In recent games one factor has become apparent. Opposition analysts, having poured over Villa’s numbers are clearly telling their managers that they need to target the left side of our defence. With a narrow midfield and inexperienced left backs in Stevens and Bennett, visiting clubs must feel like the seas have parted.
Enda Stevens has shown surprising potential and has put in some notable appearances. Some of his performance in November, prior to his injury, were recognised for their quality and composure. Indeed, it would be fair to say that those performances surprised quite a few detractors, who had seen his acquisition as no more than an affordable, low risk punt. However, since his return from injury that slowly developing game has come undone, most noticeable in our last Premier League home game against Southampton. Stevens’ positional sense seemed to be still on the treatment table, leaving oceans of space in behind him. His inexperience was there in abundance in both the timing and the tackle.
Joe Bennett has not fared much better since returning to the first team. Another low cost buy, all be it one with obvious potential, Bennett has struggled to adapt. He has obvious athletic quality, speed,acceleration, a solid positional sense and energy levels suited to a left back though his timing, tackling and lack of composure have left us highly susceptible on the counter. Further, his poor decision making has led us conceding numerous sloppy free kicks and at times, penalty claims.
Undoubtedly, they are both young, promising players though as I have written before, the Premier League is no proving ground. A player must bring a solid adaptable game into the game and then that game might then grow with experience and confidence. A player who brings a weak game in at this level is going to end up in trouble: his team with him.
Left-back is a highly demanding position. It is an energy sapping, lung bursting role, that involves speed, power, acceleration, timing, positional sense and physicality as one moves elastically from defensive cover to over lapping runs and flank support down to the opposition by line. With the wash of right midfield and right wing talent on show in the Premier League an experienced and solid left back is a necessity yet talented left footed fullbacks are extremely hard to find.
Perhaps it is time for Stephen Warnock to be given another shot then. Warnock’s game went to bits under McLeish. The psychological pressure and negative toxicity of Villa Park seemed to weigh down on him and his confidence, turning the former England International into a calamity in boots. Certainly, his leadership and fight was there to see as he moved to bolster central midfield though he won’t be remembered for his left back run outs that season. However, he has been steadily rebuilding his game at Bolton and has been putting in the performance to match. Bolton want to keep him. I believe we should no and bring him back into the first team. He should be allowed the opportunity to prove himself again, perhaps helping Stevens and Bennett out in the process. Either way, we must address our weakest point on the pitch.