With a game on Sunday and a former Tottenham player’s inclusion a prime focus of the pre-match period, Matt Turvey asks what Sunday may bring.
In said game, the focus of closing down Gareth Bale was Villa’s primary objective, with players doubled up on him, and strange tactical choices made. Was Alan Hutton a wise choice for the midfield? Either way we lost, with Spurs managing to negate Villa’s plans by simply moving Bale to the other wing.
With Tottenham having managed a great result against Manchester United at Old Trafford last week, the challenge they will provide to Villa’s team will be significant. Some fans are making predictions already saying that there is nothing to be gained from the game, but until we have a fair idea of the players we will be using - something that won’t be revealed until much closer to the game - I think it is hard to make calls either way.
Why? With Lambert showing flexibility as well as a certain degree of external unpredictability, Villa are a difficult team to predict. Many though the Swansea game would yield nothing, it did the reverse. Who thought we would beat Manchester City? Not many, but we did.
Part of what will make Villa’s ups-and-downs this season is that crazy unpredictability that has fans ripping their hair out. I mentioned it last week, and it isn’t likely to change suddenly this time around.
On the positive side of things, having an unpredictable Villa means the club may win games that they might not have done before due to managers having to second guess. When one contrasts that to the attitude of a former manager such as Martin O’Neill, Lambert is far less predictable but, in terms of our current manager’s Villa career, his success rate isn’t realistically able to be measured just yet.
One of the biggest areas that will be scrutinised come this weekend however will be the inclusion or non-inclusion of Darren Bent. After Villa’s number nine was dropped last week to the bench, arguably to the benefit of the team as his celebration clearly showed the player as motivated, many will be asking if scoring means starting.
Bent had previously spoken of his disappointment at losing the Villa captaincy, as well as losing his starting position but both were fair calls given the manager. Whatever your opinion on the player or the manager, captains that don’t influence games lose the armband and scorers that stop scoring lose their place.
Whether scoring a goal as a substitute will force Lambert to reconsider placing the club’s record signing on the bench is something only Paul Lambert knows. Bent will certainly know the atmosphere at White Hart Lane given that he has previously spent time at the club as a player, memorably falling out with then manager Harry Redknapp over his quality of finishing.
It won’t just be Lambert scrutinised as Bent’s reaction to his dropping will show the measure of the man. Whilst I’m reticent to take much that the media publish in the immediate wake of events (largely due to sensationalism creeping in), Bent’s application and attitude will be closely watched, especially by those who see his reported reactions as a signal that he is unhappy.
One should point out though that when you get dropped, you should be unhappy. I’ve got no problem with Bent’s attitude to wanting to be included in the team - any player should be wanting to play - but his upset around losing the captaincy draws far less sympathy.
Why? Should a forward who is well-known for providing one thing - goals - to a team be selected as a leader amongst men? Is Bent’s play, by design set up to be selfish, really in-keeping with that of a captain? I would suggest not and that Ron Vlaar, a player who is showing real promise in his early stages of his Villa career, seems a more likely long term captain.
Villa’s Sunday game promises nothing if not a guessing game. Will Lambert restore Bent to his starting place? Who will play, how will Villa play, and who will score? What will the score be? We’ll be sure to find out Sunday.
You can follow Matt Turvey’s regular opinions at his own site, Aston Villa Life at www.astonvillalife.com, via the site’s Twitter account @astonvillalife, or via his own Twitter account @MatthewSTurvey.