If there's one area where Villa shouldn't be looking at improvement this offseason, it's in the forward line. That's not to say that Paul Lambert's set of forwards—past Christian Benteke—is great, rather that if Villa want to add a starting striker, they should probably get rid of 3. Villa scored just 39 goals in 38 league matches this campaign and only two forwards bagged five or more.
I'm really not sure what to make of Villa's front line. We see strong performances from guys like Andreas Weimann, Gabriel Agbonlahor, and Libor Kozak from time to time and more often, see instances of incompetence. Then again, it's better than Villa legend Emile Ivanhoe Heskey who managed a goal in every 10.2 appearances for the Claret and Blues over his three seasons at the club.
And you know what? Much like how Robert gauges transfers in how many "Bentekes" they cost, I'm going to grade Villa's forwards in "Heskey" units. Let's see how the hell this goes. In alphabetical order...
Gabriel Agbonlahor - 1.8 Heskeys
Among all of the frustrating players to have a squad number at Aston Villa right now, Gabby might be the crown jewel. From time-to-time, the guy can be unplayable—and who knows, maybe if he hadn't taken a tumble over the advertising boards, we'd be sitting here talking about an Aston Villa side that finished comfortably mid-table rather than one that faced a proper relegation battle.
But that was unfortunately the story for Agbonlahor this campaign—hitting decent runs of form and then picking up some minor knock that set his form off for weeks and months to come. The Gabby that showed up against Liverpool certainly wasn't the one that showed up in any match after that and with him on form, Villa are a completely different side than with him off of it. His return of 4 goals and 5 assists while dodging knock after knock gives him a solid rating of 1.8 Heskeys. Not shabby but not great for someone earning his wages.
Marc Albrighton - 1.9 Heskeys
I suppose I'm forced to talk about the now-Leicester City man since Robert didn't include him as a midfielder in yesterday's review, so here goes nothing: I still have no idea how good Albrighton is and we won't find out until he's played a significant number of matches for the Foxes. He's either a headless chicken, running around, randomly playing in crosses that are going nowhere or is a guy that's going to have a double-digit assist total next year playing crosses into players capable of having some resemblance of knowing what they're doing.
If you want to buy the latter, he's certainly worth at least two Heskeys. But if we're going to call him a headless chicken, running around and playing in crosses to nowhere... well, that's exactly what Heskey would do in Marc's body. But Marc's body's better anyways, so I'd say he's worth at least a Heskey and a half in that situation. Let's settle in some middle ground here and wish "Super Marc" the best of luck in the East Midlands. And by the best of luck, I mean scoring 12 goals on a team that gets relegated.
Christian Benteke - Infinite Heskeys
Let me ask you a question. If you had to choose between one Christian Benteke or as many Emile Heskeys as you'd like, what would you take? The Emile Ivanhoe Heskey of ten years ago might hold some level of a candle to Christian Benteke but I'm taking the one Benteke every damn day.
Unfortunately for Villa, Christian Benteke played in two-thirds of Villa's matches and still easily had the most goals on the team. He tallied 10 times in the 26 league fixtures he played in and if not for a couple of injuries—one against Norwich and one in training that's keeping him out of the World Cup—perhaps Villa's campaign could have gone differently.
Before his injury against Norwich, Benteke was playing like the player he was last season. In the first four matches, Benteke tallied four times. Easy enough, right? But when he came back, it took him until his 11th league match post-injury to get back on the board again—a late goal to trim the deficit to 2-1 against Arsenal. And when he scored again at Anfield in Villa's 2-2 draw, it looked like things were looking up again for the big Belgian and the team he's had to carry on his back. He ended up tallying 6 times in the last 12 matches of his season—certainly a solid strike rate and one that would've seen him tally 19 on a full season.
Did Paul Lambert rush Benteke back? Who knows. But what we do know is that a confident, healthy Christian Benteke could mean the difference between 30 and 50 points for Villa next term. Better strengthen that back before we break it, Christian.
Jordan Bowery - 1 Heskey
This was one of the toughest ratings for me amongst all of the forwards Villa trotted out there this campaign. My reaction to Bowery coming on was akin to my reaction when the legend would come on for Villa—one of resignment to the club's fate of yet another defeat. To be fair to Bowery, he was absolutely phenomenal in the win over Hull City that confirmed Villa's survival—but the fact of the matter is that he's just not talented enough to be a player in any capacity for a Premier League club.
I mean, hell, he's a striker. And the only net he's put the ball in since moving to Villa was his own. That's not good. You've gotta love Bowery's hustle and effort when out on the pitch, sure, but it's time to move on an admit he's just not a Premier League player.
Nicklas Helenius - No Rating
Honestly, I wish I could give Helenius a rating. He appeared a few times—three in the League and three in the Cups—and his most notable moment of the season was getting his trousers pulled down. What a lovely first year at Villa Park. Curiously enough, he scored Villa's lone goal in the FA Cup defeat to Sheffield United and, well, was promptly never allowed on the pitch again.
I wish I could sit here and tell you something about Nicklas Helenius. But I just can't. Hopefully he gets a move back to Denmark if he's not going to be in Lambert's plans.
Grant Holt - 0.5 Heskeys
Stop the presses! We've got a player I'd actually rather have Emile Heskey than! I'm sure Grant Holt is a nice guy—he really seems like it—but he's exactly, well, what this team didn't really need. I get why he was brought in after the Kozak injury and hell, he even managed a goal in his 10 appearances at the club. But, yeah, when he was deployed over Callum Robinson time and time again as the season dragged on, my level of patience with his poor ability continued to rise.
Couple that with the fact that he was apparently alienated by the locker room? Yeah, he's no legend alright.
Libor Kozak - 3.2 Heskeys
In his 14 appearances for Villa this term, I was actually really, really impressed with the play of Libor Kozak. The former Lazio man scored when he came on for an injured Christian Benteke at Carrow Road and would tally three more times before breaking his leg in training which sucked and led to the loan signing of Grant Holt (see above). Kozak did what he needed to do—be a poor man's Benteke—and Villa won three of the four fixtures in which he scored. (This number is good because Villa on seven of the 31 matches in which he didn't.)
In fact, Kozak only managed to get off 11 shots in those 14 appearances for Villa but scored on four of them. Nothing but efficient, I suppose. He's got a role in this side—for now he's Christian Benteke's backup—and I was pretty happy with what he did.
Callum Robinson - 0.9 Fountain of Youth Heskeys
If we could take Emile Heskey to the Fountain of Youth and return him to his teenage self, I'd totally have him over Callum Robinson. This isn't viable, however, and we're stuck with the 19-year-old academy graduate. I think Robinson has a bright future at the club and I'd look for Villa to loan him out for at least a period of time next season. He appeared as a substitute on four occasions in the league—the last three coming at the end of one-sided defeats to Swansea, Manchester City, and Tottenham Hotspur—and managed just one shot. It's hard to say what he's going to provide for this side in the future but damn, I wish we wouldn't seen a little more than 50 minutes of him this year.
Andreas Weimann - %^@#$! Heskeys
If there's a player that I will love unconditionally for the rest of time, it's Andreas Weimann and I'm totally convinced of this. If I can't dislike the kid after this year, yeah, it's not happening.
From time to time, the Austrian puts in some damn impressive performances—perhaps none more than in the Hull City match that secured survival where he bagged two goals. And if you look at where Andi's goals and assists came from, you'll see that he turned up in some of the big matches—he had goals against Manchester City, Liverpool, West Brom in the derby, and twice against Hull City in a vital six-pointer—but it was in those lesser matches that he really let himself down.
Granted, I'm of the opinion that it's tough to judge Andreas Weimann when he's a natural striker being deployed as more of a right winger. If paired up top in a two-man strike force (like we saw against Hull) with Christian Benteke—and fighting with Gabriel Agbonlahor and apparently Darren Bent for that place in the squad—I think he's a guy that can bag 10 goals. As it sat, he only tallied five times in his 37 matches which is, well, I'm not sure. That's not good though.
Overall: Much better than a team chalk full of Heskeys
We all love the Villa legend Emile Ivanhoe Heskey but ultimately, we can still be thankful that he's not suiting up match-in, match-out for Aston Villa. While a true goal poacher like Javier Hernández (or a return-to-2011-form Darren Bent) would do wonders playing alongside Christian Benteke for Villa, it's probably not likely that Villa add another forward. You look through the ranks and there are five guys certainly capable of holding their own in the top-flight—and that's a luxury Villa don't necessarily have at other positions.
Hopefully next year the goals come again. In 2012-13, we saw Benteke and Weimann at their best—a return to that form for both of them next year would go one hell of a long way towards securing Villa's Premier League status for another campaign in the inevitable relegation battle.