For the first time since November 2012, Aston Villa have recorded back-to-back clean sheets in the Premier League with their goalless draw with Newcastle building upon their opening day away victory against Stoke.
At the end of last season, Villa’s leaky defence had conceded 12 goals in their final four matches to round off a miserable season where they had shipped 61 goals. However, Paul Lambert has used the resources available to him this summer to strengthen his back line to add some much needed solidity.
Of the back four he largely deployed last season, only Ron Vlaar has retained his place in the side. Bomb squad castaway Alan Hutton has replaced Leandro Bacuna, a winger converted to a fullback last campaign. Although Bacuna offered several moments of attacking magic, he rarely looked comfortable in his primary defensive role and it is a wise move to allow him to return as an option further up the field. Conversely, Hutton has added much needed defensive strength and mettle with defending his primary objective. Hutton deserves particularly wholehearted praise for his incredibly positive attitude on his return having been ruthlessly pushed aside in previous seasons.
Aly Cissokho was drafted in as a replacement for the unconvincing Antonio Luna and the equally unreliable Joe Bennett. Cissokho may not have enjoyed the most successful spell at Anfield but he seems to have found his feet at Villa Park. His pace and power are huge assets and he caused Newcastle countless problems in the first half with his overlapping runs and dangerous crosses. Cissokho did unfortunately limp off towards the end of the match but Villa will be praying it’s not too serious.
Most importantly, however, is the addition of Philippe Senderos who has formed a formidable partnership with World Cup star Ron Vlaar. The Dutchman will be delighted to have the Swiss international alongside him rather than the clumsy Nathan Baker. Jores Okore is also regaining full fitness and will be hoping to push both centre-backs for a starting berth.
The key element that has been added to Villa Park over the summer is experience. Hutton, Senderos and Cissokho are all internationally capped defenders who have played for some of the top clubs in their respective leagues. Baker, Bacuna and Luna/Bennett are largely unproven and inexperienced. Teams will find it tough to break down this Villa team this term, particularly with the addition of the impressively industrious Carlos Sanchez who will be deployed in front of the back four.
Villa fan Andrew Philpot was critical of both sides attacking performances during his description of Saturday’s match by claiming: “both teams decided it was best to bring butter knifes to the sword fight today.” He is right in the sense that neither side was particularly fluent in attack, however, he can take heart from the fact that, for the first time in two years, Villa have kept two clean sheets in a row and have a solid base to build upon.