel Agbonlahor.
Has anyone noticed that since Benteke broke into the side his main flurries of goals have come when Gabby Agbonlahor has been in the team? Look at the start of this season, for example: four goals in the first four games for Benteke with Gabby playing. Since then, both have picked up injuries and missed games.
Benteke missed Premier League games against Manchester City and Hull City before he made his return as a second half substitute versus Tottenham. Gabby missed the game versus Manchester City, made a brief return versus Hull but then missed matches against Spurs, Everton, West Ham and Cardiff before returning as an influential substitute against Albion on Monday evening.
Benteke returned against Tottenham so started the games versus Everton, West Ham, Cardiff and Albion without Gabby. How many goals did he score? None. How dangerous did he look? Honestly? Not very.
I really have come to believe that Gabriel Agbonlahor is our joint most important outfield player, along with Benteke. His pace and strength scares teams. He makes the runs that make space for Benteke to operate. Agbonlahor drags the central defenders out of their positions with his runs and he has done it for every striker we’ve had since he first broke through into the first team.
But I don’t think it is just Benteke who profits from having Agbonlahor in the side. I can’t claim this to be a fact but I’d say we have scored more goals on average with Agbonlahor in the team than without him. To be honest, Andi Weimann does a very similar job to Gabby but I don’t think he is nearly as effective.
I was delighted to see Gabby return to the pitch on Monday night and I hope he is fully fit for the match on Saturday versus Sunderland as I always have a bit more belief when he is in the team, even if he can be frustrating at times!
Christian Benteke is a fantastic striker but, like those who have gone before him, he struggles without ‘Mr Aston Villa’, Gabby Agbonlahor.
Thank you for reading!
Up the Villa!