Paul Lambert has a commendable plan at Aston Villa, to build around his assemblage of talented young men, never mind the inevitable lumps along the way.
So his switch early in the season away from veteran goalkeeper Shay Given to younger American Brad Guzan makes a lot of sense in so many ways. The defense is young, and Guzan proved last year during an injury to the starting incumbent (Given) that he could surely be the future at Villa Park.
When Given stumbled out of the 2012-13 starting block, there really was no decision to be made; it was absolutely the right time Guzan to take over.
The American has generally repaid his bosses’ faith; the performance has been steady as she goes.
But you do have to begin wondering now after such a troubling defensive run. Villa’s last 10 games have seen the youngsters allow 3, 3, 4, 4, 5 and 8 during the span. There were a couple of shutouts, but one was at home to ultra-defensive minded Stoke City, so that gets an asterisk.
How does Wednesday’s Boxing Day loss by a score of 4-0 (Wednesday’s loss to Tottenham) manage to check the box of “vast improvement?” When it follows that harrowing, historic 8-0 thrashing delivered days before at Stamford Bridge by the suddenly rampaging Blues of Chelsea.
So, yes, the last two outings have been dropped by a combined margin of 12-0. Ug. Ly.
None of this has been Guzan’s fault. Not in terms of shot-stopping, at least. Unless you are on the field, it’s impossible to know of Guzan’s larger contributions to the “stop” efforts.
What kind of information the U.S. international is providing to defenders? Is he getting the boys along Villa’s back line into the right spots? Is he in synch with his center backs and outside backs? Are they functioning as a singular unit and not as haphazard individual units in a “back five?”
Either way, the question could be fairly asked: at some point, would the team be better served with a veteran, steady hand, if only temporarily? And this also must be in question at some point: is Guzan’s confidence now at stake?
These are questions that only Lambert can answer.
This much is sure: Villa has fallen perilously close to the drop zone, into the bottom three. That’s a dangerous place, even for a side committed to rebuilding around youth. Thus, this weekend’s contest at Villa Park against Wigan is a “gotta-have.”
Lambert says there is “no pressure” on his young men, and fair enough. But you have to wonder if he’s just saying so to relieve some of the mounting pressure.
There is no pressure like relegation pressure, by the way. Villa and Guzan need this one on Saturday. Bet on that.