Paul Lambert has sculpted a young and hungry Aston Villa side with a bright future
Paul Lambert has transformed Aston Villa from league strugglers to a team of young entertainers.
By Oliver Todd
Last Updated: 20/12/12 10:01am
The average age of the Villa side that tore into Liverpool at Anfield last weekend was just 23 years and four months, with the oldest outfield player being 28-year-old winger Brett Holman. Six of those players are emerging stars from Villa's youth set-up.
Meanwhile, at the other end of the scale, Villa's top scorer in their past two seasons, Darren Bent, has seen himself frozen out of the first-team set-up with new signing, 22-year-old Christian Benteke, preferred to lead the line by Lambert. The summer signing from Genk has been a revelation recently - most aptly shown in his bullying Liverpool defenders at the weekend. His partnership with Andreas Weimann looks promising as well - the 21-year-old Austrian has caught the eye with two goals against Manchester United last month and added to his growing reputation with a low driven finish from a Benteke backheel at Anfield.
Bent's time at the club looks to be coming towards an end - with rumours regarding issues with additional appearance-based transfer fees, as well as Lambert's preference for a new young and hungry team ethic. Whilst Bent remains a fine striker, he fails to fit into Lambert's blueprint, and with the form of Benteke his exclusion is perfectly justified. If, as is expected, he is to move in January, the 28-year-old will be an asset to almost any Premier League club, but Benteke's promise combined with Lambert's philosophy looks to spell the end for his time at Villa Park.
At the back, the academy-nurtured threesome of Ciaran Clark (23), Chris Herd (23) and Nathan Baker (21) were fantastic in the unenviable job of marshalling Luis Suarez and repelling Liverpool's attacks. They are fast maturing within the side following their selection after captain Ron Vlaar's injury.
Lambert is ushering in a new era at Villa Park - a wholesale 'out with the old, in with the new approach' that appears to be working. The influx of young players to the side means that, even with the relative inexperience of a number of players, their collective experiences of playing together can compensate. Villa's is a squad of few egos - just young players desperate to prove their worth, and it appears to be paying off.
In comparison, last year, throughout Norwich's debut campaign in the Premier League, under Lambert, none of the regular first team were youth products - although perhaps that can be put down as a by-product of a club that gained back-to-back promotions from League One to the top tier of English football. Despite this, the average squad age at Norwich was still only at the 25-year mark - the lowest in the Premier League.
In Villa, Lambert has now found a club with the infrastructure that he can utilise to sculpt his own side. A number of critics questioned Lambert's decision to jump ship, and his reception at Carrow Road was decidedly lukewarm, but now his choice looks to have been rewarded.
The Claret and Blue outfit still sit just three points above relegation, but with the promise of this emerging young side, combined with the poor form of the teams around them, Villa should be safe from trouble come the end of the season, whilst Lambert's experiment is allowed to further develop.