Although he has proven adaptable during his time at Villa Park thus far, Paul Lambert's questionable choice of starting XI and his reluctance to make tactical changes were the key reasons that Villa suffered just their second away defeat of the season at Craven Cottage.
The Left-Back Situation
With left-backs Antonio Luna and Joe Bennett unfit for Sunday's match, Lambert was presented with an interesting tactical decision as he was forced to play one of his players out of their favored position.
Lambert ultimately decided to deploy centre-back Nathan Baker in that position, a decision that completely dictated Fulham's tactics from the start of the match.
Baker is an improving defender but he has struggled when played in the full-back position and the Fulham match was no exception.
Ashkan Dejagah and Sascha Riether had a field day attacking Baker who constantly found himself unable to deal with the opposing players' pace, trickery and interplay.
According to WhoScored.com, 45 percent of Fulham's attack occurred on the right side of the pitch.
Although neither goal was a direct result of this situation, it was the clear weak spot in Villa's defence and the emphasis of Fulham's offence. Fulham isolated Baker and attacked him often, exposing Lambert's error in selection.
Rather than start Baker at left-back, Lambert would have been better advised to shift right-back Leandro Bacuna or centre-back Ciaran Clark instead.
Clark has proven more effective and comfortable in that position in the past while playing Bacuna on the left would have allowed Lambert to start Matthew Lowton, the club's standout full-back from last season, on the right.
Lowton's Exile Continues
Villa's defensive injury concerns seemed to be the impetus for Lowton's return to the starting XI.
Instead the right-back was relegated to another substitute performance that left the defender unable to impact the game.
Lambert's decision to bench Lowton at the start of the the season was justified by the Englishman's early struggles and the emergence of Bacuna to fill in at right-back. The loss to Fulham, however, provides further evidence that Lowton should be reinstated immediately.
Although he has been one of Villa's best players this season, Bacuna is not a natural right-back.
This was especially clear on Sunday when the Dutchman was responsible for both goals Villa conceded.
First, Bacuna was lackadaisical in clearing the ball from his penalty box, allowing Steve Sidwell to open the scoring. His afternoon only worsened when he conceded the penalty that led to Fulham's second goal.
Bacuna is a competent passer, a dangerous free-kick taker and is physically capable. However, he is limited in his effectiveness at right-back where he has struggled to find the balance between attack and defence.
Conversely, Lowton has a full season's experience as Villa's right-back and better understands when it is appropriate to surge forward so that he does not leave his fellow defenders exposed.
Lowton, despite playing as a defender, was consistently involved in Villa's attacking moves last season, contributing three assists while averaging the third-most passes per game. His proficiency at intercepting passes helped Villa generate many quick counters that led to goals or scoring opportunities.
Reinstating Lowton would have helped the overall balance of Villa's attack while also improving its defence.
Additionally, it would have allowed Bacuna to play in a midfield role that he is better suited for and replace the struggling Andreas Weimann.
Weimann's Continued Struggle
Weimann started Sunday's match playing just behind the forward pair of Gabriel Agbonlahor and Christian Benteke and the Austrian was virtually invisible, providing an uninspiring performance that has typified his season.
Lambert has been quick to bench underachieving players as evidenced by his treatment of Lowton, yet the Scotsman gave Weimann another chance to impress on Sunday, an opportunity that the forward once again scorned.
Even with Libor Kozak's injury accounted for, there were a number of better attacking options than Weimann.
As mentioned, Bacuna could have been played in a more advanced position as a willing passer in the final third.
Marc Albrighton recently returned to the team and provides a threat from wide positions that Villa are currently lacking.
Nicklas Helenius has yet to start a Premier League match and could have been given a chance to prove himself.
Instead, Lambert called again upon Weimann and his trust proved misplaced. On current form, there was no justification to select Weimann and Lambert's decision to start him greatly hurt the team.
Next week's crucial match again Manchester United will be intriguing to watch—Weimann scored twice in the fixture last season in his best performance in a Villa shirt. It will be tempting for Lambert to give the forward one more week to prove himself.
It is imperative that Lambert avoid this, however, and acknowledge Weimann's poor performances by dropping the Austrian and giving another of his players a chance in his stead.
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