Aston Villa Tactics: Explaining the Darren Bent Situation

Sam TigheWorld Football Tactics Lead WriterDecember 5, 2012

BIRMINGHAM, ENGLAND - SEPTEMBER 30:  Darren Bent of Aston Villa celebrates after scoring the equalizing goal during the Barclays Premier League match between Aston Villa and West Bromwich Albion at Villa Park on September 30, 2012 in Birmingham, England.  (Photo by Alex Livesey/Getty Images)
Alex Livesey/Getty Images

There are a lot of people speculating over the future of Aston Villa striker Darren Bent.

Some believe Paul Lambert's mad not to start him; others believe it's the right choice. The truth is: most have absolutely not idea what's going on.

Lambert is a man of tactics—his decision to drop Bent was both tactically correct and statistically justified. Let's take a look at what fuelled the decision, and subsequently why calls for him to be reinstated to the starting XI can only very recently be deemed correct and relevant.


Opening day

The opening day of the English Premier League saw Aston Villa travel to newly promoted West Ham—hardly the ideal fixture to start with.

No one quite new what to expect, but perhaps most surprising of all was how comfortable Villa were on the ball. Sixty-six percent possession at the physical Boleyn Ground, Karim El Ahmadi with 77 passes and Fabian Delph with 72.

The only problem? Bent received a paltry 15. For all their possession, Villa lacked cutting edge because they couldn't get the ball to their lone front man.

The struggles continued. Next up was home to Everton and while Bent received an improved 25 passes, but only one of them was anywhere near the goal.


Reverse fortunes

With Villa struggling to serve the front man, you have to look at why that is.

Bent is a luxury player. He doesn't contribute to the build-up play; he doesn't bring teammates into the game. He's a finisher, a poacher, a one-touch wonder.

In other words, he belongs on a top team. When Villa had Stewart Downing and Ashley Young firing crosses in that were literally inch-perfect, Bent was thriving. Now, with converted winger Andi Weimann and selfish Charles N'Zogbia manning the touch lines, things have taken a predictable turn for the worse.

Lambert lacked the finesse and the quality from his team to find Bent in the right areas. This theory was compounded by the England international's first goal in four attempts against Tranmere Rovers—a lowly side who Villa dominated.

Lambert's lions couldn't dominate Premier League opposition and therefore could not get their star striker into the game.

So he did the only thing you can do in that situation—spent £7 million on the biggest striker he could possibly find. Enter Christian Benteke.


Belgian conundrum

Benteke came with a lot of hype. Lambert refrained from starting him against Swansea at home, but brought him on as a substitute to score the second killer goal.

His 18-minute cameo was so impressive, the Villa manager chanced it and played a 4-4-2 away to Southampton.

Villa were decimated (via

The next fixture was crucial. A home derby against high-flying West Brom and Lambert dropped Bent. Cue UK-wide shock.

Benteke was allowed to settle into the system for the next month or so and has rewarded his manager with some insanely good performances.

He received 51 passes against Reading and scored the winner, received 51 against Arsenal as a relief outlet and pulled in 48 as Villa gave Manchester United a stern examination.

Villa are struggling to keep possession even with a three-man midfield, so bringing in a second striker made no sense. Benteke is just a big, easy target. Stick Marouane Fellaini or Lacina Traore up front for Villa and you'll get the same effect.

The young players in claret and blue feel a lot calmer on the field knowing that, should circumstances conspire against them, they can hit it 25 yards with a 75 percent chance of their big teammate bringing it down.


The 3-5-2

At this point, Bent is almost definitely off to Liverpool, Fulham or whomever else the papers decide can afford him, while Benteke is most certainly undroppable and worth £15 million. This, in actual fact, was a resounding win for the mind of Paul Lambert—not that a single media outlet stopped to recognise this.

For me, Bent was out of the door—until Villa travelled to Loftus Road on Saturday and played a 3-5-2 formation.

Bold move, Lambert. Perhaps even bolder than dropping Bent for the derby. Nevertheless, it worked again, but the important fact to take from this match is that Villa looked comfortable on the ball whilst deploying two strikers.

While the relationship between Lambert and Bent may be dead in the water, the English striker could feasibly slot into the side should the manager go 3-5-2 again.

That is the only circumstance in which Villa can benefit from his presence. Any calls for Bent to be reinstated prior to Dec. 1 were misguided or ill-informed, but now they're perfectly valid.