Any club wants to make their home ground a fortress, something to intimidate visiting opposition, but Villa haven’t made Villa Park the stronghold most fans would of liked it to be. Villa last night kept a clean sheet against Rotherham in the Capital One Cup (3-0) at home, but prior to that the last clean sheet was on the 8th December, a staggering 30 games (in all competitions home and away) since a 0-0 draw with Stoke at Villa Park.
But keeping a clean sheet hasn’t been Villa’s only problem, last season more points were gained away from home than at Villa Park, 21 compared to 20; could of easily been more than 21 though. Villa won five games at home last season, equal to what they won away and several problems can atone for why fans have failed to see Villa collect more points at home and the added rarity of seeing a clean sheet.
Several reasons could be behind why Villa’s home form has been in the spotlight, most notably the fact Villa were without an experienced centre half for a long spell of last season. Captain and Dutch international Ron Vlaar was ruled out for seven weeks with a calf injury, leaving Paul Lambert with only two youngsters (Ciaran Clark and Nathan Baker) and a stand-in natural central midfielder in Chris Herd fit to play at the centre of defence.
During three games over Xmas (Chelsea, Spurs and embarrassingly Wigan) Villa conceded 15 goals without reply and the vacant figure of Vlaar was starting to show.
Secondly over a third of Lambert’s starting eleven last season hadn’t played in the Premier League previous to the start of last season. Matthew Lowton Ashley Westwood Yacouba Sylla and Vlaar hadn’t played one minute of Premier League football combined, plus only one (Vlaar) was over the age of 23 at the start of last season.
The experimentation Paul Lambert was compiling regarding the suited formation for Villa was resemblance of something a mad scientist would be proud of.
A variety of formations were explored including the nightmare playing two wing-backs in a 3-5-2 formation, 4-4-2 that lasted one game and the formation that finally meant Villa are now causing some of the bigger teams in the Premier League problems; Arsenal being the most notable.
Lastly the advantage, well not in Villa’s case, of playing in front of their home fans. Playing away seemed to suit Villa more, shown by more points being gained away, than at home.
The possible reasoning for that is fans getting on player’s backs when things aren’t going right, playing away from home means the vastly reduced number of fan’s criticisms drowned out by the home teams fan’s support.
The opening three games of the season against Arsenal, Chelsea and Liverpool showed that Villa have come on leaps and bounds since the 8-0 drumming at Stamford Bridge in December last year. Arsenal were dominated on their own patch, Kevin ‘not our friend ‘ Friend denied any deserved points at Stamford Bridge and if Paul Lambert hadn’t foolishly abandoned the 4-3-3 formation to play a very narrow 4-4-2 (played in the first two games) against Liverpool in the opening 35 minutes, meaning the central midfield pairing of Fabian Delph and Westwood were bossed by Liverpool we would of seen more than the three points gained so far.
Not all negative news though, from the three corresponding fixtures last season Villa gained 0 points and had a goal difference of -10.
So with the international week back and Villa not having a home game for just over two weeks, Newcastle United (hopefully without Cabaye) will be the next visitors to Villa Park on 14th September, 3pm k.o.