Benteke, Weimann, and Agbonlahor lead the way for Aston Villa's forwards in 2012-13

Clive Rose

We begin our 2012-13 season reviews by taking a look at Aston Villa's forwards.

I came into this article planning on talking about Aston Villa's scoring drought this year and how, despite that drought, it was easy to be confident in the club's forwards as we look forward to next season. But then I looked at the season goals-scored total and saw that it was 47. That's ten more goals than last year, and not an entirely unimpressive 1.24 goals per match. In fact, the total ties Villa for 11th in the league.

But this doesn't work with my perceived notion of the club as one that couldn't find the back of a net. Then I realized that the confidence I had in the forwards came only towards the end of the season. Sure enough, a little looking shows what a swing we witnessed:


Goals

Goals/Match

Projected Total for Full Season

First 28 matches

36

.93

35.34

Last 10 matches

21

2.1

79.8

Full Season

47

1.24

47

If the team played the whole campaign like it did for the final 10 matches of the season, we'd be trying to figure out what group we'd be in for Champion's League play. That absolutely torrid pace of course includes the 6-goal outburst against Sunderland, but even if we drop that to a far more average 2, the projected season total at that pace would be 65 goals.

So it's clear that Aston Villa aren't as bad as they seemed for the first 28 matches this season. And while I don't think they're the team we saw in the final 10 matches, I think they're much closer to that than the alternative.

And a big reason we saw a resurgent Villa towards the end of the season was the strikeforce. Suddenly, it seemed as if Christian Benteke and Gabby Agbonlahor couldn't miss, and Andreas Weimann provided just enough of a threat to keep defenders occupied. Let's take a quick look at what the Aston Villa forwards did in the 2012-13 season.

The Best: Christian Benteke

Benteke was the transfer story of last summer for Aston Villa. When the club signed the Belgian for £7 million on the deadline day, no one was entirely sure what to make of him. We thought he would likely be a nice piece to slot in next to Darren Bent, and we knew he'd be around for four years at Villa. Turns out we were wrong on the first point, and dear god I hope we were right on the second.

But we weren't wrong about Benteke because he wasn't good enough, we were wrong because he was too good. Fifteen days after he signed with the club, Benteke made his EPL debut, coming on in the 71st minute against Swansea. 17 minutes later he had won his way into the hearts of Villa fans with his first of 21 goals on the season:

Bentekegoal1_medium

The really remarkable thing about that goal is that it set the tone for the whole season. You see Benteke creating something out of nothing (the poor header back to the keeper is generally probably given up on in that situation), you see him show some creativity (the chip over the keeper) and then you see his skill at finishing as he makes sure the ball gets in.

By November, it seems, we had already forgotten about Darren Bent and Benteke was the striker of the future for the club. And his goals were certainly amazing, but what I think made Benteke really stand out was the fact that he was as helpful in creating goals as he was in scoring them. The moment that I will remember Benteke for from this season isn't even one of his goals. It's this run up the left flank that set up Andreas Weimann's opening goal in the December Manchester United match:

Kirsten_benteke_medium

Can you imagine any other Aston Villa player in recent memory making that play? Gabby certainly has the speed, but I don't think he's got the strength to get around the defender. Emile Heskey would have had the strength, but the idea of him making a run like that is - and I mean this literally - laughable. So it's not just the 21 goals, it's the five assists on top of that that make Benteke the best of the club's forwards.

The Worst: Darren Bent

This almost seems unfair to me. In the time he was on the pitch, Bent wasn't exactly terrible. He did score three goals, and he rarely actively hurt the team. Except, to be honest, he really did hurt the team. His massive wages coupled with his general ineffectiveness meant we were spending money that could have been used elsewhere on a player who often didn't even see the bench.

And the other reason this seems unfair to me is that Bent has been a model human being during this all. We rarely heard any complaining from him despite his dramatic decline in playing time. When he did come onto the pitch, it always at least looked like he was giving full effort. The problem was, when he was given chances, the results just weren't there. Between his second and third goals of the season, 349 minutes of on-the-pitch time elapsed. That's nearly the equivalent of 4 full matches. For the money Bent was being paid, the performance just wasn't acceptable.

We'll remember Bent fondly for saving us in 2011-12, but most everyone will forget his work this year.

The Rest: Andreas Weimann, Gabby Agbonlahor, Jordan Bowery, Simon Dawkins, Graham Burke, Nathan Delfouneso

Did you know that Bowery, Dawkins, Burke, and Delfouneso all played matches at forward for Aston Villa this season? I certainly didn't remember that. Those matches were largely forgettable, and no one did any scoring or assisting. So let's talk about the only other two players we care about.

Weimann came into the season somewhat of a question. We knew he had talent, but no one was really sure how much of that we'd see. The results were a bit of a mixed bag. His seven goals in all competitions and his high work rate make me remember his season fondly. But there were matches where he would entirely disappear. And how many hairs did we all lose as Andi missed numerous clear shots on goal?

But realistically, this was a great campaign for the Austrian. He showed that he's got a knack for finding the goal and that he's got some wonderful playmaking ability to boot. And to me, almost all of the shortcomings can be chalked up to the fact that Weimann is only 21 years old. He's got oodles of talent, and should only get better in the coming years.

And then there is perpetual enigma Gabby Agbonlahor. Prone to having little 2- or 3-match hot streaks, this year he began hot. The two goals he scored in the League Cup stunner at Manchester City made us all think that maybe Gabby was back in the form we all knew and loved. But then he did his usual Gabby thing, scoring only three goals in his next eighteen appearances. But remember what we talked about above. The first bit of the season wasn't a great time for scoring at the club in general. And Gabby was one of the big reasons we saw such a jump in the last 10 matches.

The first of those final 10 was at Reading, where Gabby scored the goal that gave Villa the win. In the rest of the season, he would score five more times, all in Villa wins. In the past few years, we've seen those little streaks from Agbonlahor, but the end of the season makes it seem as if he is really putting it all together again. That could be a huge boon for the club.

Summary and Outlook

I've spent the last bit of the season thinking that Aston Villa's forwards were the best unit on the team. And while that may be true, it's astonishing that so much of that success relies on only three people. We all know that Weimann and Benteke are going to be the center of countless rumors this summer, and losing either or both of them could be a significant blow to the team.

But despite all the press, it seems like they'll both stay at the club. Under Lambert, the two have thrived and seem to have a strong relationship on the pitch. They've got to know that if they stick around, there will definitely be a chance at European play sooner rather than later. Maybe I'm too optimistic about Villa retaining the duo, but if we add them to a resurgent Gabby, I think VIlla have the chance to have a potent attack next year.

And what a refreshing thing that is to write.

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