Gareth's excellent piece on Paul Lambert and Darren Bent got me thinking this week, and when that happens, I usually use it as an excuse for a Friday Feedback question. The Darren Bent benching (rotation? dropping? What do we want to call it?) last weekend, combined with Gabriel Agbonlahor's recent strong form (and return to health) have left the club with four capable strikers. Realistically, if they could get service, Villa could be a very potent goal-scoring team. But, with four players, the question remains: how do you use them? So that's what we've got this week. Be sure to have your say in the comments below!
This week's question: Aston Villa now have a seemingly-healthy strike force. They've got Andreas Weimann, Darren Bent, Christian Benteke, and Gabriel Agbonlahor ready to play. Should Paul Lambert pick two and stick with them or rotate through? How would you use the players available?
Gareth: I think I implied in my piece on Darren Bent earlier this week that I believe the effort to force too many of our forwards into the starting eleven would be a fruitless endeavour, because at some point you'll have to jam a square peg in a round hole. Paul Lambert has spoken of his belief in the squad as a collective unit, and seems to favour frequent rotation, which I think I agree with. For me, Andi Weimann is a tier below the trio of Bent, Benteke and Agbonlahor, so I'd only start him in the case of injury. That said, it's to the Austrian's credit that I believe he could capably replace either Bent or Agbonlahor without a drastic drop-off in quality.
I would start with Darren Bent up front, because he's the most reliable finisher Aston Villa have. I'd have Gabriel Agbonlahor in there as well to, in the famous words of Harry Redknapp, "fucking run about a bit." I think that, for the time being, Christian Benteke works best as a substitute that can change the game. Just imagine being a defender spending an hour trying to keep Agbonlahor from getting in behind you, only to see him replaced by a twenty-one year old bulldozer whose only job is to shove you around until someone gets a goal. Once Benteke finds his feet and starts directing more of his efforts into the back of the net, this decision becomes harder, but for now I'm cool with this.
Andrew: I think Lambert's going to ride the hot hand but that's not really the question so I'll tell you what I would do. Gabby had a great game against Manchester City and we're all very happy that he did. But I think for the sake of harmony and even strategy I would lead with Bent and Benteke match in and match out. I'm hoping the drama of being left out stemmed from Paul Lambert's making an attempt to wake Darren Bent up a little bit. Give him a scare.
I don't think Darren Bent is even remotely as bad a guy as some Aston Villa fans want to believe after reading his comments on losing the captaincy and then being dropped. I think he's a proud man who wants to play and score goals. Anyone would feel the same way. So I think you bring Gabby on for either player (probably Benteke more often) at some point in second half when tied or trailing to provide a change of pace that could change the match.
As for Andreas Weimann he's going to have to be patient. He's a good player and I trust him in case of injury but for now he's 4th in the rotation.
Aaron: I think Bent's name needs to be one of the first on the teamsheet for the foreseeable future, partially because it's going to make things a bit more harmonious but mainly because he's pretty clearly the best striker on the team. From there it's a matter of playing the matchups; against most teams Benteke probably has the edge, but there are certainly some situations where the things Gabby brings to the table will give him the edge. Benteke and Agbonlahor are different enough players that each provides a change of pace for the other coming off the bench, and they make a pretty complimentary pairing on the days Bent isn't starting.
I'll echo the sentiments of others in saying that Weimann is clearly not quite on the same level as the other three, but he's not too far behind and I hate the thought of him not getting any time with the first team. Hopefully he'll have his chances in the League Cup and FA Cup, and if the opportunity to use him as a sub in games that are out of hand arises I'd really hope that it's taken. If it gets into the winter and he's still not getting any looks, I'd be happy to send him out on loan. He's just too talented to allow his skills to atrophy and he's good enough that he's not going to improve much playing in reserve games alone.
Robert: I think Darren Bent has to be the only certainty here. He seems to have gotten his touch back, and if he's in-form, he could be one of the top scorers in England. After that though, it becomes really interesting. I'd be really intrigued to see Lambert totally screw around and send out a 3-4-3 or a 4-3-3 sometime. It'd be pretty great to have Bent, Benteke, and Gabby up front. Or heck, throw Weimann in.
But that's crazy talk. So realistically, I would have a Bent/Agbonlahor pairing as my top choice right now, and use Weimann and Benteke off the bench pretty equally. Both are around the same level (Benteke has more skill, but less polish) and both could impact the game in an entirely different way. Up 1-0 and want to keep the opposition on their heels? Put in Benteke to bruise them. Down or at a draw and need a bit more finess? Time for Weimann!
The good news is all four are pretty capable, and any situation won't be a disaster.