After the latest very disappointing result on Saturday, Aston Villa have now mustered only fifteen points from the last seventeen games, winning just four, drawing three and losing a whopping ten!
This is long term poor form which stretches over nearly half a season so it cannot be considered a mere blip. In my fall out with Paul Faulkner and Randy Lerner I predicted a slow crawl to forty points back in early January and was virtually laughed at and accused of being unsupportive. The truth is I would much rather see a progressive, rosy picture developing and still sit with Faulkner et al in the directors’ box but I have to call it as I see it and the football being produced by this manager is simply nowhere near good enough. The warning bells, in my mind at least, were ringing then despite our reasonable points tally at the time.
Our football is at best dull and predictable and the vast majority of teams have worked out how to play us, leading to the severe dip in points accumulation since December 4th.
Supporters who still have faith in Lambert all point to a lack of spending power and are adamant that if he gets money to spend on quality players this summer we will see a very different Aston Villa next season. I have to say I am not convinced. I would ask where the proof is in coming to that conclusion. It is certainly not based on the style of play we have largely seen at Villa in the last two years and he only had one season at Norwich in the top flight, where they mainly played counter-attacking football as it was the Canaries’ first season in the Premier League so every team played to win against them. No team would have been going to Carrow Road that season looking to park the bus or play defensively, which suited Lambert’s tactics down to the ground.
Where Villa have really struggled under Lambert is in games in which teams still do come to Villa Park and sit deep, knowing that is the best way to nullify Villa’s threat. At no point has Lambert looked like solving that problem. He said this weekend that “we only know one way to play” and he has never said truer words since he has been here. I know better players will create more chances but all footballers have two legs and it’s the lack of willingness to run off the ball and beyond the ball that grates with me, especially as the players do have ability when in the right mindset. At home, I would have liked to see us try Lowton and Bacuna down the right hand side. Also, Agbonlahor and Weimann, who are both good players, have been poor for some time yet are picked every week regardless of their form. What message does that send out to the likes of Tonev, Helenius, Albrighton and even young Robinson? You will note that two of those players mentioned are in fact ones he signed last summer who were meant to help Aston Villa Football Club to progress this season, which brings me on to Holt… Why on earth was he signed? Why is he on the bench every week when it’s clear for all to see that he is a shadow of the player he was under Lambert at Norwich?
In my opinion, Lambert is very similar to O’Neill. They have a very similar approach to tactics: big centre forward and a deep lying, counter-attacking style. There are subtle differences, of course: O’Neill liked wingers whereas Lambert doesn’t but the ethos is the same.
There is no doubt that such an approach will bring some good results, as we have seen. O’Neill had far more money to spend, hence the better results, but it still had a ceiling and my big fear with Lambert is that, like O’Neill, he doesn’t know any other way or believe in any other way of playing whether you give him better players or not. As we all witnessed, O’Neill had his day but we never stopped being a counter-attacking side and our home form was never great; in fact, it deteriorated the longer O’Neill was at the football club.
After eight years of this sort of football, with the exception of the Houllier season when he wanted to take us in a different direction, I am eager to see something different at Villa. I want to see a team that looks after the ball better, passes and moves more and is prepared to attack in numbers, giving the player on the ball multiple options. It won’t always work and sometimes we’ll get beaten but at least it will be building something that means we’ll have a base from which to truly compete again when better players do come along. I have serious doubts that Paul Lambert is the man to deliver the goods. He has openly admitted that he has little regard for possession and, while possession statistics can sometimes be misleading, it is no surprise that the teams that play the most attractive football – Manchester City, Liverpool, Arsenal, Everton and Southampton – all have high possession percentages and take great care of the football. All their managers have a total football ethos.
A small team like FC Basel plays a lovely, expansive game, which has troubled many big clubs like Manchester United, Chelsea and Tottenham Hotspur in recent seasons in European competitions. Have a look how much they have spent. Not very much. Money helps but it is not the be all and end all, as we have seen so clearly at Manchester United this season. Moyes’ men have been largely average despite the manager spending £65 million on two players!
I tweeted yesterday, wondering whether Lambert would have booted Carroll out of the side if he had gotten the Liverpool job. Rodgers had no intention of building a side around a big number nine. I feel Lambert certainly would have kept Carroll and Liverpool would have been playing a very different brand of football.
Nearly all Lambert’s supporters believe money to be the answer to all his managerial woes at Aston Villa. I have my doubts and would urge anyone to give me evidence to back up such an argument. Right now, the evidence points to one way of playing. One thing is for sure: I can’t wait for the season to end and for the club to have a long hard look at itself, ditching the excuse management and the apathy, and looking to provide some much needed hope and entertainment next season as the vast majority of us have had enough of this prolonged struggle.