A relatively lackluster transfer window for world football has ended and Premier League clubs are now out of chances to reinforce their squads for the remainder of the year. For slumping Aston Villa, the window has been fairly successful, but will it be enough to save Paul Lambert’s goal-starved team?
With just 11 goals through 23 Premier League matches—and not a single league goal scored in 2015—Villa are currently flirting with disaster. Such a poor offensive output currently has Villa sitting among the all-time worst Premier League teams and they are at serious risk of being relegated in May.
Villa’s squad has been crippled by injuries, but this is hardly enough reason to account for the staggeringly poor amount of goals the team has scored. Paul Lambert has received plenty of criticism since taking the helm at Villa Park, but scrutiny of the manager is at an all-time high for understandable reasons.
As things currently stand, it is almost unthinkable that Villa will enter next season with Lambert at the helm. As poor as his tactics and team selection have been, however, Lambert did spearhead a mostly positive January transfer window that will give Villa at least some help for the rest of the year and give the Scotsman hope that he can extend his stay in Birmingham.
Villa’s first acquisition of the winter window, winger Carles Gil, has looked as inspired a signing as any so far. After arriving from Valencia in mid-January, Gil has needed little time to settle in. He has started two matches and come on as a substitute in another, and he has impressed each game.
In fact, Gil’s wonder strike against Bournemouth in the FA Cup broke Villa’s scoring duck for 2015. Possessing a nifty first touch and the fearlessness to run at defenders, Gil has the quality to create chances that Villa have sorely lacked.
The other signing Villa made this January, Scott Sinclair, arrived late in the window and has been limited to just a substitute cameo during Villa’s humiliating defeat to Arsenal over the weekend. After weeks of rumours, Villa secured a season-long loan deal for the winger and will have the option to buy at the end of the year.
If Sinclair can recapture the form that led Manchester City to sign him from Swansea in 2012 then Villa will have made an inspired signing. Sinclair is still relatively young and Villa are sorely in need of attacking players. However, Sinclair has barely played over the past three seasons and will likely take time to adjust to his new surroundings.
Arguably Lambert’s greatest coup of the window did not involve the buying or selling of a player, but rather that he managed to convince Fabian Delph to re-sign with the club. The situation seemed grim as suitors circled around the conflicted midfielder, but Delph ultimately opted to stay and Villa will no longer lose the English international for nothing when his contract expires this summer.
Delph was Villa’s clear player of the season last year and he has finally grown into the midfielder Martin O’Neill envisioned him as. Although he has not been nearly as effective this year, Delph remains unquestionably talented and there is no ready-made replacement for his energy, combativeness and lung-busting runs from the centre of midfield.
Lambert also did well to resist splurging to sign on-loan midfielder Tom Cleverley on a permanent deal. The Manchester United player has been a regular starter this season, but his understated performances are not nearly worth the potential transfer fee and his skill set greatly overlaps with Ashley Westwood.
Lambert was unsuccessful in a few areas, however. His first failure was to re-sign Villa’s other contract rebel, Ron Vlaar, to an extension. The Villa captain is a rock at the back and his transfer stock rose to an all-time high over the summer after a sterling display for the Netherlands at the World Cup.
Villa could have sold Vlaar over the summer for a decent profit, but Lambert considered him too important for the team and believed he could convince the Dutchman to stay. Unfortunately, Vlaar’s injury problems have resurfaced and the centre-back has hardly featured this season and his contract is now set to expire over the summer.
The emergence of Ciaran Clark and Jores Okore as a developing partnership will soften some of the blow of losing Vlaar, but it still remains that Villa will lose their most consistent defender and the current club captain for no gain.
Another issue Lambert was unable to address was finding more firepower to supplement the slumping Christian Benteke. Villa’s star striker is in terrible form, having managed just two goals so far this season. Part of Benteke’s struggles can be linked to recovering from a long-term injury, but the Belgian was more impactful in his earlier games of the season when less fit than he has been lately.
A deadline-day swoop for Rickie Lambert—as well as rumoured interest in targets abroad—did not ultimately amount to anything and Villa will have to stick it out without a new striker. The good news on that front is that Libor Kozak, sidelined for over a year with a broken leg, has returned to training and could soon add another source of goals.
Overall, January was a surprisingly promising month for Villa off the pitch. The transfer budget left little to work with, but both of the club's new signings are talented players who address immediate needs and the club unexpectedly retained one of its standout players.
Unfortunately, results did not improve on the pitch and Villa face an uphill battle to avoid becoming an historically bad team offensively. As it stands after the winter window has closed, Villa’s current squad is as good as any Lambert has had since taking over as manager; it’s time that results on the pitch reflected that.