Aston Villa fielded the youngest ever Premier League team yesterday at Anfield, with an average age of just 23 years and 308 days.
Brad Guzan, Chris Herd, Nathan Baker, Ciaran Clark, Eric Lichaj, Matthew Lowton, Ashley Westwood, Barry Bannan, Brett Holman, Christian Benteke, Andreas Weimann; names that just six months ago wouldn't have been recognised by football fans produced a stunning 3-1 win over Liverpool.
Paul Lambert has brought together a group of young players to play the football that Villa Park has been missing for a long time.
|Paul Lambert at the end of the thrashing of former club|
Norwich City (Kevin Quigley)
In his interview last night, the Villa manager said of how he's been criticised by some over his team selection, of how they're so young. But he followed this comment by saying that he's seen them day in, day out.
To stick with what you believe is the right thing to do, dropping Darren Bent and Stephen Ireland, is a brave thing to do. So I'm taking this opportunity to commend Paul Lambert on this.
|Finding themselves on the bench; Darren Bent and |
He brought in the unheard, like Ashley Westwood and Christian Benteke, and my word have they paid off.
Christian Benteke has firmly placed himself in Villa folklore with his brace against Liverpool and abilities in front of goal, but it is Ashley Westwood who is our unsung hero.
Ashley Westwood, the former Crewe midfielder, has made the step up from League Two into the Premier League with such ease that you wouldn't have thought he's only played 10 games in the top tier of English football. It is no surprise, in my opinion, that our upward turn in form has coincided with Ashley Westwood getting into the first team. Brought from Crewe for a snip at £2 million, a price luckily that Swansea baulked at, he can often go unnoticed in a game, but he is vital to the team because he keeps play ticking over. Our midfield has never performed since Petrov was taken seriously ill, he very rarely gave the ball away and did not treat it like a hand grenade. But Westwood has got our midfield working again – he, like Petrov, always wants the ball and does the simple things well.
He is what football should be about, top tier clubs taking chances on lower league players instead of buying from abroad. I reckon Westwood will be a mainstay of our team for years to come; he’s only 22 but plays like a 30-year-old. The last great midfielder we bought from Crewe was David Platt, I just hope Westwood has the same impact but stays around a bit longer.
After a season of pulling our hair out watching Warnock and Hutton hack around on the pitch it is a joy to see Lowton bedding into the defence, he has played every game so far this season in the league, and is settling in nicely after playing in the Championship, hopefully Bennett will have the same impact too.
I'm also impressed by Brett Holman. An acquisition of Alex McLeish's. Despite that fact, the Scot unearthed a gem in the Australian. I like Holman and for me he optimises the direction in which Aston Villa are taking. He plays, just as the title of the post suggests; for the name on the front of the shirt, not the back. He never stops running and as said previously, he'll need a third lung at the end of the season, never mind at the end of the game. He's also a role model. Yesterday we saw him closing down players, right, left and centre. Yet we also saw Andi Weimann follow in his footsteps. Holman led by example and rightly so.
Let's not forget about the partnership between Benteke and Weimann. With six goal between them in two games, this is fast becoming a blossoming relationship. Andi's pass to find Benteke's movement into the box, and his returning back heel which led to the goal was almost Barcelona like as they found each other with perfect accuracy. It's hard to believe they're both only in their early twenties.
From the first game of the season away to West Ham United we lacked creativity and that trend has continued for the most part of the season; until things started to click. That was most certainly evident against Norwich City in the Capital One Cup. How things have changed is incredible, but I'm sure if we'd have seen things from the inside we wouldn't have been saying that there'd been a change.
All in all Lambert is doing what we all wanted him to do, transforming the squad and the way we play. Safety is pretty much a cert, and after a decent cup run with Wembley in sight, the future's bright.