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Can Brad Guzan take the heat at Aston Villa?

Dec 28, 2012, 10:57 AM EDT

Bolton Wanderers v Aston Villa - Premier League Getty Images

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.

  1. onetakedizzle - Dec 28, 2012 at 11:53 AM

    I normally love your stuff Steve, but there are a couple of things here where I’d like to take exception:

    – I think the shut out v Stoke deserves a little more credit than an asterisk. Yes Stoke are a defensive side, but given the formation Villa were playing, there was plenty of chance for counter attack. It also came in the middle of a run of six league/non-league games where Villa gave up a total of three goals. So that asterisk game was well within the norm of that run.

    – You say that Villa are in the bottom three, but when I look at the table they’re three points clear as of today. Given (PUNS!) the way they’ve been playing, those three points will probably be the difference between survival and non-survival but can we wait on that obituary?

    – I think that many of the defensive issues could be chalked up to the fact that Villa can’t possess the ball in the middle of the field. There is no midfield presence (most of their goals come on the break) and when a back three/five is constantly pinned in, you’re going to see 3, 4, 5 and even (yikes) 8 goal games.

    – Lastly, just an observation that while I agree Guzan should be directing that backline, he’s directing a bunch of kids who have even less first team, Premier League experience than he does in most cases. The season is getting on, but Nathan Baker, Matt Lowton, Eric Lichaj, and Chris Herd aren’t exactly experienced players.

    We can still be friends, but I think you’re selling Guzan a little short on some of this.

    • tylerbetts - Dec 28, 2012 at 12:15 PM

      Good counter points. Especially that first one. I’m sure Liverpool would love to have gotten an asterisk-laden shutout against Stoke.

      Also agreed on the midfield issues. If you can’t win in midfield, you put your back line under too much pressure, and it doesn’t matter how well organized your backline is, you’re going to concede goals with that much pressure. See the Chelsea game for a texbook example of how midfield domination leads to pressure chances and the eventual leakage of goals.

    • Steve Davis - Dec 28, 2012 at 6:00 PM

      Some valid points. My main mission here was to begin the conversation … not necessarily to advocate benching Guzan. Not at all, in fact. I think he’s doing just fine, and I hope his confidence isn’t taking a beating… although one never knows.

  2. schmutzdeck - Dec 31, 2012 at 2:41 PM


    I agree with your concern re the non-shot stopping side of things. And onetakedizzle has covered most of that.

    I would only add that Given is more experienced but Guzan is hardly a newbie. I really doubt that he is thr problem. Even if you brought in Neuer, Casillas or Buffon I’d have a hard time thinking it would make a lot of difference.

    The Villa team in general does not seem to have a very high talent level. They have some useful strikers but In terms of the midfield and the defense it seems as if Lambert has mostly been reduced to playing the best of a bunch of spare parts.

    The Roma edition of MB90 would look pretty good to them right about now.

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