Aston Villa: 3 Keys to a Winning Start Against West Ham
After narrowly escaping relegation last year, things had to change at Villa Park. Out went Alex McLeish, and in came Paul Lambert.
The mood has definitely been lifted at Villa Park, and the only thing left is for the team to produce results on the pitch. The club starts their campaign tomorrow when they travel to newly promoted West Ham.
Lambert knows the importance of the match and told a press conference today, "We have to hit the ground running, and that is what we will try and do."
Here are three keys to the game that could give Villa the winning start that they crave after their dismal performance last season.
Do Not Give Away Cheap Set Pieces
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One of the biggest challenges for Villa tomorrow will be defending set pieces. Last season Villa conceded the highest percentage of goals from set pieces in the Premier League.
Meanwhile West Ham scored more goals from set pieces and more headed goals than any other Championship side.
Sam Allardyce's teams are always well-drilled in capitalising on set pieces, so it's vital that Villa limit these chances as much as possible.
If the team gives away silly free kicks in dangerous positions, it will be a recipe for disaster.
Get the Ball to Stephen Ireland Early in the Game
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With winger Marc Albrighton missing the game through injury and Brett Holman recently recovered from an ankle knock, much of the play going forward will need to go through Stephen Ireland.
Ireland had his best season in a Villa shirt last year and has been playing very well in the preseason friendlies. However if Villa can't get Ireland on the ball early, he has a tenancy to drift out of the game.
Paul Lambert has publicly backed Ireland, calling him a "big, big player." Hopefully this will give Ireland the confidence to perform to his true potential this year.
If Villa want to get on the score-sheet, then the creative streak is likely to come from Ireland, and it is imperative that he stamps his mark on the game early.
Darren Bent Needs to Follow Up on Any Shots
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New West Ham 'keeper Jussi Jaaskelainen has been one of the Premier League's most consistent shot stoppers of the last decade. However the Finn could be a potential weakness for Villa to exploit.
If Villa can test Jaaskelainen with consistent shots from distance and crosses into the danger area, then he can be vulnerable to giving up easy rebounds. Last season the 37-year-old fell out of favour at Bolton, so there will be a certain amount of pressure on him to have a good game
Darren Bent needs to be alert and make the effort to follow up on any shots that may be spilled by the West Ham 'keeper. The forward easily has the pace to beat West Ham's defenders to the punch.