Paul Lambert’s Aston Villa Long Ball Project: Are Villa the new Stoke?

aston villa long ball

Is Paul Lambert regressing from his Aston Villa passing evolution?


‘The problem is that these tactics are at least ten years out of date.’



Bright Passing Future

Last season Upton Park reverberated to the dulcet tones of, “We’re passing the ball, we’re passing the baallll, we’re Aston Villa, we’re passing the ball”.  

Villa’s performance in the first 60 minutes against West Ham last season promised so much.  A birth of a new team, a possession based youth revolution and the hope that academy and youth players could be inter-mingled into an exciting forward thinking side.

Unfortunately, the display at Upton Park this season couldn’t have been any more different.  What is disappointing now is that the team suffered a lot last season trying to play properly, pass and move and play as a team.  This season it seems that Lambert has effectively thrown away all the hard work he did last season and reverted back to a (McLeish) team that sits and waits for a counter attack.

People always tell me, “Swansea and Southampton have been trying to play their passing style for years which is why they can do it easily now.”  OK, fine.  But Saints and Swans also had to endure a tough first season implementing their style and suffered some dispiriting defeats.  If Villa don’t start trying to play properly now, then when?

Villa’s first season under Lambert was an example of trying to play properly and suffering, and so was Villa’s season under Gerard Houllier where Houllier made some tough decisions in defence of a possession based philosophy.   Houllier was looking to bring experience to the midfield with Makoun and the proposed acquisition of Cabaye to supplement Villa’s academy players, and Houllier used a temporary solution in Robert Pires to fill the void.  People seem to forget than Martin O’Neill left the club just days before the transfer window closed, which gave Houllier no time to bring in players.

Aston Villa Long Ball Addiction

What Swansea and Saints didn’t do was abandon their possession based style in the second season as Villa have done this season.  This is the second time Villa abandoned some very important groundwork.  McLeish ripped up Houllier’s blue print and notably brought back old -fashioned cloggers like Warnock, Dunne and Collins.  Lambert also appears to have tossed away his script from last season by choosing to field three defensive midfielders and two big men up front – Tony Pulis style.  The problem is that these tactics are at least ten years out of date.

Lambert said after Villa’s latest trip to the Boleyn Ground, “There’s more to us than just counter attacking, we can play.”  However, Villa have some of the worst possession stats in the Premier League this season, and had Lambert wanted to progress his possession based ground work from last season, then surely he would have concentrated on improving central midfield rather than buying two more strikers.  The quicker Villa return to possession based, passing football (probably after January as we have no attacking midfield players) the better.

For those who say that we lost 1 – 0 last season against West Ham and we should be happy with 0 – 0 and a clean sheet. First observation, we didn’t have Benteke last season in this fixture.  In addition, West Ham had no strikers yesterday until Carlton Cole came on in the second half.  Furthermore, Villa had a bench in 2012 of Bannan, Lichaj, Gardner, Burke, Weimann and Herd….all academy players.  This season Villa’s bench was Helenius, Herd, Bowery, Tonev, Kozak and Johnson.  West Ham had lost their previous three home games before Villa arrived yesterday and the Hammers had several players missing.  Yet, Villa enjoyed 40% of possession and effectively ‘parked the bus‘.

Lambert was asked a tactical question at the end of Villa’s first half performance, ‘The team cannot keep the ball well and is also not creating chances?‘.  Lambert’s answer to the problem? “Kozák”.

Just what happened to Lambert’s promising Villa evolution?

*What’s your views on the recent trend of Aston Villa long ball tactics? Please comment below. UTV


Follow MOMS on twitter at @oldmansaid
Follow Shelley on twitter at @shelley_ozzy



  1. The game at West Ham was dreadful. Had I not seen the game, I would have been more or less happy with the point. We literally played 8-0-2 and hoofed balls up to Bentke and Weimann (who I think make a very nice front pairing).

    Benteke is the best player we have had at Villa for a long time. Imagine how many goals he would get in a team that creates a lot of chances! From what I have seen this summer’s signings (bar Bacuna and Okore) have been very poor. Kozak and Tonev do not look Premier League players at all. Our midfield without Delph is very weak and there is no cohesion or fluency in our play at all.

    We need to invest in Jan, and PL needs to figure out what formation we are playing so we can get some consistency in our play.

  2. After reading all the above comments,
    Personally i think they are all partly correct
    The football has been poor,too much hoof and hope giving possesion away to easy
    The midfield doesnt contribute a lot with the ball
    No width is a concern,considering 1 cross saturday produced 1 effort off the bar from CB
    We have played some decent stuff at times but no where near enough
    The fact lambert has only been in the job for a season and a bit,and lets not underestimate the size of the job he has to do,even thou at times his decision making can be totally baffling to me and others im sure,
    I cant give up on the hope that he will get it right just yet
    So lets try an keep the faith a little longer,and maybe just maybe he may be able to deliver what we all want
    Up the villa

  3. As someone who is a season ticket holder and travels all over with Villa I truly struggle to understand the large contingent of fans at Villa park that are more damaging than any regime at the Villa.

    This is the most relevant article I’ve seen written for some considerable time. Just because we support the Villa (& at great personnel expense) doesn’t men that we have to blindly accept everything that happens at Villa park. Having am opinion that doesn’t end with “we should just support the Villa and not make a fuss” does not make us any less loyal to the cause.

    I’m sick to death of the army of spineless Roy Croppers chirping away. Paul Lambert took us closer than ever before to life in the championship by sticking to a “philosophy” of passing football. He suckered us in with dreams of Arsenal and delivered Stoke. Villa are no longer the team that was, we are however better than, West Ham, Newcastle, Sunderland and every other team full of journey men and old crocks. They will of course all come, take points and go home mocking us as “a big club”.

    In Benteke we have one of the greatest strikers Villa have ever seen but i’m convinced his purchase was pure fluke!! He was just bought as a big lump to fire the ball at but he turned out to be the real deal. With hindsight he should have gone in the summer. I genuinely feel sorry for him. Ball fired a 100mph at his neck and a crowd expecting every touch to rip out he net. We are preparing for life without him before he has gone.

    Yes PL is at our managerial level but the standard of football isn’t. Please please please can we have our passing back!!! Because Mr Lambert Villa Park is a whole different place when you don’t have us fans in your cornerl1

  4. I believe in P.L. To a certain degree, & We All Love Our A.Villa. But his style of play this Season is Trash, let’s All be truthful & real. Our defense is sub-par, the lose of Okore was a big lost for the back line, Our forwards are also sub-par, the Shining Light in that group is obviously Benteke. Without his services, teams wouldn’t even fear our frontline. So I say sub-par because take C.B. out & we are a Toothless Cat. Brad Guzan is a halfway decent Goalkeeper, but let’s be completely honest, he Only got the Job, because P.L. Wanted to go with Young players, so that they can grow as a Team together, it’s a Alex F. Tactic that put Man U on the track to winning!! Now Our midfield, which is non-existent, we can say that Delph is coming into his own, which is true, but this midfield can’t pass, they have absolutely no vision, they don’t know how to move forward as a Unit, they do know how to pass the ball back to the fullbacks, which in turn they pass it to Brad, which in turn he just kicks it up the field. How in the world does a Coach not purchase @ least 2 playmakers (true #10’s) in the transfer market, when you have Benteke needing that talent to help Improve his game! 2 true playmakers would keep teams on the defense most of the time, worried about our attacking & possession. & for pete’s sake, why is andi still starting ( I know he got injured while playing ) not wishing any harm to him, but he is in a serious bad slump. Over all our team is really Weak, we play real good against teams that should beat Us & we play below standard against teams that we should beat, do We not find that strange!! Man City, Chelsea, Liverpool & Arsenal, we played Great, & that’s because We had to Raise Our Game to compete with them, but the other games we played, NewCastle, Everton etc. some how We can’t lift our game to beat them, or @ least draw!! January Transfer Window hurry up & Open!!

  5. I’d have to agree with Harry Hampton’s assessment. It’s a poor article that doesn’t take into account the opposition we’ve played or the injuries/suspensions we’ve been dealt in recent weeks. Up until about 3/4 games ago, we’d played some super stuff – most notably in the opening games against Arsenal, Chelsea & Liverpool. Our “style” of play has not changed as such but the personnel who make it work so well have been missing which has disrupted the flow of the side. This is a huge irrational over reaction over the signing of one player (kozak) and a couple of stuffy, poor performances. Another point to add, that I feel is quite pertinent, is that Shelley is an avid fan of Barcelona and in many ways, would love to see us adopt or replicate that idealist nature that Barca, as a club, pervades. And that’s not a bad thing as such, but it’s dangerous. Articles like can help destabilise a club; a club that has been unstable for far too long and needs to be supported. I’m not calling for blind optimism but surely Lambert deserves the benefit of the doubt after such a horrendous start and some decent results in that time?

    • I think you’ll find the midfield has largely been the same for the past two seasons, but there has been a noticeable change of overall ethos. Some of the directness is better than the over use of sideways and backwards passing, but a lot of the time it’s surrendering possession. We’re not talking about just the West Ham game either. The article is far from poor (that is just your humble opinion). Oh, and just because Shelley also follows Barcelona, doesn’t mean she thinks Villa should play like them. That is a very simplistic deduction you’re making there.

      • Two seasons? You mean season and 10 weeks?! Like I’ve already pointed out, it’s only been in the last few weeks the “style” of football has regressed. Up until Benteke’s injury, we’d played some lovely stuff. Kozak stepping into the breach has disrupted our game because he’s nowhere near as good as Benteke. Pieces like these are overreactionary. Half way into the season, maybe but after 10 games – half of which we’ve played some lovely stuff – is uncalled for.

        • ‘Past two seasons’ means this one and the one before!

          What does ‘lovely stuff’ mean though? That’s more of a question! Some nice counter-attacking stuff, here and there, but nothing consistent. The team have competed well enough though. It will be interesting to see how they do up to Christmas, but I personally don’t think the midfield give the team much of an axis of power/control.

  6. The key for me is el hamadi, i think he is simply not good enough. There is not a good enough link between the middle of the park and creating sufficient chances. Our lack of width is also a problem for me.

      • How many other midfields would any of our other midfielders get into is the question? Even Delph probably wouldn’t get into the likes of Newcastle’s, Everton’s or Southampton’s midfield. This is certainly one on the poorest midfield’s in the division and the worst I’ve ever seen at Villa.

  7. Poor article Whilst not defending Lambert’s tactics it’s unfair to criticise Villa for having low percentage possession stats considering that we’ve had the toughest opening fixtures of any PL side by having to face Arsenal, Chelsea, Pool, Man City, Spurs & Everton. Those teams will always dominate possession & aligned to their ability to close teams down it’s given that teams like ours of inferior ability to have to go longer than we’d do ordinarily. Our percentage of possession will increase & balance out fairly in the coming weeks as we play many teams in & around us. Re yesterday the team selected was no where near our strongest possible due to injury & illness following 2 defeats so an away point was welcome and we look forward to the forthcoming fixtures with a stronger squad available perhaps.

    Long ball team? No I’m more concerned that with the exception of Okore, sadly out for the season, the summer signings haven’t really strengthened us.

    More time needs to be given though I feel our squad needs to be strengthened greatly over the next 9 months to start giving us some genuine optimism.


    • We’ll see how it pans out up until Christmas. But as the article points out, at Upton Park last season (as with most games up to Christmas), Villa were passing a lot more than this season (sometimes needlessly) and Benteke has been isolated in the majority of most matches.

    • We’re talking about the style of play, which has become pretty limited and predictable. You’re right about the summer signings not strengthening the team. Okore looked to be the only one that was going to improve the first 11.

  8. Villa went in to the match without 3 of their best players and got a good point. A clean sheet was gained by some dour football but last season we had a good half hour their and then fell apart. We created more yday playing badly than last year. We were naïve last year and weere to open away from home. I’ll take a few drab draws with our bbest players out if its points in the bank. Kozak should be playing with benteke anyway. We created our two best chances when he was on. He came on because weiman was injured and not for any other reason. My only criticism of lamber is that kozak doesntt play more to help bentek and hold up the ball for him.

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