Villa need to continue revolution

Friday 24th May 2013 15:16

Paul Lambert: Has done an excellent job so far at Aston Villa

Paul Lambert: Has done an excellent job so far at Aston Villa

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Aston Villa FanZoner Dan Heald is excited to see the next stage of Paul Lambert's revolution get underway at Villa Park over the summer.

A collective sigh of relief was breathed among Villa fans when Wigan faltered at the Emirates in their penultimate game of the season. Arsenal's 4-1 victory relegated the Latics and guaranteed the safety of Paul Lambert's team after a tumultuous 2012/13 season.

The first phase of Lambert's reign at Villa Park can now, thankfully, be regarded as a success. His stubborn perseverance with youthful recruits and his alienation of the established 'stars' of the squad annoyed many fans at first, but he was vindicated by his team's impressive victories in crucial six-pointers in the final third of the season. Lambert's youngsters defied their critics and showed their mettle under pressure.

His policy of acquiring promising lower league players for nominal fees has itself paid dividends. The likes of Sheffield United's Matthew Lowton and Crewe's Ashley Westwood have each impressed in their maiden Premier League seasons and both shown abundant promise for the future.

Joe Bennett's poor form, however, and his culpability in Villa conceding too many goals this season has been well-documented. Nevertheless, Lambert has retained faith with the former Middlesborough left-back and has sheltered him from criticism even when it was justified.

There is a long-overdue revolution underway at Villa, and Lambert is at its heart. His vision for an attacking side composed of hungry and committed individuals is tempered by the need to be financially secure and is underpinned by the budget constraints of Villa's hierarchy and UEFA's Financial Fair Play rules.

Also evident in Lambert is his contempt for the inflated egos of any of Villa's underperforming high-earners. He has ostracised the likes of Stephen Ireland and Darren Bent for a perceived lack of effort and/or a failure to adjust to the manager's preferred playing style.

The departure of former captain Richard Dunne this week will presumably be the first of many this summer. The likes of Bent, Ireland, Stephen Warnock and Alan Hutton seem certainties to depart, while fringe players such as Charles N'Zogbia, Barry Bannan and Eric Lichaj may also be moved on.

The collective annual wages paid to these players runs into tens of millions of pounds. These funds could subsequently be re-invested in new players who fit Lambert's criteria, and could help finance improved contracts for those who merit new long-term deals.

Chief among these are Villa's young player of the season, Christian Benteke, and Austrian forward, Andreas Weimann, whose deal expires in the next 12 months.

To augment the raw talents within his squad, Lambert needs to invest wisely this summer and strengthen in key positions. Assuming he is able to retain his talented core of players and that Villa's board back him with adequate financing, Lambert can hope to attract more committed and ambitious players to enhance his teams prospects.

Villa's defensive frailties should be Lambert's immediate concern. Sixty-nine league goals conceded and a failure to keep a clean sheet in all but five of their 38 league games this season is an abject record.

A new left-back is a must, as the weaknesses in Bennett's game have been glaringly obvious this season.

Even by a 19-year-old's standards he's slight of frame and is too easily bullied by more physical wingers. While his attacking qualities are decent enough, they are negated by his poor marking and his naive positional sense when called upon to defend.

A stint on the bench next season as an understudy to a more cultured and experienced full-back (or two) would improve his game massively.

An experienced Premier League centre-back should also feature highly on Lambert's wanted list.

At 28 years old, Ron Vlaar initially appeared to be a natural replacement for the injured Dunne, but he has struggled for consistency in his first season in England.

At times he has shown the requisite leadership for a captain, but has at times been guilty of poor marking and of the basic errors committed by the much younger Ciaran Clark and Nathan Baker.

There is no shortage of ball-winning midfielders at Villa; an energetic and hard-working midfield trio of Fabian Delph, Ashley Westwood and Yacouba Sylla were extremely effective in the latter half of this season.

The equally industrious Weimann and Gabriel Agbonlahor have each played vital roles in assisting their central midfielders, performing their defensive duties ably when necessary.

A creative spark is absent, though. Gary Gardner, who has missed this entire season with a cruciate ligament injury, should return in pre-season, but experienced reinforcements are needed.

Both N'Zogbia and Bannan have been deployed in the attacking-midfield role on occasion, but both have been largely ineffectual. If N'Zogbia is to leave, however, a left-winger would definitely be required.

The lynchpin of Villa's team throughout last season was undoubtedly Benteke. His goals, assists, hold-up play and all-round contribution were the decisive factors in Villa avoiding relegation.

Put simply, he has to stay for at least another season. His understanding of the lone striker role is exquisite and he must surely rank as Lambert's finest signing to date. Weimann and Agbonlahor are both viable striking alternatives in Benteke's absence, but a replacement for Bent will surely be forthcoming.

Ideally, Villa will conduct their business quickly this summer and allow any new signings the luxury of a full pre-season at the club. Shifting high-earners like Ireland and Shay Given may prove difficult if they are content to see out their remaining contract, but Lambert will certainly not be playing anyone on their reputation alone.

Lambert knows he has to be progressive and will certainly not want a repeat of this season's relegation scare. Good friends they may be, but the managerial styles of supposed mentor Martin O'Neill and Lambert are poles apart.

The Ulsterman's Clough-lite approach to the game, with a flat-out refusal to rotate a squad properly is archaic and will become extinct.

Lambert has blooded his raw and untried youngsters this year and has won the affection of the Villa faithful in the process.

Up the Villa and God speed Paul Lambert.

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