We caught up with Robert Lintott from the Villa blog 7500 To Holte to talk all things Villa, Bent, O'Neill and tomorrow's Premier League clash
Hi Robert, thanks for joining us! A disappointing season for Villa so far this year, where have things gone wrong?
Robert Lintott: The pitch...
Wait, you want more? It's been rough everywhere for Villa this season, but if I had to pinpoint one thing in particular, it would be the team's inability to create chances for what is, undoubtedly, a talented strike force. It's sort of ironic, actually. Under Alex McLeish Aston Villa played stagnant, defensive-minded football. It was insanely boring, and everyone wanted change. Now Paul Lambert has the club playing possession-oriented football, with an emphasis on getting forward. And they seem to get forward pretty well! The trouble arises, however, when they get up front and suddenly look around and realize they've never been there before. Then they turn in circles, take in the crowd and fall on their faces, or they might as well.
So yeah, there have been problems everywhere, but it's mostly in converting possession into chances. If you give this set of strikers the ball often enough, they will score. If you don't, they'll look useless. Most of the season has seen Aston Villa do the latter.
Benteke looks to be ever-improving this season and grabbed two of the three goals in the Cup midweek with strike partner Agbonlahor getting the other; do the pair look like a promising partnership?
RL: If you had listened to experts in Belgian football at the transfer window, you would know that he is clearly not cut out for play in England. And if you still listen to those experts, you'd know that is still true. The good news for Aston Villa fans is that those experts don't dictate actual performance. Benteke has been great thus far, with 4 goals in 8 appearances. Sure he was shaky at the start, but he's young. He clearly has a knack for finding the back of the net, and I think he has a chance at being a 15-20 goal scorer for the club.
Gabby Agbonlahor, on the other hand, is someone of whom I am more dubious. Don't get me wrong: I love him, and I hope he plays amazing, but he has a habit of showing a bright streak at some point in the season, spurring talk of playing for England and his old ways, and then fizzles out as the season goes its course. We'll see which Gabby sticks around this year. If he does stay good, boy Aston Villa could have some fun up front. A blaze of lightning coming in and providing service to a giant brick wall who can show some finesse in front of the goal? Yes, please. And don't forget that Villa have got Andi Weimann, a really exciting prospect who gets - I think - too little time on the pitch. He's shown an ability to score and he's got a lot of talent.
Whilst on the topic of strikers, Darren Bent, what's the story? Does he simply not fit in with Lambert's current setup?
RL: If only I knew what was up with Darren Bent. I feel badly for the guy. He is clearly one of the most talented players on the team, and his stock with fans and Paul Lambert is almost mercurial. Oddly enough, the two seem to go opposite of one another. If Bent gets to play and has a goalless match (heaven forbid) fans roar about his lack of effort and the fact that he should be gone. So, Lambert benches him, and fans are suddenly pissed off that our best player isn't on the pitch. Which is it, folks?
In truth, I think Bent ought to be playing, and fans should ease up on him a bit. He has demonstrated, in limited time that he still has the ability to score. He'll look bad though due to the aforementioned problem in getting service. As for fitting in with Lambert's setup? I see no reason why he shouldn't. He's not creative, and he's not really a possession guy, but you don't need ever player to have those qualities. I certainly hope he gets some more playing time soon.
Ron Vlaar looks to be proving himself as a good signing and has been rewarded with the captain's armband, how do you rate the Dutchman?
RL: I've been thrilled with him thus far. He brings a dominating presence to the centre of the Villa defence, and he does so with intelligence. He has the ability to block the opposition and he seems to be fairly smart in beginning the build-up play that leads to attacking. Furthermore, he's been tenacious in a way we haven't seen at Villa in a while. It's kind of refreshing to have him back there.
Sunderland ourselves are going through something of a "sticky-spot" and are finding it near on impossible to carve out any clear cut chances at present. How do you rate Sunderland's start to the season?
RL: I've been a little surprised to see so few wins on your start. It seemed like a not-easy but not-difficult way to begin the season, so the number of draws strikes me as a bit interesting. That said, coming into the season, I thought Sunderland were a team that would finish somewhere around 10th, and given what we've seen thus far, I wouldn't change that prediction.
Some Sunderland fans have began to ask a few questions of O'Neill for the first time since his arrival following some lacklustre performances and the midweek exit from the cup. O'Neill will get it right this year though... won't he?
RL: This is a tough one for me, because in my mind the only thing O'Neill will get right is screwing over clubs' finances. Realistically, he's a good manager who should probably do a bit better than he has. But is he the manager to take Sunderland to Europe? He will tell you he is, but I sort of doubt it.
Whatever you do, though, don't give him the cheque book. You'll have Stephen Warnock signed long-term before you can blink.
Looking ahead to Saturday's game how will Lambert set Villa up for the game and what players should Sunderland be wary of?
RL: For Saturday, I wouldn't expect much different than we've seen. I actually wouldn't be shocked to see some variation on what the club played on Tuesday, so Given, Lowton, Vlaar, Herd, Lichaj, KEA, Weimann, Bannan, Ireland, Agbonlahor, Benteke. Maybe Bent gets in somehow, and you might see Marc Albrighton on instead of Barry Bannan. The one thing I can't imagine is having three strikers in the line-up again, so don't count on seeing Weimann in the starting XI.
And who to be wary of? Goodness. Are own goals a problem for your side? No? In that case, be wary of the strikers. If they get decent service, they could net a few goals. Bent is due for an "eff you" match, and Benteke has been on fire (if you count international duty) in the past month.
And who in the Sunderland line-up are you particularly wary of?
RL: Well, Steven Fletcher seems to be your only goal-scoring threat this season (sore spot?) so he's the man that worries me. Hopefully Villa can shut him down.
I'd love to see a 3-2 match (or heck, 4-3) go either way. I just want to see Villa be fun. But if I had to make a prediction, I'd say a pretty dire 1-1 draw. Just doesn't look like it'll be that fun of a match.
Many thanks again to Robert for taking the time to provide the Villa perspective ahead of tomorrow's game. Be sure to follow Robert on twitter and to check out the fantastic Villa blog, here on SB Nation, 7500 to Holte.