Aston Villa have started the new Premier League season in so-so fashion, with three wins, two draws and five losses from their opening 10 games.
They lie in 14th place in the table—hardly an outstanding start, but their margins are better than the likes of Crystal Palace and Sunderland. When you take into account their horrific schedule early on, a tally of 11 points is more than respectable and enough to build upon.
Having scraped clear of relegation last season, Paul Lambert is expected to continue his good work and build a team with a true identity this time around. The time for experimentation and stabilising has passed—the time for progress has arrived.
Many believed, preseason, that Christian Benteke would once again become integral to Villa's hopes of finishing comfortably in midtable or even pushing top-half.
His dominant, two-goal display at the Emirates Stadium certainly lent credence to that viewpoint, but following the Belgian's injury and subsequent missed playing time, a new hero has emerged.
His name is Fabian Delph.
There are remarkable similarities between Delph's and Aaron Ramsey's rise to prominence. Both caught fire six weeks before the end of last season thanks to an injury-free run in the side, and now both are taking their respective midfields by the scruff of the neck.
The impact Ramsey has made dwarfs that of Delph, but the principle remains the same: As central midfield creators, they're currently trumping all other players in the side and look to be their respective teams' most important, vital outlets.
Delph arrived at Villa Park in 2009 and has taken three years to begin delivering on both his promise and his £8 million transfer fee. Horrific injuries have slowed him down considerably, and he now appears to be eager to make up for lost time.
He skips challenges and dribbles around players for fun, unflustered by even the most dogged of pressing. As soon as he curtails his penchant for a yellow card he will represent the complete midfielder, capable of tackling, passing, dictating tempo and shuttling up and down.
His box-to-box nature, again similar to that of Ramsey's, has a huge impact on the game, and it's quickly becoming arguable that Delph is more intrinsic to Villa than even the mighty Benteke.
Without Benteke for a three-game stretch due to a hip flexor injury, Villa claimed seven points from a possible nine, scored four goals and managed to beat Manchester City.
Without Delph, Villa stuttered to a 0-0 draw at Upton Park—a place where West Ham had failed to win in close to a month—with absolutely zero ball retention, creativity or "spark" from central areas.
It's not a fair comparison as of yet. The former Leeds United starlet missing one game cannot lead to sweeping conclusions, but there's no doubting he has been Villa's finest performer by a distance in the opening 10 games.
Villa fans sit in fear that they will lose Benteke at season's end, but losing Delph could be an equally monumental blow.
It's remarkable how much progress the Bradford-born dynamo has made in the space of 20 games, and fans of the club hope he's telling the truth when says he'd like to spend the rest of his career in B6.