After Saturday's game much was made of the difference in quality between Villa and Everton; about our lack of depth, our poor tempo and about how well Everton had started the season after their valiant win against Manchester United. Not many commentators pointed out one quite glaringly obvious problem. In our starting eleven only three players can consider themselves to be sufficiently experienced at Premier League level -Given, N'Zogbia and Bent. Our four new players have no experience at this level and most importantly, of our entire back four only Clark and Baker have had a taste of top flight competition as academy graduates.
Much talk on the forums has surrounded who we might buy come Friday. Cheap, promising imports like Genk's Christian Benteke and Venlo's Maya Yoshida, have been linked to the club during the current transfer window. Some would see such moves as value for money. Indeed, many of the continental bargains listed are players who could be taken forward by Lambert's training regime given time. And why not-after all the club have already brought in Karim El Ahmadi for £2.5 million and Ron Vlaar for round £3 Million from the Dutch League along with the experienced Holman on a free. All three look promising and show class touches.
I would suggest, however, that we perhaps need more than aptitude, ability and willing- we are going to need Premier League experience to anchor the team. Aspects of El Ahmadi's, Vlaar's and Holman's play undoubtedly evidence their lack of experience in the Barclays Premier League, the most unforgiving of sporting arenas.
I'm sure that you don't need reminding that the line between success and failure is often small at this level. For those who do not know where that line is -as in Saturday's case- that line can quickly become an expansive crack into which confidence and morale can all too readily slip. That line was not observed on Saturday and now we find ourselves needing to beat League One outfit Tranmere Rovers for confidence. A sorry state of affairs already and it is not even September.
Lambert is right though in saying that the defending for the first two of Everton's goals was poor. Villa came out and played what could only be described as hangover football. As a result nobody got tight on Pienaar, who was allowed to tee up the ball for his strike for the opening goal. For the second goal the cross was allowed to centre nicely for Fellaini. Given's sloppy glove work then posed no challenge to the resulting effort. All too easy I'm afraid. Gun, trigger, foot- game over. Again, it's the manner of the defeat that gets under the claret and blue skin. Yes, we understand that there are young players and new players who are still trying to step up to the bruising tempo and rhythm. However, we are still going to need experience because this beloved, misfiring team of ours has a bad spine.
By my reckoning we need three experienced Premier League players to remedy this: (1) A proven central defender. (2) A midfielder who can regulate the Villa heart beat, in the mould of the classing engine house player; someone who keeps the team ticking over. (3) A holding forward player who can link midfield to attack. We might get away with a specialist left back from outside the Premier League, (such as Cresswell) though when it comes to the spine of the team we will need steel through the middle, from keeper to striker. With Cuellar and Collins gone, Petrov fighting cancer and Heskey released on a free we will need to bring in better quality players in those positions whilst ensuring a high level of experience -and all for affordable money. Taking into consideration current market conditions and the fact that the club simply have to buy, we may well be faced with an over the odds transfer deal for a Kevin Doyle or Matt Dawson come Friday simply because we need experience. Having just offloaded Makoun to Rennes, with Warnock on his way to Blackburn more money has been freed up which must now be reinvested in familiar Premier league faces. We must, I believe, fill these crucial positions. So why?
There is a reason big clubs do not come in with firm offers for Darren Bent. He is an outstanding finisher with great spatial awareness and movement in and around the six yard box. Outside of that he brings nothing to team play. He has perhaps the fewest touches of any Premier League starting player and has no impact on play for all of his work rate. Thus, having an experienced forward player who can link attack to midfield is essential if we are to expand play, move up the pitch in yards, thereby making the most of Bent's potency in and around the six yard box. We needed someone who knows how to play that role in the Premier League. Kevin Doyle could be the man.
Starting with an inexperienced centre back partnership is a recipe for disaster. Although Vlaar and Baker were better than Vlaar and Clark, neither partnership offer the experience we need at the moment. That leaves us with one place to go. Love him or loathe him as a footballer, 33 year old Richard Dunne is the only real option if we don't intend to buy. If we stick and don't twist, he will need to work with both to give them the chance to bed in as Premier League performers. As he comes to the end of his club career we need to squeeze what is left from his experience for the benefit of the players coming through. Arguing and pontificating about past failures will not change that one bit. I still think he can offer something and Lambert is the man to ensure he delivers. Still, let's hope we can buy someone. Hell, I'd drive Dawson here myself if it helps.
Finally, if you don't have an engine you don't go anywhere. For all of Petrov's critics on the pitch we all agree on one point: he has a phenomenal work ethic and mind boggling energy levels to go with it, as witnessed in his fight against Leukaemia. He was the metronome of the side; encapsulating our match day rhythm. He also won those second balls and broke up play. No, it might not be creative or attractive and it certainly doesn't sell seats, but it is essential and necessary work nonetheless. In my opinion Stan was and still is, simply one of the best in the business at what he does. His illness had a profound effect on the team, not only emotionally but in footballing terms as well. Sure -El Ahmadi shows great energy though we are going to need a player who can bang the drum and go to war like Petrov did. A trench man and a general. That is not Delph, Herd or Clark for me either. An experience player is needed here too. Palacios anyone?
Friday will be a day for experienced heads, holding your never and most importantly experienced Premier League players agreeing to terms and signing on the dotted line. It is not a day for the foreign import. Cheque book and pen ready please Mr. Chairman. You know it makes sense and it doesn't have to cost the earth. With key players released or sold, with perhaps more to follow, the money should be there for sensible re-investment.
In Lambert we trust