Play the mascot at left back: Depth chart reveals Villa deficiencies

Stu Forster

Hercules the Lion to be given a run at left back? An assessment of the options in the current squad and the young players that we might need to make the step up.

The Full Squad

Goalkeepers: Brad Guzan, Jed Steer, Shay Given, Benjamin Siegrist, Brad Watkins.

Right Backs: Matt Lowton, Alan Hutton, Leandro Bacuna, Joshua Webb.

Left Backs: Joe Bennett, Antonio Luna, Enda Stevens, Lewis Kinsella.

Centre Backs: Ron Vlaar, Jores Okore, Nathan Baker, Ciaran Clark, Chris Herd, Janoi Donacien.

Central Midfielders: Ashley Westwood, Fabian Delph, Karim El Ahmadi, Yacouba Sylla, Gary Gardner, Daniel Johnson.

Attacking Midfielders: Charles N’Zogbia, Jack Grealish, Aleksander Tonev, Samir Carruthers, Jordan Graham.

Forwards: Christian Benteke, Gabriel Agbonlahor, Andreas Weimann, Libor Kozak, Darren Bent, Jordan Bowery, Callum Robinson, Nicklas Helenius, Graham Burke, Michael Drennan.

 

Position by position

 

Goalkeeper

 

First Team: Guzan

Backup: Given Steer

Reserve/Youth: Siegrist Watkins

 

Verdict: Guzan is the undisputed and unchallenged number 1. Steer was backup last season but needs a loan to play some football. Given may be available to provide more cover after the dissolution of the bomb squad. Siegrist has not built on his early potential and it doesn’t look like we’ll ever see him in the first team. Watkins is the other keeper in reserve, number 1 for the NextGen Series winning side and had a brief loan spell at League 1 Tranmere last season.

 

Right Back / Right Wing Back

 

First Team: Lowton Bacuna

Backup: Hutton (Okore)

Reserve/Youth: (Herd) Webb

N.B. Player names in brackets indicate it is not their natural position.

Verdict: Lowton and Bacuna are the current competitors for right back. Alan Hutton probably won’t start but may provide cover and allow Bacuna to play more in midfield. In an injury crisis, Okore or Herd are most likely to fill in. Webb is the young reserve team right back, involved in our 2013/14 pre-season tour of Germany but has yet to make a competitive appearance.

 

Left Back / Left Wing Back

 

First Team: Bennett

Backup: (Clark) Luna (Baker) (Bacuna) (Delph)

Reserve/Youth: Stevens Kinsella

 

Verdict: With Ryan Bertrand returning to Chelsea, we’ve got a problem at left back again. Bennett returns to first choice in his absence. Luna is the official backup, but Lambert no longer trusts him so we might be more likely to see Clark or Baker fill in there. Bacuna or Delph could play there if absolutely necessary, both would be more comfortable in a wing back role than full back. Lambert clearly doesn’t rate Stevens, who won’t get near the team. Kinsella is the reserve team left back, progressing well after his role in the NextGen Series.

 

Centre Back

 

First Team: Vlaar Okore

Backup: Baker Clark (Lowton) (Hutton)

Reserve/Youth: Herd Donacien

 

Verdict: Okore’s return will be a big boost, with Lambert claiming he should be fit for the start of the season. He will surely partner Vlaar, unless a more experienced signing is made. Baker and Clark will be demoted to backup pushing Okore rather than a starting role. Lowton, Hutton or Herd could fill in if injuries hit. Janoi Donacien is highly rated and has made the bench a few times in 2014, he’ll probably go out on loan.

 

Central Midfield

 

First Team: Westwood Delph El Ahmadi

Backup: Bacuna Sylla Gardner (Clark)

Reserve/Youth: Herd Carruthers Johnson (Grealish)

 

Verdict: Without any signings, the middle of the park is unlikely to change much. Westwood and Delph will be first choice, with El Ahmadi most likely to join them in a three-man midfield. We may see more of Bacuna and Gardner, who could give us a bit more attacking threat. Sylla has hardly featured in recent months and looks a very long way off the pace as it stands. Clark played a few games in midfield under Houllier and McLeish, but Lambert hasn’t ever looked into that option. Similarly, Herd hasn’t played in midfield under Lambert either. Carruthers and Johnson will be looking to push on after years as a strong partnership in the reserves. Grealish played a couple of games as a deep playmaker for Notts County, but is best used further forward.

 

Right Midfield / Right Wing

 

First Team: Weimann

Backup: N’Zogbia Bacuna Tonev (Bowery) (Agbonlahor) (Delph)

Reserve/Youth: Grealish Carruthers Graham (Robinson)

 

Verdict: With Albrighton leaving, Weimann looks most likely to retain the right wing position. Nobody really knows how much involvement N’Zogbia will have and it is possible he could become a key player again. Bacuna and Tonev are the only other senior wide players to provide backup, but strikers Agbonlahor and Bowery could fill in, along with Fabian Delph if we’re really stuck for ideas. But we have a number of strong reserve options here, with Grealish, Carruthers and Graham all natural wingers. Robinson has the pace and trickery to potentially play here too.

 

Left Midfield / Left Wing

 

First Team: Agbonlahor

Backup: N’Zogbia Tonev (Weimann) (Bowery) (Delph) (Bacuna) (Bennett)

Reserve/Youth: Grealish Carruthers Graham (Robinson)

 

Verdict: Agbonlahor splits his time between the left wing and forward positions, but he is usually the most threatening option here. N’Zogbia prefers other positions but could definitely be used here. Delph would be more comfortable and more likely to play on the left than the right, but I’m sure we’ll need him in the middle. It makes sense that any players that play on the right could also play on the left, so Weimann, Bowery and Bacuna are all options. Bennett played a couple of games there this season but hopefully that will be a last resort. Grealish should be a strong contender unless he goes out on loan. Carruthers played here quite effectively for MK Dons before getting injured. Graham and Robinson could offer a more direct option cutting in on their right foot.

 

Central Attacking Midfield

 

First Team: N’Zogbia

Backup: Bacuna Gardner (Weimann) (Tonev) (Delph)

Reserve/Youth: Grealish Carruthers

 

Verdict: Charles N’Zogbia is the obvious option to play through the middle in a 4-2-3-1, 3-4-1-2 or 4-4-1-1 formation. Bacuna and Gardner could also be used in this position as both like to get forward. Weimann played there a fair bit last season but doesn’t offer much creativity. This is probably Tonev’s best position, but he needs to up his game to get anywhere near the team. A number of Villa fans have suggested Delph should be used in a more advanced role, but I don’t think that’s a switch we’re likely to see, as we desperately need his energy in the middle. This is the position we are most likely to see a young player break into the team, Jack Grealish and Samir Carruthers have the technique, creativity and vision to make an impact here.

 

Forward

 

First Team: Agbonlahor Weimann

Backup: Bent Bowery

Reserve/Youth: Robinson Helenius Burke Drennan

Injured: Benteke Kozak

 

Verdict: The loss of Benteke and Kozak has hurt us and that looks set to continue, with Kozak struggling to make the start of the season and Benteke out until at least October. During their absence, Agbonlahor and Weimann are the most obvious choice but they may be needed in wide positions. The big question is whether Bent will get another chance – three different Fulham managers left him out in favour of youngsters and his career looks to be winding down. He doesn’t have the work rate and versatility Lambert looks for, so even if he is “available”, I don’t think we’ll see that much of him. Bowery will be cover again, but ultimately will never end up as first choice. The situation with Helenius is well publicised and would likely be a long way from the team even if he stays at Villa, unless the manager changes. Robinson will hope to get his competitive first start at some point but a loan spell is probably best for his development. The same could be said for Burke and Drennan, who have a lot to do if they want a long term future at Villa.

  

Potential Issues

Contracts

 

Benjamin Siegrist, Janoi Donacien, Joshua Webb, Lewis Kinsella, Jordan Graham and Callum Robinson are out of contract this summer. Donacien, Kinsella and Robinson have been offered deals, but the future is unclear for Webb and Graham. Siegrist will probably be released.

 

Availability and Transfers

 

Though the bomb squad of Shay Given, Alan Hutton, Enda Stevens, Charles N’Zogbia and Darren Bent are supposedly now available for selection, it’s unlikely that the club policy has changed and they will still be sold at the earliest opportunity. The agent of Nicklas Helenius suggests he won’t be involved in the squad next season. There have also been rumours that Antonio Luna, Yacouba Sylla and Aleksander Tonev are available for transfer. It would be a surprise to see Chris Herd involved next season, a reserve that Villa would be looking to sell anyway with personal problems and even a few rumours of early retirement.

Overall Verdict

The way Villa finished the 2013-14 season would suggest we have a squad crisis. Stating the obvious, it's certainly not deep enough and there needs to be more quality. But the return of 7 long term casualties and members of the bomb squad - Okore, Benteke, Kozak, Given, Hutton, N'Zogbia and Bent - mean that perhaps the situation is not as dire as our performances in April and May indicated. It is easy to forget that after 29 games we were quite comfortable in 10th having beating Chelsea. If we had a slightly kinder run with injuries, the current squad should be strong enough to secure safety again. That clearly should not be the limit of our ambitions and we all hope a takeover will bring a brighter future to Villa Park, but we must not get ahead of ourselves. This is where we stand until further notice.

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