Lambert’s priority after last seasons embarrassment of conceding a record 69 goals (despite Guzan’s heroics in goal) in the Premier League was to first replace injury plagued centre half Richard Dunne. 50k a week Dunne didn’t play once last season meaning Villa’s only experienced centre half, captain Ron Vlaar (out for 7 weeks himself) was without an experienced partner all season, forcing youngsters Nathan Baker and Ciaran Clark to step in.
In new signing Danish international centre half Jores Okore you have someone who possesses everything a defender needs, pace, strength, the ability to read the game and even pick a pass. Some say its a coup Villa even managed to sign the ex Nordsjaelland defender; rejecting Chelsea in January, as he wanted first team football and even a late bid from Europa League Everton.
Even though Okore has experience playing in the Champions League last season with FC Nordsjaelland against the likes of Chelsea and Juventus, I would of preferred Villa to bring in someone who has a little more experience, someone who has previously played in the Premier League e.g. Joleon Lescott, but wage demands and age wouldn’t suit Lambert’s current philosophy.
For the last last couple of seasons Villa have missed the presence of a playmaker, a James Milner type player who created, assisted and scored goals in attacks. Stephen Ireland has never lived up to the reputation he had at Manchester City before he was made the scapegoat in the £26m Milner deal to City.
With that in Lambert’s mind, Ireland was considered not worthy to wear the coveted colours of claret and blue, after a string of lacklustre performances, demoted to train alongside the kids. Villa needed players who were hungry and willing to give it their all in last season’s relegation battle, something Ireland wasn’t willing to do, his replacement Leandro Bacuna sounds like the complete opposite.
The 21 year old signed from Dutch club FC Groningen is a box-to-box midfielder who instantly said “he wanted to be Villa’s Frank Lampard.”
Capped nine times for the Dutch under 21s, he is considered to be an energetic midfielder with a high workrate by Dutch football expert Michiel Jongsma.
What stands out most about Bacuna for me though was last season against PSV, keeping Man Utd target Kevin Strootman neutralised, a game FC Groningen went on to win.
Hopefully next season Bacuna will develop and adapt to the pace of the daunting Premier League, similar to how Ashley Westwood and Yacuba Sylla have done. I still think we need a more developed number 10 such as Younes Belhanda, recently linked to the club by his (Toulouse’s) chairman and worldwide media outlets.
With Stiliyan Petrov now on the Villa coaching staff as a youth development coach, Villa fans can expect new additions from Stiliyan’s native Bulgaria; guess our new head scout. Stiliyan’s influence and recommendations have already led to Lambert bringing a player, Petrov played with, Bulgarian winger Aleksandar Tonev from Polish club Lech Poznan.
Aleksandar, a current Bulgaria international is seen as ideal competition by Lambert next season for Gabby and Weimann in the wide positions in an expected 4-3-3 formation. He is considered to have a real eye for the goal, Villa fans can expect if given the opportunity some Hitzlesperger ‘Hammer’ type goals next season from Tonev.
Last season £24 million record signing Darren Bent spent nowhere near the amount of playing time he expected he would at the start of the season, due to the exploits of one Christian Benteke. He was restricted to the bench and at times not even included in the match day squad; Jordan Bowery preferred by manager Lambert.
Ideally Villa fans would want 70k a week Bent to stay, take a pay cut and be happy as a substitute, but for a player with over 100 goals in the Premier League and still a prolific finisher, he will want first team football and will get that at a different club next season.
A necessary replacement for Bent will be needed and Villa have moved quickly to sign Danish international Nicklas Helenius from Danish club Aalborg BK. The 22 year old striker, 6’5 (Villa’s tallest player) was Aalborg’s top scorer last season with 16 goals (2nd highest in the Danish Superliga) and was voted the League’s best player.
Described by fans of his former team as not being a traditional target man, aerial play not being his major attribute, his strongest attribute his technical ability, technically gifted some might say. On the ground he scores goals and creates assists not expected of a target man.
With the expected departure of Bent (reported to have cleared his locker at Bodymoor Heath) Helenius’s arrival is something of a gamble for me, replacing a proven scorer in the league with someone who has never played a game in the league. Lambert’s philosophy is based upon a gamble, but Benteke’s signing was considered a gamble and everyone knows how that turned out.
Spanish left back Antonio Luna has become Villa’s fifth signing with the transfer window not even being open (1st July). Signed for a fee in the region of £1.5 million from Spanish La Liga side Sevilla, Luna was part of Sevilla’s renounced academy, which includes graduates such as Manchester City’s new signing Jesus Navas and Diego Capel.
He has been capped nine times for Spain`s under 21s and was on loan at fellow La Liga side Mallorca last season, they finished 18th and were relegated.
With Lambert signing five players even before the transfer window has opened, deadwood still needs to be moved on, but as soon as this has happened a marque of signings are expected at Villa’s training ground Bodymoor Heath, maybe even Younes Belhanda.
In the final part of the series, the final steps of Lambert’s philosophy will be explained.
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