Benteke, Delph & More: Top Takeaways from Aston Villa's Early-Season Form

Sam Tighe@@stighefootballWorld Football Tactics Lead WriterSeptember 4, 2013

LONDON, ENGLAND - AUGUST 21:  Christian Benteke of Aston Villa celebrates after scoring a goal to level the scores at 1-1 during the Barclays Premier League match between Chelsea and Aston Villa at Stamford Bridge on August 21, 2013 in London, England.  (Photo by Scott Heavey/Getty Images)
Scott Heavey/Getty Images

It's been a rather positive start to the season for Aston Villa, far removed from the doom and gloom descending upon the club this time last year.

The victory over Arsenal at the Emirates Stadium on the opening day is still being savoured, and while losses to Chelsea and Liverpool dampened the mood just a little, the performances were good enough to ensure the optimism lingers.

The battering of Rotherham United was the first of its kind in a long time—against 11 men, anyway—and despite the opposition coming from the lesser leagues, the convincing nature of the victory bodes well for the future.

Villa's early-season form looks great, but what's making them tick this time around?

Natural Growth

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Despite six additions to the squad before the first ball was kicked, this side looked settled, happy and familiar with each other.

Antonio Luna was the only debutant in the 3-1 victory over Arsenal, with the other 10 players all boasting around a year's worth of work alongside each other.

It was essentially the same squad that finished the 2012-13 season in UEFA Europea League-qualifying form, winning crucial games against Norwich, Reading, QPR, Sunderland and Stoke City to lift themselves clear of relegation.

Natural growth in players such as Matthew Lowton, Ashley Westwood, Fabian Delph, Andi Weimann and Christian Benteke meant they were always going to start in a positive fashion, and Lambert's excellent early use of the transfer market ensured there were no early jitters.

Delph's Rise to Prominence

Many speak of Christian Benteke's good start to the season, but the truth is, despite scoring four goals already, he's underperforming.

Villa's best performer over the first three league games has been Delph, no question, and the young England midfielder is finally realising the potential that convinced Martin O'Neill to spend £8 million on in 2009.

He's got it all, he's the box-to-box midfielder everyone wants, and the reason he's blossoming is that he's finally managed to steer clear of serious, season-ending injuries.

He was disruptive, combative and tenacious against Arsenal, probing against Chelsea and controlling against Liverpool. If he can rein in his penchant for a yellow card, he will be due an England call from Roy Hodgson.

Lambert the Motivator, Tactician and Trader

Similarities are often drawn between O'Neill and Lambert—they're made easier by the fact that the latter still calls the former "gaffer"—but their motivational skills are one of the few truly common talents.

It's pretty clear the former Norwich boss has told this squad where he thinks they can finish, and the goal is no longer to simply avoid relegation.

Lambert takes his sides forward in leaps, not baby steps, and he wants a top-10 finish to give himself the best possible chance of holding onto key players at season's end.

His business in the summer was excellent, but what adds even more value to his versatile signings is the fact that he is a very tactically reactive, flexible manager. Villa have started the season in a 4-3-3, but there's no reason he won't switch to a 4-2-3-1 or even a 3-5-2 at a moment's notice given the chance.

He's had a year to bed in, bring his own players through and bring them round. Of the players who have started in the Premier League so far, Fabian Delph is the only player that wasn't brought in by him or brought through the academy.

It tells you a lot about what he thought of Alex McLeish's work, but not enough is made of what a great job Lambert has done in such a short space of time—working against a strict wage budget, he's reinvented a team of underachievers in just over 12 months.


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