Perhaps the most frustrating aspect of Aston Villa's 1-0 loss to West Ham on Saturday is that it's difficult to find fault with any single player. The individual performances were largely fine; unfortunately for Villa, there wasn't anyone on the pitch that managed to provide the quality in the final third that was so desperately missing. In this game Aston Villa were less than the sum of their parts; with this squad, that's not going to cut it.
Shay Given: Given wasn't the least bit responsible for the game's only goal and he came up with some nice saves to keep it close. He also looked comfortable playing the ball out of the back and didn't make any serious errors in distribution. Perhaps could have done better in the one-on-one with Modibo Maiga right at the end, but that's being nit-picky.
Matthew Lowton: Looked respectable going forward and didn't raise any alarm bells with his defense. Gave no reason to change the minds of those who think he's ready for the Premier League, but didn't really do anything to convince the non-believers either.
Ron Vlaar: It's going to take Vlaar a little bit of time to get completely up to speed in the Premier League, but after a slightly shaky start that featured some heart-in-throat inducing tackles the big defender settled in nicely and had a very good game overall.
Ciaran Clark: If you're the kind of person that absolutely must pin the blame for goals on someone, I suppose Clark is your man seeing as how his header is what allowed Ricardo Vaz Tê to play the ball from an offside position. For the vast majority of the evening Clark was excellent, and he looks to be the perfect partner for Vlaar.
Nathan Baker: Nathan Baker isn't really a fullback, so with that in mind he didn't play too terribly. His play going forward was better than I expected, but that was a pretty low bar. He was skinned pretty soundly a few times down the flank, but given what he was being asked to do his performance is hard to criticize too harshly. But he's not a long-term solution at left back.
Fabian Delph: Delph's performance was quite polarizing amongst Villa fans, and that's true internally amongst the writers here at 7,500 to Holte. I was on the less-than-impressed side during the game, but looking at the numbers (94% pass completion) and passing chart (the ball didn't go backwards as often as I'd remembered) I played especially close attention to Delph when watching the game for a second time. It didn't change my opinion that Villa need more creativity from defensive midfield, but it did change my perception that Delph was to blame. Fabian is the player he is, and in this game he was a very, very good version-possibly the best I've ever seen-of that player. If the attacking players in front of him were doing their jobs, it's unlikely he gets much criticism in this game.
Karim El Ahmadi: In the days since the West Ham game, there's been an increased call for a physical, ball-winning defensive midfielder. After watching KAE all preseason and his performance against West Ham twice, I'm not really sure what I'm missing. El Ahmadi won 61% of his aerial duels and did a fair share of bossing around in midfield. He may not be a destroyer, but when you can control the midfield game as well as Villa did I'm skeptical that such a player is really all that necessary.
Charles N'Zogbia: I've long been a consistently staunch defender of N'Zogbia's, but his performance against West Ham was quite simply not good enough. In a game crying out for the kind of creative influence he's supposed to provide, he was largely anonymous. West Ham's tactics made them very difficult to break down, but he's good enough that he doesn't have any excuse for his disappearing act. If this season is going to be a step forward for Villa, he has to step it up.
Stephen Ireland: If anyone has managed to figure out Ireland, I'd suggest you begin to turn your attention towards finding a comprehensive solution to climate change. There was so much to like about so much that Ireland did during this game, but when the ball worked its way into the final third Ireland went missing. Despite praise from Paul Lambert and some excellent performances during preseason Ireland still looks to be sorely lacking in confidence, and the moments in which belief in himself is most clearly absent are those in which he's needed the most.
Brett Holman: I think Brett Holman is a solid player and that when all is said and done his signing will prove to be a good one. But he sure didn't give any reason for the skeptical to change their minds in this game.
Darren Bent: Darrent Bent's day: 15 touches, 2 shots. If he's not getting the ball he's not going to be much of a factor, and as an out-and-out goal scorer that doesn't drop deep and doesn't have much involvement in link-up play, he's not going to be getting the ball without some help from his teammates. There's a case to be made that a player like Darren Bent isn't the best fit for this team, but that's somewhat irrelevant in this instance; he is who he is, and on Saturday he was a guy that was a non-factor through little fault of his own.
Andreas Weimann: Brought on for Brett Holman just after the hour mark and signalling a shift from a 4-2-3-1 to a 4-4-2, Weimann had plenty of time to make an impact. He didn't. Similar to Bent that likely has more to do with the supply than any real fault of his own, but Weimann is a slightly more well-rounded player and his inability to change the game in any tangible way was disappointing.
Gary Gardner: I thought bringing on Gardner for N'Zogbia was an odd substitution when it happened. I still think it was an odd substitution three days later. Gardner was solid, but he wasn't what the game needed.
Barry Bannan: Bannan was what the game needed, and after coming on for Fabian Delph he provided a bit of a spark. One wonder what things would have been like had he been in the team from the start, but 15 minutes just wasn't enough time for him to make much of a difference.