Villa take German lessons

Posted by Kevin Hughes

Paul LambertPA PhotosPaul Lambert has plenty to ponder after Villa's pre-season tour of Germany.

Villa's week-long stay in Germany will have provided plenty for manager Paul Lambert to chew on as he travels back to the UK with his squad to continue preparations for the new Premier League season.

All three of Villa's games finished 1-1, but this tour was never about results. It was primarily about players gaining fitness, and players getting an early opportunity to impress the boss. It was certainly an intense few days, with the matches - against Rodinghausen, Paderhorn and Bochum - all competitive affairs, and the latter two particularly challenging. Paderhorn and Bochum are Bundesliga Two clubs, and that league season kicks off next weekend. While their German opposition were just about good to go, fine-tuning a week ahead of the real thing, Villa were dusting off summer cobwebs. Lambert fielded a different team in each half of all three matches.

There were positives. With the Christian Benteke saga hanging like a cloud over Villa, Lambert would have been pleased to see all three goals scored by strikers, those who will be required to soften the blow of the Belgian's departure. Andreas Weimann, no doubt enjoying the chance to play his preferred centre-forward role, scored against Paderhorn; new signing Nicklas Helenius got the other two. The first, against Rodinghausen, coming just eight minutes into the Dane's club debut. Should Benteke leave, a replacement will surely arrive, but whoever that will be, the club's current strikers will need to step up, too. Helenius has made a sound start.

Leandro Bacuna showed promise, especially in Sunday's final game of the tour, against Bochum, when the Dutchman demonstrated the attacking side of his game. What was disappointing, however, was the contributions of two of Bacuna's fellow new boys. The tour ended prematurely for both Jores Okore and Aleksandar Tonev, who were injured during the opener against Rodinghausen. Bulgarian winger Tonev was lively during his 45 minutes on the field, showing a willingness to shoot (unfortunately, his ambition was not matched by accuracy, but it's early days still), while Okore was solid and comfortable after being introduced for the second half. His hamstring injury is thankfully not serious, and he should return within a couple of weeks. Tonev, and another injury victim, Gabby Agbonlahor, who also played just the first game, are expected to be back even sooner.

Okore's absence did highlight an area of concern for Villa, however, as it emphasised a lack of depth in defence. Granted, once the season gets under way Villa won't be changing the entire back four at half-time, so won't need as many defenders as Lambert used over 270 minutes in Germany, but even so, resources were stretched. With Okore ruled out, Lambert called up Academy prospect Josh Webb. The 17-year-old flew out to join up with the senior squad, and slotted in as a right-back alternative to Matt Lowton. Chris Herd moved across to take the centre-back role that would have been filled by Okore for 45-minute periods against Paderhorn and Bochum. That kind of reshuffling is fine in pre-season, but Villa need stronger alternatives when it comes to the Premier League. A couple of injuries in the wrong defensive position could expose Villa. With reports of a bid for Leeds United's right-back Sam Byram, it seems Lambert may already be assessing reinforcements.

There were also a couple of real bonuses for Lambert. Gary Gardner did well, standing out against Bochum in particular as Villa's most advanced midfielder. The team has a need for a player like him, a midfield player with goals and drive, and Gardner will have done his chances no harm at all. Another Academy graduate, Samir Carruthers, also did himself a lot of good. With Tonev unavailable, Carruthers got some game time, playing wide of the centre-forward, and did pretty well, claiming an assist in creating Weimann's goal against Paderhorn. Marc Albrighton, himself stepping out of the shadows after an injury-hit 2012-13 season, was bright against Bochum. All three of these players face seasons which could make or break their Villa careers, and it was encouraging to see them fully involved.

The Villa squad will now return to Birmingham and training at Bodymoor Heath, and no doubt Lambert will be besieged by questions about the one player who was not in Germany. But games are the best distraction for anything else going on at a football club, and Villa's manager will have his focus on the next challenge -away to Wycombe this Saturday, July 20.

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