Our series of new articles focussing on moves within the Premier League continues with a look at Aston Villa’s new boss, Paul Lambert. The 42 year-old arrives from Norwich City on a three-year deal and will be keen to establish a sense of stability at the club; the post has been more akin to a revolving door in recent times, with Lambert the fourth man in charge in the past two years, following in the footsteps of Martin O’Neill, Gerard Houllier and Alex McLeish:
Having dismissed McLeish the day after the end of last season, the midlands outfit embarked on a scouting mission and were linked with the likes of Ole Gunnar Solksjaer and Roberto Martinez amongst others. Ultimately, the Canaries boss was the number one candidate for the vacant hotseat, with Villa chief executive Paul Faulkner going on to reveal:
Paul’s track record speaks for itself. We were very clear from the start the type of manager we wanted. We wanted somebody young to bring the vibrancy back to the club. When we were able to meet with Paul, it was totally clear he was the right man for Aston Villa. We’ve got to freshen up the squad. It’s about making sure we are up there challenging in the top half of the table.
Lambert’s managerial career got off to the most inauspicious of starts, with an ill-fated spell in charge of Scottish club Livingston in the 2005-06 season harvesting only two wins before he resigned with three months left of the campaign. The Scot spent a year on the sidelines before Wycombe Wanderers came calling – he lasted two years before handing in his resignation, after failing to engineer a climb out of League Two.
Continuing in the lower leagues, a stint at Colchester lasted less than a year; Lambert helped register a 7-1 win over Norwich in the opening day of the 2009-10 campaign and was snapped up by the Canaries after the subsequent sacking of Bryan Gunn. Back-to-back promotions then ensued as Lambert steered Norwich back to the Premier League, with the club finishing in 12th place last time out.
Tactically, Lambert proved adept at utilising his squad, changing systems and personnel and making vital substitutions as games unfolded in order to produce the points. This approach may have been great for Norwich fans but from a Fantasy perspective, Lambert’s continual tinkering proved hugely frustrating. His selection policy meant that the likes of Grant Holt – the Canaries top scoring Fantasy Premier League (FPL) asset – started just 24 games, with only two players featuring in Norwich’s first XI more than 30 times. Lambert’s side were offensively strong – indeed, only the top six found the net more often, but they were disappointing at the back, failing to keep out their opponents until Gameweek 22, with a mere three clean sheets returned all season.
The Previous Regime
It’s fair to say Alex McLeish’s cross-midlands switch from Birmingham was far from impressive. In his one season at the helm, McLeish failed to win over the terraces – while his ties with the St Andrews club were hardly helpful, a negative style of football saw Villa scrape their way to survival, finishing just two points outside of the relegation zone.
At home, they won four games and scored 20 goals – only Wolves had a worse record for each category, with three and 19 respectively. Overall, Villa had the second worst attacking record in the league, scoring just 37 times all season, while at the back, they picked up nine clean sheets, with four at home and five on their travels.
The Season Ahead
Lambert is more than aware of the high level of performance required to restore the feelgood factor and win over the Villa fans after last season’s disastrous displays. Under the guidance of Martin O’Neill, the midlands club were one of the division’s high fliers and finished in sixth place three times in succession – while their stock has consequently plummeted, the new manager was quick to lay down his intentions to re-establish Villa as an attacking force in 2012/13:
There is a lot of expectancy at the club and it is not something I’m going to shy away from. It something I will thrive on, hopefully. We will try to get results as quickly and as best as we can. We have to play football the right way. We have to give them (the fans) something. We will need them – I think they will come in their thousands to watch us and it is up to us to give them something back. The most important people at any football club are the people that come and watch it, and the players. If I can get those two going off each other then hopefully we can have a right good season.
As a Fantasy force, Villa can only improve upon 2011/12; just one player – Gabby Agbonlahor – broke the 100 point mark in FPL, despite producing just one assist from Gameweek 11 onwards. With such poor points hauls, it’ll be intriguing to see the pricing of their squad, then, with the likes of James Collins, Richard Dunne and Shay Given surely capable of increased returns at the back. Elsewhere in defence, reports have already linked Lambert with a move for Tottenham’s Kyle Naughton. The right-back featured on loan for Norwich last time round and could bolster the backline, with Alan Hutton failing to impress upon his arrival from the north London club.
If Lambert can produce the goal returns garnered at Norwich in 2011/12, Fantasy managers could well be eyeing up Villa’s attacking assets with a little more confidence. Charles N’Zogbia was an outstanding mid-price midfielder asset at Wigan under Roberto Martinez but his move to Villa Park last summer was a disaster, while Stephen Ireland will be hoping to establish himself as a force under the new regime – both should be reasonably priced next season and could well produce a considerable upturn in performance.
Darren Bent will be keen to return to action after spending the final three months of last term sidelined with an ankle injury – having notched just nine times under McLeish, his starting price of 10.0 in the previous campaign will surely be set to drop; if Lambert ditches his rotation policy and establishes a regular starting XI, Bent’s history shows he has the potential to prosper. Moves for Grant Holt and Osasuna forward Ibrahima Balde have also been mooted as Lambert assesses his limited options up front; Emile Heskey has already been released, while Agbonlahor has been linked with a move to Sunderland, with Martin O’Neill keen to bolster his attacking options and reunite with his former frontman.
Next season’s fixture list has smiled kindly on the new Villa boss and affords Lambert the opportunity to get his career in the midlands off to a strong start. An opening day trip to West Ham is followed with a home clash against Everton – the Toffees’ notoriously slow starting form could prove advantageous in Lambert’s first game in front of his own fans. A trip to Newcastle looks the trickiest of the opening six but, with home clashes against Swansea and West Brom and a trip to Southampton sandwiched in between, Fantasy investment in Villa’s assets could well be worthwhile from the off.
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For Gameweek 38
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