I'm happy with Villa so far this season. Don't let anyone tell you otherwise. Our huge defensive improvement has been well documented. We are finding value in the transfer market, making the squad significantly stronger without breaking the bank. We've got a new CEO with an impressive CV. 4 points on the board from 2 games against teams we took 0 points from last season.
So it's with slight trepidation that I am about to focus on a negative aspect of Villa's play. It cannot be ignored that we simply do not threaten the opposition goal enough. In our last 4 competitive games we've had 2 shots on target.
In the absence of any particularly key moments during Saturday's game (I've pretty much wiped it from my memory already), I'm going to focus on a decision that Paul Lambert made before kick-off. That is the selection of Andi Weimann and Gabby Agbonlahor.
The pair have contributed only 11 home goals between them in Paul Lambert's 39 games at Villa Park. Let's take a closer look at Villa's longest serving player, top Premier League goal scorer of all time, Gabby Agbonlahor. Gabby's contribution to our home games last season? 1 goal. 0 assists. The previous season? 2 goals, albeit with a slightly more respectable 4 assists.
It's glaringly obvious that Villa can't break teams down at home. It's glaringly obvious that Gabby and Andi thrive on high energy football, breaking at speed, exploiting the gaps in behind a defence. They can still be a force to be reckoned with away from home. But defend deep and you completely nullify their threat.
We saw a very frustrating game from the pair against Newcastle, they were prepared for the Villa counter. Our pace merchants tried their best to get in behind, but time after time they were forced to slow it down or shoot from distance. Newcastle got numbers back and it required a clever pass, a shift of direction, a magic flick, a nutmeg, a stepover.
N'Zogbia was going to get himself sent off and Sanchez was required at that stage to bolster the midfield. Richardson, who linked play pretty well in the first half, was sacrificed for Bent in pursuit of a goal. Cissokho's injury and replacement by Baker left Villa with a team completely drained of creativity and spark.
I guess the moment that would typify this theory was Villa's attempted break in the 2nd half. Weimann ran through the middle on the counter attack with the option of a through ball to the left or a simple pass to the right. Instead he chose to shoot with several players in the way 35 yards from goal. Unsurprisingly, it hit the first defender and a potentially promising position was squandered.
The temptation to go with Gabby and Weimann every game in the absence of Benteke is understandable, but they simply aren't effective when space is at a premium. Lambert has it the wrong way round for me. In home games, you start your creative players and you bring your direct pace men on from the bench.
At home, we should play a reliable finisher up front that will get into the right position to score goals - Benteke, Kozak or in their absence Darren Bent. Put players behind him that can create chances and support the attack with the confidence that Sanchez and Delph can protect them. For example: