In recent years, Aston Villa have had mixed success from bringing players to the team on loan. While the likes of Robbie Keane and Kyle Walker played crucial roles during their spells at Villa Park, signings such as Jermaine Jenas, Simon Dawkins and Michael Bradley failed to make an impact during their stays.
Villa's most recent loan signing, Ryan Bertrand, made his debut for the club during Saturday's draw with Liverpool and is poised to succeed under manager Paul Lambert. Bertrand bears many similarities to Walker, whose successful loan spell at Villa helped him become first-choice right-back at Tottenham and eventually become a regular on the English National Team.
Similar to Walker, Bertrand is a talented young full-back looking to get regular first-team action on loan from his parent club. Also like Walker, Bertrand is equally capable in attack and defence, and he will hope to have as successful a loan spell as Walker did.
Bertrand's arrival will help to address one of Lambert's greatest challenges in his time at Villa Park: finding a reliable left-back. Over the last two seasons, Joe Bennett, Eric Lichaj, Enda Stevens, Ciaran Clark, Nathan Baker and Antonio Luna have all had spells at the position with little success.
Lichaj and Stevens were never convincing and are no longer at the club. Clark and Baker are both central defenders who look uncomfortable playing as full-backs. Bennett was extremely inconsistent as Villa's primary left-back last season, and he has missed the majority of the current campaign due to injury.
Luna was signed this summer from Sevilla as the next attempt to find a left-back Lambert could trust. While arguably more effective than Bennett, Luna has not been entirely convincing. The Spaniard's poor form, coupled with fitness concerns, has necessitated the signing of yet another left-back.
Enter Bertrand, a player whose skills and experience are a good fit for Villa. Despite seeing limited playing time at Chelsea, Bertrand has played and trained with world-class players, and he even started for Chelsea when they won the Champions League final.
Although he has been unable to cement himself as a regular at Stamford Bridge, Bertrand has found success with a number of prior loan deals. These loans, as well as his sporadic appearances for his parent club, have given Bertrand enough experience to be relied upon, even as he continues to improve.
With the World Cup just months away, Bertrand will want to do everything he can to demonstrate that he deserves a plane ticket to Brazil as a part of Roy Hodgson's squad. Consequently, he will be extremely motivated to do his best for Villa.
His performance against Liverpool showed his quality and the potential he has to improve Villa's team. In comparison to Luna and Bennett, Bertrand is more disciplined and less error-prone as a defender. Both Luna and Bennett have struggled to deal with trickier, pacier players while maintaining poor disciplinary records.
Bertrand is an improvement in this area and he settled in quickly and comfortably against Liverpool, delivering a steady performance at Anfield that left Lambert full of praise for the left-back after the match.
I just thought he was incredible in the match. He hasn’t played in a while but his performance was excellent.
He has real quality – you can see that. He knows what it’s all about.
Lambert's willingness to start Bertrand immediately demonstrates the manager's desire to shore up Villa's defence. Having turned in a fine debut, it is likely that Bertrand will be seeing regular action at left-back, and he has a much bigger role to play than simply providing cover.
If Bertrand can help Villa to a strong finish this season, and perhaps earn himself a spot in England's World Cup squad while doing it, then it will have been a tremendously successful loan deal for the club and the player.
While his loan may only last until summer, Lambert may move to sign the player permanently if Bertrand impresses. With Ashley Cole aging, it is uncertain if Chelsea would be willing to sell the young defender, but it is not out of the question given Bertrand's lack of action under manager Jose Mourinho.
Most importantly, Bertrand is an improvement upon Villa's current left-backs and will help Villa avoid the relegation struggle they endured last year. Luna and Bennett are young and talented enough that they cannot be written off, but Lambert has made the right decision in signing Bertrand for the remainder of the season.
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