Callum Hamilton: As a Scot and an Anglophobe, it had been some comfort to me during the Burley/Levein years that England's league was at least dominated by our brethren. In the last couple of years that's been reduced a wee bit, but Paul Lambert looks like he could have what it takes to be a very good manager. Do you believe in the long-term vision that he's producing at Villa? Can he keep you progressing, or are you going to just waddle around in mid-table until a particularly bad run sees him off?
Robert Lintott: There are plenty of Villa fans who would call me crazy for this, but I absolutely think that Lambert is building a sustainable future for Aston Villa. The first two years of his reign have been marked by massive cost-cutting measures. Thanks to the excesses of Martin O'Neill, Gerard Houllier (hi, Darren Bent!), and Alex McLeish, the wage-bill was severely inflated. That meant that Villa had a heap of players who were contributing almost nothing to the club and were receiving a ton of money to do so. In fact, they still have those players (hi, Shay Given!).
But we're starting to see that change. Lambert is beginning to get the wages under control and it looks as if he'll have a bit of money to play with this summer. So that leaves us to the system that Lambert has set up, and it's a pretty good one. Villa are apparently going to be a team who rely on the counterattack and a stout defensive line. There have been plenty of troubles in making that work this year -- thanks in large part to a woeful midfield -- but we've also seen some rousing successes. There was the opening-day win at Arsenal, the 3-2 come-from-behind victory over Manchester City, and the 1-0 over Chelsea two weekends ago. Of course, there have also been moments like the 1-4 loss to Stoke last week.
All told, though, I think those down moments are simply signs of how young this club is. In terms of where they deserve to be this year, the loss to Stoke is pretty indicative. But in terms of what this club's potential under Lambert is, I'd say they're a lot closer to the team that beat Chelsea than the team who lost to freaking Stoke. If the club give Lambert some time, I think you're going to see Villa back to challenging for a spot in European play.
CH: Christian Benteke is going to score or create the winning goal against us because big aggressive cloggers always do (hello Marouane, hello Nikola), but what's been up with him this season? Tbh, the only way this season could've been funnier was if Spurs really did end up spunking £25 million on him.
RL: You ask the question that so many Villa fans have wanted the answer to this year. To be honest, I think what you see with Benteke is almost precisely what you should expect going forward. He's going to be a prolific striker who scores in bursts. He dealt with an injury in the first part of the season, and admitted to not being 100% when he returned. So that explains that bit. But other times he looks like a player who isn't really trying. If he's into a match and a few shots go poorly for him (and really, while he can finish absolutely beautifully, he has an annoying knack of missing things that he should be making) he can sort of disappear.
That said, when he's playing well, as he has been recently, I think he's one of the most dangerous strikers in England. He's got 10 league goals this season, which puts him 9 shy of last year. That includes a span of 11 matches in which he was playing not fully healthy. He's got six in his last ten, and three in his last three. That's what he's going to be: a player who scores in scads and then disappears for a while.
It's also easy to forget that he's only 23. The maturity and poise will come, and I suspect that we will stop seeing him disappear after a few missed chances. At least I hope that's what we see. It'll either be a boon for Villa to have someone scoring consistently, or it will be a boon for Villa when they sell him for all of the money.
CH: Who would you rather take back: Ashley Young or James Milner? This is of course in the assumption that he would be driven to the stadium and have his wages paid by the fans of his respective current club.
RL: Milner. He fulfills a box-to-box role that this club need more than whatever it is Ashley Young brings to the table. Villa's biggest problem this year has been an inconsistent midfield. Actually, no, that's not true. Villa's biggest problem has been a lack of scoring, but I think we can usually attribute that to the midfield often being nonexistent, and thus not giving the strikers anything with which they can score. So yeah, give me Milner back. Plus I'd love to see what he could do with the new version of Fabian Delph, who is an absolute joy to watch this year.
CH: Who is the player you're most fearing to see in the starting lineup for us?
RL: Which ones will be wearing the United kit? All of them? Those then.
But more seriously, probably Danny Welbeck. Leandro Bacuna, our presumptive right-back, is coming off of an absolutely dour match, and United would be wise to attack up that flank. Welbeck has the ability to make life hell for Bacuna and the Villa defense (see: his two goals in December). Wayne Rooney would be the other obvious choice, but for some reason I am never really worried about him. He's such an odd player. If he's going to contribute, it's match over. If he doesn't, he's usually a non-factor. There never seems to be much of an in-between.
CH: And who's the one you're praying does get thrown into the mix?
RL: God. You could put Robin van Persie out there in a lounge chair. That'd be awfully sporting of you.
I'm not sure, really. Maybe Ashley Young, and I'd like him to have the sort of day he used to have with Villa where he becomes a total non-factor in the match. But given my luck with this sort of thing, he'll play and score a brace.
CH: Would you take David Moyes if things don't work out with Lambo?
RL: Sure. I think Moyes thrives on a budget, and thrives under lower expectations than what he has at United. He's not my favorite manager in the world, but if something happened to Lambert, I would think that Moyes would be able to get pretty consistent success with Villa without breaking the bank. We'll keep in touch. If he's free after the season and Lambert is gone for some reason, give us a call.
CH: Thank you for your time.