This won’t come as news to anyone, but Aston Villa have a problem scoring goals. A big problem. And how that problem is addressed will determine whether they make a push for Europe or wind up just above the relegation places.
Forget the 2-2 draw against Manchester United earlier this month and the 3-2 win over Blackpool. Villa managed just two goals in October and were shut out for the fourth time this season at Blackburn Rovers on Sunday. In 14 Premier League matches, the claret and blues have been held to one goal or fewer on 10 occasions.
Granted, the absence of Marc Albrighton had something to do with Villa’s failure to make an impression in the attacking third at Ewood Park. But you certainly can’t put all the blame on that, nor on the lack of sharpness exhibited by Gabriel Agbonlahor. Even when fully fit, Agbonlahor is probably not the man to lead the attack in a 4-2-3-1. Let’s be honest.
Neither is Emile Heskey, who will be returning from a knee injury in a couple weeks, nor John Carew, who currently has a torn calf but might be headed out of Villa Park in January anyway.
No, the answer to Villa’s recurring lack of offensive umph lies outside the club, perhaps in Karim Benzema, perhaps in someone similar. The point is, unless manager Gerard Houllier addresses the issue in January with a meaningful signing, the Villans can expect to finish the season pretty much where they are right now: in 13th place.
The thing is, the right player in the position could actually turn Villa into one of the Premier League’s better goalscoring sides. In Stewart Downing, Ashley Young and Albrighton, they already have a very impressive supporting trio. A decent striker would make the whole group of them even more dangerous.
Don’t forget, the role of the striker in a 4-2-3-1 formation isn’t simply to collect the ball from the wingers and playmakers and launch it toward goal. He must also hold it up and allow the supporting players to move into space ahead of him. That’s the purpose of the formation, one Inter Milan executed to perfection last year under Jose Mourinho.
Heskey has some of those attributes, and is probably better suited to the role than Agbonlahor. But his days of high level football are probably over, and if he’s not second or third choice at a Premier League club, there’s probably a serious dearth of striking options at that club.