For really the first time in his tenure as Aston Villa manager, Paul Lambert has a complete squad. Gone are the days where Villa didn't have anyone to play on the left wing and didn't have attacking options in midfield. The era of Gabby Agbonlahor and Andi Weimann getting free passes into the XI no matter how poorly they've been performing should be gone. And Lambert now has the ability to tactically do almost whatever he wants to—the side is now to play the 3-4-1-2, 4-2-3-1, 4-3-3, or any other number of formations we haven't him pull out yet.
That last point—the squad's versatility—is huge. When Villa went away to Norwich on the final day of the 2011-12 campaign, the traveling supporters sang for Paul Lambert to take the job at B6 in large part because of his Norwich sides' ability to change formation and tactics depending on the opposition and still find success. But at Villa, we've seen a lot more "drab" football than "exciting" and a need to stick to overly-defensive formations to mask the weakness at the back.
But that's all changed going into this year. Lambert has strengthened the back line and now has a group of players capable of either playing a three-man back line with wing backs or a traditional four-man back line, dependent on the opposition. Gone are the days of concern about protecting that back line too, as Carlos Sánchez's signing provides strong cover for a defense that's been improved throughout the summer. And in midfield, Lambert can do a host of things. He can opt to play centrally with Sánchez, Fabian Delph, Ashley Westwood, and Joe Cole or he can use wingers like Kieran Richardson, Jack Grealish, and Leandro Bacuna to create chances. One of Villa's issues last year was not having somebody out wide on the left opposite Marc Albrighton—now, Villa are well-balanced on both wings.
More importantly for Villa, the quality of the players in the squad has increased, especially in regards to depth. I put together a list of players I'd feel comfortable with Villa putting out there on the pitch this year—let's take a look at it.
- Forwards: Agbonlahor, Bent, Benteke, Kozak, Weimann
- Midfielders: Bacuna, Cole, Delph, El Ahmadi, Gardner, Grealish, N'Zogbia, Richardson, Sánchez, Westwood
- Defenders: Baker, Bennett, Cissokho, Clark, Hutton, Lowton, Okore, Senderos, Vlaar
- Goalkeepers: Given, Guzan