Aston Villa have collected a number of vital wins—and in impressive style, too—this season, including the 3-1 victory over Arsenal on the opening day as well as the astounding 3-2 victory over Manchester City at Villa Park.
Paul Lambert's side have also had some pretty low moments as well, such as the 2-0 defeat to Newcastle and the dismal showing against Fulham earlier this month.
So with just over 11 days to go until the January transfer window opens, the Villa boss will be lining up potential acquisitions to improve his squad for the second part of the season.
Here are two signings Lambert should make that would drastically improve the Claret and Blues' chances of breaking into the top half of the table come the end of the season.
Villa boss Paul Lambert often opts to go with a 3-5-2 or a 4-3-3 formation, with striker-turned-wingers Gabriel Agbonlahor and Andreas Weimann operating from the flanks.
Agbonlahor and Weimann have been relatively successful in their new positions out wide, using their pace to beat the covering defender and cross for Christian Benteke.
But as helpful as the two have been, it is still obvious that the two men are out-and-out strikers playing in a position of which they are not entirely comfortable with.
Villa’s most promising period over the last decade came when Martin O’Neill was at the helm. During a three-year spell where Villa qualified for Europe, the Claret and Blues had two of the country’s best wingers (at the time) in their ranks—Ashley Young and Stewart Downing.
The importance of effective wingers in a team—especially when the formation is set up to accommodate them—is unparalleled, and that is why Villa should do everything in their power to sign Stuttgart’s Ibrahima Traore.
The Guinean winger reportedly turned down a chance to play in the Premier League last season, stating that he was happy in Germany and that Stuttgart was the place in which he wanted to progress his career.
In an interview with the BBC, Traore said:
I got offers in the summer from many English teams.
The Premier League is the best league in the world, everybody is attracted by the league, that's normal. But I feel good at Stuttgart.
We never know what happens in football, every player wants to play at some point in England but at the moment I'm good in Germany, for the moment I want to stay here.
The pint-sized Traore is building quite a reputation in the Bundesliga. Lightning-quick and with a number of tricks in his arsenal, the 25-year-old is hugely successful from the flanks and also has an eye for goal.
In his 15 league appearances so far this season, Traore has scored two goals and has created 19 clear goalscoring opportunities, with a pass success rate of 68 percent, according to Squawka.
The likes of Agbonlahor and Weimann are favourites at Villa, certainly among fans, but sentiment should be put to one side for the good of the club.
As previously mentioned, the two do a job for Villa, but if the club is to continue to improve under Lambert, then changes must be made.
After a heroic first season, Christian Benteke is starting to look like he is struggling, but the introduction of a winger that is certain to make chances a little easier would only help the Belgian’s cause.
An acquisition of the likes of Traore would certainly be another step in the right direction, and he also complies with the Villa boss’ transfer policy. A young, promising gem that wouldn’t demand astronomical wages or come at a heavy price due to his contract being up in the summer, Traore’s purchase would be a great bit of business.
Another player Villa should pull out all the stops to sign is Kuban Krasnodar's attacking midfielder Ivelin Popov.
Lambert has two—or three, if you're a fan of Karim El Ahmadi—very good midfielders in his starting XI, but during a number of times this season, they have lacked in creativity.
Fabian Delph is the epitome of an all-action, box-to-box midfielder. Although he is capable of moving the ball forward and threading a few precise passes to open up the opposition, Delph is most effective when working defensively.
Ashley Westwood has been a revelation since his move to Birmingham during the summer of 2012. The youngster was one of Villa's brightest stars in a near-fatal season, proving just why Lambert shelled out £2 million to secure his services from Crewe Alexandra.
Westwood operates as a deep-lying playmaker and is wonderfully economical with the ball, rarely conceding possession whilst moving the ball around the pitch—maintaining a tempo that Lambert expects of his players.
However, despite his confidence on the ball and eye for a pass, the 23-year-old is not the man to link midfield and attack.
El Ahmadi is slowly but surely changing people's opinions of him. Following a tricky patch upon his return from the African Cup of Nations last year, the Moroccan struggled to find any form and has often been the target of crowd unrest at Villa Park.
His performances this season have been much improved, however, and he is consistently a regular in Villa's starting line-up.
El Ahmadi likes to carry the ball, always moving it forward, but in terms of playing style, he is a mixture of both Delph and Westwood. He can do the dirty stuff but is also competent on the ball.
But he, like Westwood, does not possess the ability to link up play. He plays a pivotal role in Villa's midfield, yet there is still something lacking.
And that is why Popov would be both a logical choice and an excellent signing.
The 26-year-old is the current captain of his national side and has European experience, playing in the Europa league for Russian side Kuban. His attacking-minded style of play would give Villa another dimension.
Popov plays further upfield than any of Villa's current midfield options and would perfectly complement Delph's tenacious, physical style of play with either Westwood or El Ahmadi's more economic style.
The Bulgarian has been known to play as a second striker, just off the front man—something that could be taken advantage of to bring Christian Benteke, who has suffered a poor run of form recently, into play.
Villa can't offer European football at present, so the appeal of moving to B6 is less than what it was during O'Neill's time at the club. However, with Aleksandar Tonev at the club and former Bulgarian hero Stiliyan Petrov still involved at Villa—though not on an official capacity—Popov could be persuaded into making the move.
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