Ranking the Performances of Aston Villa's Players for the 2013-14 Season
Aston Villa's 2013-14 Premier League season came to a merciful conclusion on Sunday, soundly losing to Tottenham. The loss has already been overshadowed, however, by the official confirmation of long-standing rumours that owner Randy Lerner was set to sell the club.
The news comes after a frustrating season that tested the fans' patience after watching their club battle the threat of relegation for a third successive season. It was a campaign filled with memorable highs that could not overshadow the overwhelming disappointment at Villa's collective performance this year.
This list will rank the contributions of each Villa player this year who made at least five league appearances. Each player will be assessed based on the individual impact he had on match results and his overall performance in relation to the amount of matches he played in.
A first-team regular who makes frequent mistakes or fails to influence matches may not be as highly regarded as a player who played less often but made a significant impact while on the pitch.
21. Aleksandar Tonev
Coming in last place in these rankings is Villa's biggest transfer flop of the season, Aleksandar Tonev. Tonev has only featured sporadically in his maiden campaign in a Villa shirt, but his early performances leave much to be desired.
The Bulgarian winger shoots too often, from undesirable positions and with poor accuracy. In addition, Tonev does not link up with his teammates well or act as a supplier, necessary attributes for a wide player.
Unless he drastically improves, it is unlikely that Tonev will ever be heralded by the Villa fans like his compatriot Stiliyan Petrov is.
20. Yacouba Sylla
Yacouba Sylla has made just 11 total appearances this season and has showed his limitations after a promising start to his Villa career.
The French midfielder was often preferred last season as a combative option in the centre of the park, but his technical deficiencies have kept him from seeing much action this year, leaving him towards the bottom of the midfield pecking order.
His overly aggressive manner has made him unreliable as a holding player, and he negatively affects attacks with his poor passing and lack of confidence.
19. Joe Bennett
Having failed to impress as a starter last season, injuries and the arrival of two new left-backs have conspired to keep Joe Bennett from featuring regularly during the 2013-14 season.
However, the English defender has shown some signs of improvement this season. His composed performance against Chelsea, in particular, indicated that Bennett may still have value to Villa, even if he is unlikely to regain his starting role.
Nonetheless, having made just five appearances this season, Bennett has had a marginal impact on the team over the course of the year and remains an inconsistent player.
18. Grant Holt
A loan signing, Grant Holt arrived in the winter transfer window as a safety valve after Villa lost Libor Kozak to a broken leg for the season. With Lambert not willing to trust young strikers Callum Robinson or Nicklas Helenius, Holt served as a veteran option to lead the line.
The additional loss of Christian Benteke to injury ensured that Holt would see time on the pitch in which the journeyman striker offered fairly pedestrian performances in which he struggled to get involved in the game.
With the exception of a goal against Fulham, Holt's contributions this season have been mostly forgettable, and the striker's Villa career has come to an lackluster conclusion.
17. Jordan Bowery
Prior to Villa's 3-1 win against Hull, Jordan Bowery had played two full seasons for Villa without having scored a goal, notched an assist or turned any heads at all.
Fortunately for Villa, Bowery finally came through when they needed him most, turning in a hardworking display that was vital towards ensuring Villa's survival this season and earning Bowery a starting role for Villa's final two matches.
It is important, however, to take this performance in context and note the lack of impact Bowery has had in his previous outings in a claret and blue shirt and his lack of success after the Hull match.
16. Nathan Baker
Despite being Lambert's first-choice partner for Ron Vlaar this season, Nathan Baker is hardly a well-regarded figure around Villa Park. The young defender is the lowest-ranked of the first-team regulars for a reason.
Baker is an overly aggressive defender who relies upon last-ditch tackling and his physical strength to compensate for his poor positioning, slow reactions and lack of technique.
The loss of Jores Okore to injury gave Baker an opportunity to impress and improve, but after a mistake-ridden season, many Villa fans will hope to see as little of Baker on the pitch as possible.
15. Antonio Luna
It was a season of two very different halves for Antonio Luna. The Spaniard arrived in the summer transfer window from Sevilla and looked set to be Villa's new first choice left-back. Luna looked the part early, scoring a crucial goal in Villa's opening day win over Arsenal.
Unfortunately for Luna, his uneven performances led him to fall out of favour with the manager. The loan siging of Ryan Bertrand in January spelled the end of Luna's time in the starting XI, and Luna has hardly featured since.
Similarly to Joe Bennett, Luna proved defensively shaky and his contributions going forward were not enough to outweigh his penchant for getting beaten by opposing wingers.
14. Andreas Weimann
No player had a more disappointing follow-up campaign under Paul Lambert than Andreas Weimann. After breaking through last year with his lively displays, Weimann severely suffered from second-season syndrome and endured a horrid year.
Weimann often disappeared from matches entirely, barely touching the ball and squandering the few chances he was presented. A stint as a super sub or a break from the action may have helped Weimann, but the Austrian remained in the first XI throughout the year.
A match-winning brace against Hull helped ensure Villa's survival, visibly invigorated the Austrian and stemmed some of the criticism, but a more consistent effort from Weimann next season must be expected for Villa to improve.
13. Ciaran Clark
It was a frustrating year for Ciaran Clark. The Irish defender has made 27 league appearances at centre-back and left-back for Villa, but he fell behind Nathan Baker in the pecking order for much of the season.
Clark is not without his faults; he lacks pace and can exhibit poor decision-making at times. Nonetheless, he is more confident on the ball than Baker, and his knack for clearing the danger at the first sign of trouble was an asset on several occasions.
Although he may never be a world-class defender, Clark was far more consistent than Baker this season and should play more than the Englishman going forward.
12. Gabriel Agbonlahor
Few players are as frustrating to watch as Gabriel Agbonlahor. On his day, the long-time Villan is a constant thorn in the opponent's side, making dangerous off- and on-the-ball runs.
Unfortunately for the Villa fans, these days did not come often enough during the 2013-14 season. Agbonlahor was the star of the show on several occasions, but even his better performances did not always translate to goals or, more crucially, wins.
Most importantly, the English striker was not at his lively best often enough. As one of the club's senior servants and its longest-tenured player, much more is expected of Agbonlahor than what he delivered this season.
11. Matthew Lowton
Matthew Lowton endured one of the more puzzling seasons among Villa's players. The right-back was one of Villa's best players last year and entered the season hoping to further improve upon his impressive debut campaign.
Instead, Lowton had a shaky start to the season and was quickly replaced in the starting XI by Leandro Bacuna. Infrequent appearances followed and Lowton never truly recaptured the confidence he exuded last year.
Despite this, Lowton eventually regained his starting role and had some good moments this year, most often as a provider when in an attacking position. If the English defender can improve his positioning and reaction time, the traits that led to his demotion, than he can be an impact player for the club again.
10. Ryan Bertrand
Consistency and composure are incredibly useful attributes and are especially commendable when they can be found in a young defender. Villa's loan signing of Ryan Bertrand gained them a player with these qualities and finally found them reliability from the left-back position.
Bertrand has found a good balance between joining the attack and respecting his defensive responsibilities. The Chelsea player has only been with Villa since January but started every game for which he was available.
Whoever ultimately manages Villa next season, whether it is Paul Lambert or not, should make it their top priority to sign Bertrand permanently in order to give Villa a long-overdue solution to the left-back position.
9. Libor Kozak
It is difficult to fully gauge how successful Libor Kozak's debut season in an Aston Villa shirt was. Kozak was Villa's most expensive signing of the season, and it is too soon to tell if the £7 million spent for him was good business.
The striker, who was limited to 14 total appearances due to injury, did not have enough time to fully acclimate to the new team and was often used as a substitute.
Nonetheless, the Czech player positively affected Villa's season on the few occasions that he did play. Tall, strong and possessing decent hold-up play, three of Kozak's four goals came in Villa victories, helping to earn nine crucial points for the team.
8. Karim El Ahmadi
He may not deliver the flashiest performances, but Karim El Ahmadi had a quietly solid season in Villa's midfield. A well-rounded player, El Ahmadi is not overwhelmingly impressive in any area, but his hardworking performances kept him in the starting XI for most of the season.
El Ahmadi's calm influence on the ball, willing runs into the penalty box and his harassing of opposing ball-carriers have been his greatest contributions on the pitch.
Unfortunately for El Ahmadi, the Moroccan was outshone by his midfield partners this season, and he is not the creative influence Villa sorely need. For this reason, it is likely that El Ahmadi loses his place in the starting XI next season after a solid, if unexciting, campaign in 2013-14.
7. Marc Albrighton
No Aston Villa player has had as tumultuous a season as Marc Albrighton. Years ago, the English winger was touted as the future of the club, but he was unwanted for much of the 2013-14 season and languished on the bench repeatedly.
As the season progressed and Villa's performances worsened, Albrighton earned more time on the pitch and proved his worth with a series of positive displays. Albrighton's drive to run at the defence and fire in a teasing cross greatly improved the team and left many wondering why he was left out of the first-team picture for so long.
Although his final product can be inconsistent, Albrighton worked tirelessly to impact every match he played in and earns a relatively high spot on this list despite not playing for half of the season.
6. Leandro Bacuna
The most successful of Lambert's new signings from 2013-14 was undoubtedly Leandro Bacuna. After signing for just £1 million over the summer, Bacuna proved to be well worth the pittance paid for him.
A versatile player capable of playing on the wing, in midfield or defence, Bacuna seized the right-back position from Matthew Lowton and never let it go. He ultimately finished as Villa's second-leading goalscorer with five goals, including two majestic free kicks.
As impressive as Bacuna was, especially for his transfer fee, the Dutchman was not without his faults this year. His passing is relatively pedestrian and he is defensively exploitable, best exemplified by a horror showing against Stoke and Marko Arnautovic.
5. Brad Guzan
Two years ago, Brad Guzan was set to leave Aston Villa after spending a frustrating four seasons as back-up keeper. In one of his first and finest decisions as Villa manager, Paul Lambert convinced the American shot-stopper to return to Villa Park, and the club has reaped the rewards ever since.
Voted last season by both the supporters and the players as the club's player of the year, Guzan was similarly impressive this season. Few keepers in the league command their box as confidently as the American, who is lightning quick off his line to take care of any situation.
Guzan made few errors this season and his brilliant saves and confident claims earned Villa far more points than his mistakes lost them.
4. Ashley Westwood
Ashley Westwood's contributions may not be the most obvious, but the English midfielder has improved mightily this season and has been Villa's most consistent and reliable performer.
As the deepest-lying member of Villa's midfield, Westwood plays a crucial role in maintaining possession and shielding his defenders. Westwood's composed nature on the ball and ability to switch play has been one of the few bright spots from Villa's lackluster offence this season.
The midfielder even contributed a pair of stunning strikes this season before netting a crucial goal against Hull, which guaranteed Villa's survival. Just 24 years of age and still improving, Westwood is one of the Villa players who can be proudest of their performances this season.
3. Christian Benteke
Villa's prolific striker and leading goalscorer may not have matched the imposing figures he attained in his debut season, but Christian Benteke was at the heart of most of Villa's best moments this season.
The 10 goals and two assists Benteke contributed hardly tell the full story of his influence on the team; Villa's entire offensive system is based on the physical prowess of the Belgian striker. Even when he isn't scoring, Benteke is at the centre of all of Villa's attacking moves.
Perhaps the biggest indicator of Benteke's importance to the team has been the team's form without him. After losing the Belgian to injury, Villa were in horrid form and failed to threaten opponents with the menace that Benteke provides.
2. Ron Vlaar
Club captain Ron Vlaar has not been mistake-free this season. The central defender has been caught out a few times and will never be the quickest player on the pitch.
Still, the Dutchman had a highly successful year and led by example far more often than not. Bullishly strong, a good reader of the game and surprisingly nimble on the ball, Vlaar's commanding displays at the back made him one of Villa's top performers all year.
Villa look lost defensively whenever Vlaar is unfit to play, and there is a reason he has started every game he has been available this season.
1. Fabian Delph
The clear standout performer from Villa's painful season is midfield dynamo Fabian Delph. It has taken Delph five seasons to finally show why former manager Martin O'Neill spent heavily to sign the Englishman in 2009, but Delph's sterling performances this season have been worth the wait.
Delph has an all-around skill set that makes him delightful to watch. He is a good tackler with a terrific burst of pace and deft footwork that allows him to quickly win the ball and spring past defenders on the break.
It is no coincidence that all three of Delph's goals this season were wonder strikes that came in Villa victories, showing the quality the midfielder contains. No one would have predicted it at this time last year, but Fabian Delph has been Aston Villa's best player from 2013-14.