Lessons Learned from Aston Villa's Draw with Cardiff City

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Lessons Learned from Aston Villa's Draw with Cardiff City
Michael Steele/Getty Images

Tuesday's match between Aston Villa and Cardiff City was a well-contested affair that ended 0-0 after both teams failed to break the deadlock. 

Both sides would have been hoping for the full three points and neither manager will be entirely satisfied with the draw. Villa, in particular, would have expected a win against a newly-promoted team currently sitting in the relegation zone.

Instead, Paul Lambert now faces a tough run of games that includes facing Chelsea and Manchester City in Villa's next four matches. As the manager prepares his team for this upcoming challenge, these are the lessons learned from Villa's draw with Cardiff.

 

Villa Lack Killer Instinct

In a game where Villa created an uncharacteristically high number of chances, poor finishing proved to be their undoing. According to WhoScored.com, Villa took 18 shots against Cardiff despite averaging just 12 shots per game on the season.   

Villa routinely failed to put away clear scoring opportunities, particularly in the second half, and paid for it with the draw. Christian Benteke was well-marked throughout the match and his teammates were unable to put Villa ahead.

Fabian Delph, Marc Albrighton and Leandro Bacuna all missed good chances before the game's finale saw Villa forgo two huge opportunities to win the match. 

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First, Benteke put Gabriel Agbonlahor through on goal but the striker dallied on the ball and allowed Kévin Théophile-Catherine to recover. Next, Andreas Weimann's close-range effort was brilliantly parried by David Marshall.

While Cardiff's players did well to make important stops in both instances, Agbonlahor and Weimann should have finished their chances and scored the crucial goal to secure Villa three points.

Having failed to score against Cardiff, Villa have scored just one goal in their last three matches and desperately need to improve their finishing.

 

Villa's Inconsistent Defence 

Villa fans received a confidence boost going into Tuesday's match when they learned that skipper Ron Vlaar would be fit to start the match. Vlaar was sorely missed against West Ham and the Dutchman demonstrated why with a professional performance against Cardiff.

The captain led by example in preventing Cardiff from fashioning many strong chances, and Vlaar didn't put a wrong foot in all evening. Villa's other defenders were not as consistent, however.

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Starting at right-back, Leandro Bacuna delivered a mixed performance. Wilfried Zaha tormented Bacuna early, but Bacuna adjusted and responded well by improving as the match went on.

Similarly, centre-back Nathan Baker had a nervy start as he replaced Ciaran Clark in partnering Vlaar. Baker was lucky to avoid conceding a penalty on Kenwyne Jones and he later hashed a clearance that almost led to a Cardiff chance. Baker eventually settled into the game, like Bacuna, but his early errors nearly cost Villa.

Perhaps the most intriguing of Lambert's tactical decisions came on the left side of defence. The manager selected two left-backs to start the match, Ryan Bertrand and Joe Bennett, who made his first appearance of the season.

Bennett, who struggled defensively as Villa's primary left-back last season, played most of the match in left-midfield with Bertrand in defence. This tactic aimed to reinforce Villa's left flank defensively while also threatening with the occasional cross.

Both men, however, were ultimately unsuccessful in influencing the match. Bennett occupied dangerous positions but his quality on the ball was poor. Bertrand was similarly ineffective.

While Villa's defence did enough to escape with a clean sheet against Cardiff, their overall performance was uneven and will need to improve as Villa strive to avoid a relegation battle as the season closes to an end.  

Albrighton Proves His Worth

The lone bright point in Villa's loss to West Ham over the weekend, Marc Albrighton was rewarded for his strong display as a substitute with a start against Cardiff. The Englishman turned in yet another strong performance on Tuesday and the winger was at the heart of much of Villa's strongest play.

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Albrighton was always willing to run at his defender and supplemented his industry with end product, producing six crosses and seven key passes. Although Albrighton was unable to produce a breakthrough ball, he was the most likely player to break the deadlock for the second match running.

Such an encouraging performance is greatly satisfying for Villa fans who have sorely missed a player capable of producing chances for his teammates. It is especially gratifying for Albrighton to have made this breakthrough after teasing the Villa faithful with his potential under Gerard Houllier.

According to SkySports.com, Albrighton is set to begin talks with his manager over a new contract to stay at the club. After a difficult couple of seasons at Villa Park, Albrighton seems to have finally earned his manager's trust and will be a key player for Lambert going forward.

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