Let me start this week’s article off by saying what a big fan of Paul Lambert I am. You all know that anyway. I’m confident and have faith in him. However, just recently that faith has waned a little.
I came away from our 0-2 defeats to Tottenham and Everton feeling disappointed at the manager’s starting XI and his choice of substitutions. I had suspected it before but now I’m truly starting to believe that Paul Lambert has no plan b, at least not at the moment; that or he’s too stubborn to change something that isn’t working.
Let’s start with the Spurs match. Lambert’s starting line-up was: Guzan, Bacuna, Vlaar, Baker, Luna, El-Ahmadi, Westwood, Delph, Weimann, Kozak, Agbonlahor. These players lined up in the familiar 4-5-1/4-3-3 formation.
We were set up to defend and to hit Spurs on the counter attack. This isn’t a terrible idea and for the majority of the first half things were fairly even but that’s only because nothing happened. Westwood and Weimann were selected despite being in poor form and, again, that showed. As soon as Spurs rather fortuitously took the lead there was a feeling of inevitability, despite the fact that we had fallen behind in our previous home victory over Manchester City. We hadn’t threatened all half and the same was true in the second half until Lambert brought on the returning Christian Benteke, whose first touch was to guide a header over the bar. Benteke’s introduction enlivened the home side for a few minutes. However, that spark was soon extinguished by Tottenham’s Soldado making the most of a defensive mix up and doubling the visitors’ lead.
Now, for our last match versus Everton, Lambert’s starting eleven was: Guzan, Bacuna, Vlaar, Baker, Luna, Westwood, Delph, Tonev, Agbonlahor, Weimann, Benteke. This time Lambert opted for a slightly different 4-2-3-1 formation.
Once again, Westwood and Weimann started the match despite showing little sign of improvement in their previous performances. To be fair to Westwood, he upped his game a little in this match, although Weimann was wasteful once again. The Villa boys started the game very well: had Benteke scored his penalty in the sixth minute then the outcome of the game could have been very different. Benteke and Weimann were guilty of wasting glorious chances in the ten minutes following the penalty miss. In fairness to Lambert, the players let him down here as his initial plan should have worked.
Sadly, it didn’t. Once that promising opening twenty minute spell was over, Everton managed to keep our attacking forays at arm’s length and in the second half the Toffees took their chances well. What disappointed me was that despite it being evident that the plan wasn’t working, especially in the first fifteen minutes of the second half, Lambert was very slow to try and change things. When he did, his substitutions baffled me.
Lambert made one enforced change at half time when he brought on Ciaran Clark for left back Antonio Luna. Clark then proceeded to play in the centre back position while Baker moved to left back. This situation confused me considerably. Firstly, why bring on a centre back for a full back when he had a full back on the bench in Lowton? Okay, so he’s a right-sided full back and Luna is left-sided but I’m sure Lowton is more than capable of switching sides. So he brought on Clark. Fair enough, hes played left back before on several occasions and done a decent job. Baker was having a good game at centre back against Lukaku so I fail to understand why Lambert moved him to an unfamiliar full back role and put Clark into the middle. Clark struggled against Lukaku for the entire second half.
Things didn’t change at the start of the second half as both sides toiled to create any clear chances. It was becoming clear that we weren’t going to have any impact on Everton unless things changed. Lambert waited until twelve minutes from the end of the match to make his second and final substitution of the match. He brought on striker Nicklas Helenius for winger Aleksandar Tonev. In my opinion, Tonev was having a decent game and looking as likely as anyone to break down Everton’s resistance. Gabby Agbonlahor and Andi Weimann were having rather anonymous second halves and I couldn’t understand why he took off Tonev for Helenius and why it happened so late in the game. Needless to say, Helenius had no impact on the match in his twelve minutes of action.
Why didn’t he bring on Lowton for Luna? Lowton certainly would have carried a bit more threat going forward; it’s not like Everton were all over our defence – they had two chances and took them. Why not bring on Helenius sooner and for the ineffective Weimann instead of Tonev?
Does Paul Lambert lack the tactical nous to change a match with substitutions? Does he lack faith in his substitutions to have the impact needed? If it’s the latter, it would be very disappointing as Lambert bought all those players himself. Is he just extremely stubborn? Does he want to prove his way will work and refuses to budge from his plan?
I have faith in Lambert. I like the way he goes about the majority of things and I like what he’s trying to do at Villa. Nevertheless, for the first time, I’m starting to question his decisions. I’m certainly not calling for his head or even hinting at anything as daft. However, I think he has as much to prove as his young squad. I suppose it’s easy to forget that Lambert himself is a young and inexperienced coach, certainly at Premier League level.
I hope, and believe, that Lambert will improve as a manager as well as improving our team. It would be excellent if he could start at Upton Park on Saturday.
Thank you for reading.