On Twitter on Wednesday, Mat Kendrick shared a fun factoid:
With 5 goals, Leandro Bacuna is the 2nd highest scoring right-back in Europe's top leagues, behind Everton's Seamus Coleman on 6 #avfc— Mat Kendrick (@MatKendrick) March 19, 2014
Now, we here at 7500 think Mat is fantastic (even if his puns make us cringe sometimes). But to hail Bacuna as one of Europe's top scoring right backs just might be simplifying matters a bit.
Bacuna scored his five goals in the wins against Manchester City, Cardiff, West Brom and Norwich, and the loss at Everton. Clearly what we can conclude from this is that Bacuna loves scoring at Villa Park, and that when the Dutchman scores, Villa win (four from five baby!)
In seriousness, though, to call Bacuna the second-highest scoring "right-back" is a bit disingenuous. In just two of those five games - against Cardiff and Norwich - was Bacuna taking on the role of a traditional right back in a back four. Against the Baggies, he was out wide in the second band of a 4-4-1-1.
The other two matches are a bit more difficult to quantify. Against City, Villa are listed as playing a 3-5-2, while against Everton, it's a 5-3-2. These formations often become fluid, however, depending on possession and attack. In both games Bacuna was in more or less the same position - out wide, with Ron Vlaar, Nathan Baker and Ciaran Clark holding down defensive duties.
So with Bacuna scoring more freely when playing in a more advanced position, is that where Paul Lambert should play him the majority of the time? Should there be a three-man backline? Or should Matthew Lowton step in at right back, and have Bacuna playing more as a winger?
There's nothing wrong with Bacuna as a right back per se. Many right backs aren't terribly good at their defensive duties, so his tendency to get caught a bit higher up the pitch than perhaps Villa would like isn't a fatal flaw. When playing as a full back, he has the ability to potentially pull the opposition out of its intended shape, running into attacking positions and forcing them to give chase.
That being said, it's also a wise move on Paul Lambert's part to play Bacuna in a more advanced role when facing more threatening opposition. That's what he did against both City and Everton. When a full back is playing as more of a wing back, his defensive abilities are greater, as he's got coverage behind him. He can attack up the right, shutting down the opposition's left with another player behind, ready to clean up potential messes.
It's not always a necessary move - Villa managed to shut down Chelsea while using a 4-3-3 last weekend. But it's an adaptability that should be admired, both from Bacuna and from Lambert. Many of us are enjoying the midfield trio of Karim El Hamadi, Ashley Westwood and Fabian Delph. We've also loved seeing Marc Albrighton getting some time on the right.
A permanent switch for Bacuna would disrupt all that. And it's not necessary. We Villa fans might love it when the Dutchman gets forward and love it even more when he scores goals. We might also have slight heart palpitations when he gets caught too high up the pitch. But Lambert knows he's got a good thing in Bacuna. And even more importantly, he's showing he knows where to play him and when.
Bacuna a high-scoring right-back? Not really. But Bacuna, a talented youngster who's being used to the best of his abilities and manages to score some fantastic goals along the way? Yeah, we Aston Villa fans will take that.