"How do you beat a team that has a great forward? Very simple. If you don't want somebody to eat, you have to stop the food coming out of the kitchen. I don't send somebody to mark the waiter; I have to worry about the chef." - Juan Carlos Lorenzo
There is no shortage of strikers on the Aston Villa roster. Christian Benteke, Libor Kozák, Andi Weimann, Gabby Agbonlahor, and Darren Bent are all more than capable of putting the ball into the back of the net. Despite that fact, the problem has been that the ball doesn't regularly get to them in situations where they are able to do so. Ever since the club sold off Ashley Young and Stewart Downing in the summer of 2011, service has been less than reliable.
Charles N'Zogbia was brought in at that time, but he hasn't really been able to produce due to injuries, but he should get a chance this year. New boy Joe Cole has been brought in this summer in order to provide some assists and hopefully chip in with a few goals as well. Last season, Agbonlahor was the club's assist leader with five, not a bad mark by any means, but nowhere near the 13 that Steven Gerrard provided. Granted, Gerrard should be getting more assists from midfield than a striker who has been shafted out to the wing, which is one of the problems that Villa have had.
Agbonlahor and Weimann have been forced out wide due to a lack of natural wide players and also the fact that manager Paul Lambert was unwilling to use Marc Albrighton, who had four assists last season. This year should be different, as depending on the formation Lambert should be able to have natural wingers in a flat 4-4-2, or wingbacks in a back three system. Leandro Bacuna and Matt Lowton are right backs who like to get forward, and Kieran Richardson and Joe Bennett are also comfortable venturing down the left side. If a back four is deployed, options that should be preferred on the wings are the aforementioned N'Zogbia and Cole, along with 18-year old Jack Grealish. Aleksander Tonev is also an option, and Bacuna could possibly be deployed in midfield.
If Lambert sticks with the 4-3-3, hopefully we aren't seeing Gabby and Andi on the flanks like last year. Lambert has enough players who are creative influences to fill those roles. That isn't to say that those two players shouldn't play - they should, but it's easy to see that they are better utilised centrally rather than wide.
Surely some assists should be coming from the midfield too. Fabian Delph finally got his goalscoring boots last year, but he isn't exactly a player who is always playing incisive passes. Ashley Westwood looks likely to take set pieces again, so that should get him a couple of assists. Westwood is someone who I'd like to take more risks when passing the ball forward. He obviously is one of the best on the team at playing the short ball, but he lacks (or hasn't shown) the ability to play somebody through on goal regularly.
Here's the depth chart that Robert put together a couple of weeks ago. There are a lot of possibilities for formations as Villa actually have some decently versatile players and to be honest I am not sure what the formation will be away to Stoke on 16 August, just nine days away. Obviously Benteke and Kozák won't be back, but that means we might get to see Weimann deployed centrally, where he had some success at the end of last season.
Who do you think could be the top assist man for Villa this season? Have your say in the comments.