There's new piece by Alex Keble at FourFourTwo today in which he takes a look at the style Paul Lambert is trying to play and the difficulties he's had in implementing it so far this season. It's not necessarily groundbreaking stuff, but it's an excellent and fairly quick read that you should definitely have a look at when you have a chance. In short, Keble tells us what we already know, but in a very comprehensive and convincing manner (and using pretty pictures); Aston Villa was built in a mold that has been decreasing in effectiveness for the past twenty years or so and almost entirely absent from anywhere but the bottom of the table in in the world's best leagues.
We've seen the difficulties Paul Lambert has had in implementing a new style in the team, and though I think all but the most pessimistic expect things to turn around to some extent as the players become more comfortable there's a real sense that Villa just don't have the kind of players necessary to play a patient, short passing game successfully. That makes sense on the face of things; this is a team heavy on academy players, and seeing as how most of them were scouted, signed and developed while Martin O'Neill was in charge it's reasonable to think that they're more likely to fit the mold favored by the current Sunderland boss. But are footballers really so rigid that they're only inherently capable of playing in a specific system?
For some players, the answer is likely yes. The game has changed quite a bit over time, certain kinds of players that were once thought to be indispensable are becoming less and less common at the highest levels. But looking at Villa's youngsters, I don't see a lot of players that fit that description; are they used to playing a certain way? Obviously. But are they incapable of playing any other way? I have some serious doubts. It's clear that not all of Villa's highly touted young players are going to pan out as top-flight footballers, but I think that writing off this entire generation as a lost cause is needlessly defeatist.
At the end of his post, Keble states that "Lambert's problem will not be fan unrest, or player discomfort. It will be shaking players out of their slumber, brushing off the negative influences of a succession of outdated managers, and making Villa into a modern football club." It's an opinion that I increasingly find myself sharing. When all is said and done, it may very well turn out that the players Lambert has at his disposal are genuinely unable to succeed in the system that he is attempting to implement. But looking at two games worth of poor performances from a team that is largely composed of players that have almost exclusively played a style which is the near polar opposite of what they're being asked to do now isn't a very intelligent way to reach such a conclusion.
I know that "let's give it some time" isn't something most reasonable people need to hear, but in this case I think it's the only reasonable thing there is to say on the matter. To answer the question posed in the headline, we quite simply don't know. Not at this stage, at least. But unless Aston Villa are getting ready to spend a lot more money tomorrow than all signs would indicate, we're going to find out before the year is up. And if nothing else, that's going to be interesting.