Luna lands to tackle Villa's problem position

Posted by Kevin Hughes

Neville Williams/Aston Villa FC/Getty ImagesAntonio Luna gives Villa needed depth at left back.

The arrival of Antonio Luna, Villa's fifth signing of an impressively productive summer in the transfer market, is perhaps the most intriguing of all so far. Intriguing because, of all the positions in the squad that Villa seem to have more than covered, it is left-back. Now another has joined the club, according to multiple reports.

Villa manager Paul Lambert had no shortage of selection dilemmas when it came to selecting his left-back last season. In fact, it could be argued that it was the hotspot in the lineup in terms of competition. Even though he made an early decision to discount Stephen Warnock from his plans, he still had plenty of options.

Joseph Bennett, who Lambert himself signed, for 2.75 million pounds from Middlesbrough, emerged as the overall first choice through the course of the season, but suffered a rough ride at times. His season was far from straightforward and smooth, and Lambert's decision to sign Luna suggests he is not totally happy with a position which has been a problem for Villa for several seasons.

Villa used four different players at left-back last season -- three in one game. It was a case of almost ever-changing personnel, certainly until the final few matches. Nathan Baker began the season there, starting the opener at West Ham, and then again for the first home match against Everton; that lasted until Ciaran Clark's dismissal meant Baker moved to central defence, and the versatile Eric Lichaj stepped in. Lichaj played against Newcastle and Swansea, before Bennett came in for his debut -- the 4-1 defeat at Southampton.

An inauspicious start, but Bennett stayed in. Until the trip to Sunderland in November 2012, when the chaos really began. Bennett came off injured 11 minutes in, Lichaj replaced him, only to be forced off himself 20 minutes from time. That opened the door for Enda Stevens, and the 22-year-old Dubliner kept the shirt for the next four league games -- against Manchester United and City, Arsenal and Reading. Sadly for Stevens, who was showing signs of settling nicely, he lasted 24 minutes against Reading before suffering the left-back injury curse. Back came Lichaj.

Keeping up? There's plenty more. Bennett's return, after six weeks out with the injury he suffered against Sunderland, came on the darkest day of Villa's season, the 8-0 farce at Chelsea. Baker was pushed out to left-back again for the visit to Reading in March, and he remained there (Ron Vlaar and Clark taking the centre-back roles) a week later, against QPR. But Baker bowed out after 20 minutes with a knock, and Bennett re-entered the fray. From that moment on, he remained Villa's left-back for the remainder of the season.

Given the time and opportunity to establish himself in the side, and with the benefit of a consistent run of games, Bennett's confidence visibly improved, and his form did the same. There was much to admire about his play. He's a footballing full-back with sound technique, has a bit of zip and buzz about him, and can certainly deliver a decent cross. But, as perhaps should be expected from a player stepping up into the Premier League for the first time, he was often exposed as Villa's weak defensive link, caught out of position, caught on the wrong side of his opposing winger. There was a touch of naivete about him.

Villa fans will recall with a cringe the rashness of his tackles against Norwich City at home last October, which earned him a red card, and also the lucky escape he had later on, ironically in the return fixture against the Canaries, when he should have been sentmoff, again, after a series of clumsy challenges. The slackness of his pass, loose in the middle of the field, at home to QPR -- having just replaced Baker -- which was seized upon by Jermaine Jenas to intercept, run on and score, won't be easily forgotten.

There was no hiding place for Bennett last season. There rarely is for a young defender in the Premier League. Bennett was on a steep learning curve, but learn he undoubtedly did, and he should be a more confident, capable and composed player for Villa next season. Certainly, there is enough ability there that Lambert should persevere and nurture, and it would be a surprise if Bennett wasn't still firmly in the manager's plans for 2013-14.

All of which, getting back to where I started, makes Luna's arrival intriguing. Where will he fit in? He's no more experienced than Bennett -- just 22 himself, and is considered a promising talent who didn't really cut it at Sevilla. Capped up to U-20 level by Spain he was loaned out to Real Mallorca last season, a teammate of Alan Hutton. Just to add to the intrigue even further, his strengths are getting forward, hitting the line, contributing offensively. Not too dissimilar to Bennett. In fact, Luna is comfortable doubling as a left-sided midfielder. Which may suggest Lambert has flexible formations on his mind again for the new season.

While Bennett faces competition for his place -- he can't consider the left-back role exclusively his -- Luna's presence essentially ends any need for Baker to fill in at full-back, barring exceptional circumstances, replaces Lichaj, and also suggests Stevens' future lies away from Villa.

It is also not particularly good news for one of Villa's young defensive prospects, Derrick Williams. The Irishman has been linked with a move to Bristol City, and with another left-back blocking his path to the first team; he could be playing his football elsewhere soon. At least on loan.

The key for Villa is quality over quantity, however. Just the two genuine left-backs fighting for a place instead of a repeat of the selection mayhem of last season, and Villa may find a solution to their problem position.

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