We ran a poll yesterday, after Aston Villa won their game. It was about whether or not Paul Lambert should remain at the club or be sacked.
Around two-thirds of respondents voted for Lambert to be sacked.
Look, I know and understand that many supporters aren't happy with Paul Lambert and never have been happy.
But sacking Lambert now — from Villa's current position — without a solid, Mauricio Pochettino-type move lined up, would be an absolute, complete disaster, and one that could very well see the club go down.
I mean, let's consider this. Lambert is on 22 points at this juncture of the season — good for 12th place, mind you — and has never seen his side dip into the relegation places. Despite the guy that is by far and away his best player being out for half the campaign.
Further, the club's conceded just 22 times in 20 league games this campaign. Where Villa were the laughingstock of England two years ago with a run of 17 consecutive goals conceded over the course of five games, now they stand as the club with the fifth-best record in the Premier League. And even if you look at last year, Villa conceded 61 goals over the course of the season. The Claret and Blues would have to concede more than two goals a game the rest of the way to match that record this year!
For everything that's been said about Villa's futility in front of net — and more on that later — Paul Lambert has strengthened the Villa defense in a manner that would've seen everyone at the club ecstatic two years ago.
Then you have Villa's new system, generally regarded to have been instituted for the first time in the 2-1 home win over Leicester a few matches ago. They've played seven times; won twice (counting yesterday's win), drawn thrice, and lost twice. That's not a great record but not sack worthy by any means. Especially when your team finished half of those six league games with 10 men! Villa didn't give itself a chance against West Brom and did well to rescue a point a piece from the United and Sunderland fixtures.
And despite what people might say one way or the other, the progress in attack will — and should — come. Villa have been... not great in front of goal this year. And by not great, I mean horrible.
You see, a quick dive into Michael Caley's expected goals model will show that given chances generated, Lambert's side should have 20 league goals under their belt this year based upon the chances they've had on goal.
Instead, they have 11. Part of that is poor finishing, sure, but a big part of the sport is luck based, and these stats help to show it. Villa have ~55% of their "expected goals" this season. The next most-futile team in the league? Burnley, who have around three quarters of their "expected" total. Add four goals to this Villa side? They might be top-half.
Piggybacking off of that, Lambert's current set of tactics can work because Villa are extremely, extremely tough to break down. They've kept three successive, home clean sheets (not a small task) and are generally looking very solid at the back.
So, given that defensive fortitude, all Villa have to do is score one singular goal and more often than not, they'll win the game.
Don't believe me? If Villa simply would have scored exactly one goal in every game this season, they'd be on 28 points, sitting pretty in the top half of the table. I think we'd all take that right now, wouldn't we?
It isn't the prettiest brand of football in the world, no, but keeping the other team away from the ball generally limits the chance you're going to get scored on — we've seen this ourselves with Villa when they employ the counterattack. And all your side then has to do is take one of the three or four good chances each game they get. Realistically, that should happen.
And if you want to blame someone for the team's anemic offensive performances as of late? Look no further than Villa's savior, Christian Benteke, not to Lambert.
Benteke is the vital playmaker in this side. He's arguably got the passing skills of a world-class attacking midfielder and has a superb finish as far as strikers go.
And think back to the Leicester game where Villa created chance after chance after chance. Why? Christian Benteke made himself available. He wanted to be the vital playmaker, nearly scoring a goal or two of his own and getting a beautiful assist on Alan Hutton's winning goal that day.
Leandro Bacuna had a good chance when Benteke decided he actually felt like playing for a few minutes against Palace and yesterday against Blackpool, it seemed that Villa really started creating chances in the final 30 minutes. It also seemed like I heard the word "Benteke" a hell of a lot more in that last half-hour than the hour that preceded it.
I grew up with the line of thought that if you have the best player in the game, you run your strategy through him. If that's a big man in basketball, you make sure he touches the ball every possession. If it's a great pitcher in baseball, I want him pitching in my most important moments.
I don't feel like it should be any different in football. And I'm not saying that "Pass to Benteke" should be the only tactic (as that one t-shirt makes light of) but there's nothing wrong with it being the focal point of the Villa attack. He's that good and the club need to make full use of him while he's still here.
But when your focal point appears bored and not willing to make himself available, things break down. If a quarterback just didn't show up for an American football game, it's pretty likely the team would lose. And Benteke is the quarterback of this team. If Villa are to find success, he's going to have to lift the team by wanting to be there in the first place.
Look. I'm not going to sit here and pretend that everything is perfect on Trinity Road. Because it isn't.
But at the same point in time, Villa are in a much better place than they were when Lambert took the club over. The defending is solid, guys like Ciaran Clark and Alan Hutton have seen revivals, and guys like Jores Okore and Ashley Westwood have broken through to the squad, ready to help Villa push on to the next level.
Lambert hasn't been dealt the best of cards and has done a fine job at Villa. It's not necessarily inspiring and it's not the prettiest football on the eye but it's working well enough right now to get the job done.
I mean, if all you want is attacking football, take the two-hour train ride to Liverpool and ask Evertonians about how their season's going.
Actually, let me know before you go. Because I'll want to get the popcorn ready.