It's fair to say that Aston Villa’s season has not gone to plan.
Paul Lambert was brought in from Norwich City to replace the much maligned Alex McLeish and reduce the wage bill which was in danger of spiralling out of control.
The few resources Lambert had, he used on 21-year-old striker Christian Benteke, a signing from Gent in Belgium. He also brought in a collection of Championship and lower league players.
The hope was to build a young, hungry side which would slowly take Villa back to the top of the table where they believed they belonged.
Instead, the youngsters have struggled to make the grade and morale at the club is at an all time low. Villa face a battle to preserve their Premier League status and Lambert looks like ruining the reputation he developed at the Canaries.
It is easy to forget just how big a club Aston Villa are. Under Martin O’Neill they finished 6th three times in a row, they have won the first division title (as it was then) seven times, and are one of five English teams to have won the European Cup.
Villa Park regularly staged FA Cup semi-finals, before they were switched to Wembley, and they have spent all bar one of the last 39 years in the top flight.
Right now, however, the team looks in disarray. While their youngsters have plenty of potential, too much is being expected too soon.
The absence of Stiliyan Petrov has left a massive hole in their midfield, Richard Dunne is a big miss in the centre of defence, and those players with Premiership experience – Darren Bent, Stephen Ireland, Charles N’Zogbia – have failed to perform anywhere near their level.
Lambert seems to mistrust his experienced pros, but you wonder if the Scot is cutting off his nose to spite his face.
Villa are drawing games they should have won, losing games they may have drawn, and getting hammered in the rest. The disheartening cup losses to Bradford and Millwall have only compounded the feelings of dread and fear.
The one part of the side that is doing well is upfront, where Benteke and Andreas Weimann have scored twenty goals between them.
Weimann has great pace and an eye for a goal, while Benteke brings power and an aerial threat and, as he showed with a stunning goal against West Brom recently, the ability to score out of nothing.
This is a double-edged sword, of course, as Benteke’s performances have started to attract vultures from above. Regardless of whether Villa stay in the Premier League, the Belgian international could be playing elsewhere come next season, after links with Manchester City, Arsenal, Tottenham, and Liverpool.
Benteke and Weimann bring power and pace to Villa’s attack but also a relentless work rate. Neither is the finished product just yet but they are showing ability as well as promise, something that cannot be said of their teammates.
The future could be bright for Villa and Lambert but relegation from the Premier League would be a terrible blow to that future, which could prove fatal. Having gambled on youth, the last thing Villa want to do is sell their best youngsters to balance the books.
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