Over the past year, Austrian forward Andreas Weimann has gone from future prospect to regular starter at Aston Villa. However, his current performance must improve if he wants to keep his place in the starting XI.
So far, Paul Lambert has deemed Weimann to be a consistent force in the Villa team. He joins Brad Guzan, Antonio Luna, Fabian Delph and Ron Vlaar as the only players to have started (and appeared in) all seven of Aston Villa's Premier League matches in 2013-14.
Nonetheless, Weimann has been frustratingly inconsistent to watch despite retaining the manager's faith in his abilities. WhoScored.com rates the Austrian as the joint-lowest performer among this group of regular starters.
When quizzed about Weimann's influence on the team, Lambert gave Ian Baker of the Express the reason for his preferring the Austrian:
Andi is a very fit guy...He is first minute to last minute, you wind him up and let him go. That’s what he’s like. He has a level of energy I haven’t seen that many times, somebody with that running. And he’s a clever, intelligent player too.
Having played for Lambert primarily as a right-sided forward in support of Christian Benteke, Weimann's industry and energy have been a welcome complement in attack to the Belgian.
Last season, his understanding with fellow forwards Benteke and Gabriel Agbonlahor, as well as right-back Matthew Lowton, allowed Weimann to have a successful campaign, notching seven goals and two assists.
The loss of Benteke to injury changed this, amplifying the need for Weimann to improve his game. With the Belgian striker sidelined, Weimann has been forced to shoulder a greater burden in attack.
Against Manchester City, he started alongside Libor Kozak as a central striker. He managed to score the game's winning goal through his trademark commitment to outworking defenders. But despite this bright spot, Saturday's draw with Hull City made Weimann's weaknesses immediately apparent.
According to Squawka, Weimann was statistically unimpressive in several key areas. All four of his shots failed to trouble the goalkeeper, and he completed just 57 percent of his attempted passes, as illustrated below.
This image shows that Weimann not only completed an unsatisfactory amount of passes, but that the direction of his passing was quite poor as well:
Outside of a pair of cutbacks from the right of the penalty box (the best pass he can consistently offer), the majority of Weimann's passes were directed backwards.
While a high-volume, patient passing approach has been proven to be a highly effective style of play, Villa's attack emphasizes a much more direct approach that benefits less from backwards passing or ball retention.
As one of Villa's primary attacking outlets, Weimann's passing must be more accurate and, crucially, more positive in nature. Lambert's side sorely lacks a creative player, and Weimann's wastefulness in possession only compounds this fact.
Weimann doesn't have to become Xavi overnight, but much more is expected of him than he showed in his performance against Hull.
In addition, Weimann's shooting has been similarly inconsistent. With just a single goal to his name this year, despite taking 2.6 shots a match per WhoScored.com, Weimann needs to significantly improve his finishing. Currently, he is just as likely to tamely shoot at the goalkeeper or send his shot wide as he is to put the ball into the top corner.
The absence of Benteke should have been an opportunity for Weimann to prove himself as an integral cog in the Villa machine; instead, it has only served to further expose his limitations.
Lambert may laud Weimann for his effort on the pitch. But if the Austrian's effort does not soon translate into the creation of goalscoring opportunities, then Aston Villa will not improve as a football team, and the manager must be prepared to drop his favored forward.