United proved that while RVP was an integral part in their title triumph, he was far from being United’s only key player and those who dismissed them as a team over-reliant on the Dutchman’s brilliance were forced to eat humble pie.
Paul Lambert, however, knows how important a player can be for a club’s fortunes after Christian Benteke’s goals almost single-handedly kept Aston Villa in the top flight last season.
With the 22-year-old now sidelined for six weeks, Villa have been catapulted into a new territory, one where Lambert’s tactical prowess will be tested as he must keep his side competitive even without their talismanic striker.
Gabriel Agbonlahor and Andreas Weimann have thrived since Benteke’s arrival, with the Belgian’s ability to create spaces allowing both to make the most of their pace and creativity, but neither looks a safe bet in terms of replacing Benteke’s goalscoring return.
The Belgian has scored four of Villa’s six goals in the first five Premier League games this season and has netted 43% of his club’s goals since his arrival in English football earlier last season.
Benteke’s absence is all the more worrying for Villa fans considering their side’s woeful defensive record, which has seen them conceding in their last 13 Premier League games at Villa Park, during which they’ve picked up only 10 points, the fewest of any other Premier League club.
Villa host City on Saturday, a fixture they would have probably been expected to lose even had Benteke been fit, and it will be interesting to see whether Paul Lambert will stick with the 4-4-2 formation he adopted against Norwich last week, or whether he’ll switch to his favourite 4-3-3.
At Carrow Road, Gabriel Agbonlahor played through the middle alongside Benteke before the Belgian was withdrawn, while he drifted out wide once Libor Kozak had Benteke.
The former Lazio man is likely to be chosen ahead of Nicklas Helenius to replace Benteke, after his goal earned Villa three points at Carrow Road last week, but he has big shoes to fill over the next six weeks.
Benteke’s importance is not only restricted to the goalscoring department either, considering the Belgian has created 25% of Villa’s chances since making his debut for the club last season.
Against Newcastle two weeks ago Benteke was his team’s focal point, while against Norwich Kozak was less involved in Villa’s build up play as he completed five passes out of nine attempts, compared with Benteke’s 10 out 26.
After City, Villa face Hull away before hosting Spurs either side of the international break and considering AVB’s men have only conceded once so far, a trip to the KC Stadium seems to be Villa’s best chance to pick up points without their star man.
Paul Lambert must be the only Premier League manager looking forward to the international break.
Stats courtesy of Opta and whoscored.com