Aston Villa climbed to second in the Premier League this weekend with an impressive win against Liverpool at Anfield. Entering his third season at the helm, Paul Lambert seems to have finally won over the fans. Without any marquee signings, Villa’s fortunes have sky-rocketed, so what has been the secret to their sudden success?
The arrival of Roy Keane has brought with it a sense of optimism amongst the Villa Park faithful. When the former Sunderland and Ipswich Town manager assumed the role of Lambert’s assistant, there were rumours that he was a shoe-in for the top job if and when the Scot faced the sack.
But the Cork native has adapted to the position impressively, and his influence is evident throughout the side. Against Liverpool, the Villans put in the hard yards. All too often last season, Villa were in no way confrontational when the opposition were in possession, sitting back and letting the game be dictated by their opponents.
Saturday was different. Throughout the park, the men in claret and blue stood up and were counted. This was not an upset where the underdog snuck an early goal and held on for dear life. Villa were full value for the win. Keano’s influence was stamped all over the team.
Another particularly jaw-dropping aspect of the win was that they were without Christian Benteke and Ron Vlaar; the only two real globaly recognised stars. With both set to feature before the end of the month, things are looking bright for all at Villa Park. Having wowed the world in Brazil, Vlaar is one of the most coveted defenders in the premier league, and will tighten up an already solid defence.
On the other hand, Benteke missed out on Belgium’s World Cup odyssey, as well as the bulk of last season. The 23 year-old will be chomping at the bit to get back involved, and when at full flight, is the one of the best strikers around.
While generally mocked for some risky summer signings, Villa have reaped the rewards with their recent acquisitions. Tom Cleverely looked comfortable throughout his debut, while Phillipe Senderos was simply superb. The Swiss defender caused headaches for Liverpool at both ends, and unsettled Mario Balotelli with some physical challenges. Aly Cissokho enjoyed a solid shift on his return to Anfield. Overall, Aston Villa look a tidy unit following a summer makeover.
Now that the knives pointed at Lambert have been put away, the question is posed, what is this side capable of? With Arsenal, Chelsea, Man City, and Everton up in the next four games, things are not going to get any easier. In the aftermath of the Anfield victory, Lambert praised the feel good factor surrounding the camp at present.
There is no denying that the momentum from the opening three games inspired the Birmingham outfit’s surprise win on Saturday. The key is to maintain form throughout the next four weeks, and keep the player’s heads held high if things do not go as well.
Easier games will be on the horizon, and momentum is key. In light of the promising start to the season, a top ten finish should be achievable, as they look to recover from a few years in the doldrums.
Paul Lambert has won back to Holte End with his side’s work-rate and fearless approach. It is a long road back, but they are making strides towards where they were at during the Martin O’Neill era. Roy Keane has played no small part. Nevertheless, Aston Villa are moving in the right direction.
Brian Barry, Pundit Arena
Featured image By Ian Wilson from London, England (Villa Park) [CC-BY-2.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0)], via Wikimedia Commons