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Christian Benteke's Aston Villa Return Will Halt Libor Kozak's First-Team Run

LONDON, ENGLAND - AUGUST 21:  Christian Benteke of Aston Villa celebrates after scoring a goal to level the scores at 1-1 during the Barclays Premier League match between Chelsea and Aston Villa at Stamford Bridge on August 21, 2013 in London, England.  (Photo by Scott Heavey/Getty Images)
Scott Heavey/Getty Images
Sam TigheWorld Football Tactics Lead WriterOctober 9, 2013

Aston Villa's star striker Christian Benteke has been passed fit to play Belgium's second World Cup qualifier next week against Wales after being assessed by the national team's medical staff.

He's all but certain to feature in the game unless the Red Devils secure passage to Brazil by beating Croatia four days before, and Villans manager Paul Lambert has told Sky Sports that he won't be happy if he receives a hobbled, ailed target man back after the break is over.

Once the international debacle is put to bed, Lambert faces an extremely tough dilemma: Depending on Benteke's fitness, does he slot straight back into the Aston Villa XI at the expense of stand-in Libor Kozak?

The Czech target man was bought with this exact scenario in mind. While Benteke may be perceived to be made of steel—and there's a definite chance something supernatural could occur if he and Victor Wanyama ran into one another at full speed—he picks up injuries just like everyone else.

Kozak came on for his Belgian teammate at Carrow Road and scored the winner, but despite the team picking up seven points from nine with the Czech up front, they've rarely looked more disjointed under Lambert's reign.

The Manchester City win was a fluke, and Villa offered very, very little going forward at the KC Stadium against Hull City.

Other factors have played a part—Andi Weimann is in poor form, Gabby Agbonlahor and Ashley Westwood have been injured and Lambert has been switching formation a lot—but Kozak has not performed as expected.

HULL, ENGLAND - OCTOBER 05:  Curtis Davies of Hull and Libor Kozak of Aston Villa compete for the ball during the Barclays Premier League match between Hull City and Aston Villa at KC Stadium on October 5, 2013 in Hull, England.  (Photo by Julian Finney/G
Julian Finney/Getty Images

That said, there are huge similarities between his performances and Benteke's when the Belgian first arrived. Chemistry, between a focal point in attack and his playmakers, takes months to develop. Not weeks.

It leaves Lambert in a rather unenviable situation, as he must decide when—not if—he will drop Kozak for Benteke.

Unless he plays them together.

Two big men up top rarely works, and it would likely only serve to enhance Villa's questionable reputation as a long-ball team. The claret and blue outfit are in dire need of a No. 10 to link play. Would Lambert consider playing Benteke in a slightly deeper role to help move the ball forward on the ground?

Whatever he does—and he's capable of literally anything from a tactical perspective—it has to work, else he risks upsetting one of his two main men.

Kozak didn't move to Villa to wait in the wings behind Benteke. He was already doing that at Lazio with Miroslav Klose. The solution is not obvious, but can this side really do without their Belgian beast for much longer?

Bringing Benteke onto the bench for the home game against Tottenham Hotspur is an easy sell on paper, making sure his fitness is 100 percent before starting. The following week sees Everton visit the Midlands, though, and that's where the questions will begin to rain down.

 

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