Where has it all gone wrong for Aston Villa and their much heralded manager, Paul Lambert?
Lambert achieved miracles at Norwich, guiding them to back-to-back promotions and keeping them in the Premier League on a shoestring budget.
His Norwich team last season was made up primarily of lower league players, making his achievements with the Canaries all the more impressive.
Moving to Villa was probably perceived as a step up in most people’s eyes, Lambert’s included. The Scottish tactician clearly felt that a team that had won the European Cup in the 80s, been in the top division for over 100 years and were an ever-present in the Premier League was a far better prospect than fighting to keep Norwich up every year, but it could be the Canaries who have the last laugh.
Lambert, 43, seems to have decided to put all his eggs in one basket and rely almost entirely on young players.
Since Martin O’Neill’s acrimonious departure, the only way has been down for Villa. Appointing Alex McLeish against the fans wishes turned out to be the disaster it always promised to be, and now Lambert’s position looks precarious.
With players like Darren Bent, Shay Given, Richard Dunne, Charles N'Zogbia, Stephen Ireland, Gabriel Agbonlahor and Ron Vlaar in their squad, not to mention Alan Hutton and Jean Makoun out on loan, you’d think Villa would have been a comfortable mid-table side.
There have been promising results such as the 3-1 win away to Liverpool and reaching the League Cup semi-final, but the humiliation at the hands of Bradford and results like the 8-0 embarrassment at Chelsea have been more common than the good performances.
Of course Villa have been starved of their first-team regulars this season - injuries to Dunne and Given, plus the long-term absence of club captain Stiliyan Petrov, who we all wish well in his battle against leukemia, have meant that Lambert's squad have been stretched from the off.
But it's Lambert consistent omission of Bent that seems to be the most puzzling of his decisions.
As Villa’s top scorer for the last two seasons, after joining for a deal worth up to £24m, Bent has gone from a regular in the England squad to not even being able to get in a relegation threatened Villa team.
Christian Benteke’s form has been one reason for Bent’s exclusion but considering goalscorers are hard to come by when you’re struggling down at the bottom of the league, Lambert may have to turn to Bent before it’s too late.
It seems unthinkable that Villa should be relegated but we’ve thought that about big clubs before, with several still languishing in the lower leagues after finding out how difficult it can be to bounce straight back.
If Villa are to ensure they are not the latest of an ever-growing list of 'big clubs' to ply their trade outside of the Premier League, then Lambert must transform the fortunes of his team rapidly, otherwise the midlands-based club will have to get used to life outside of England's top tier.
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