Now now, we don't use our hands, Eric Lichaj. (Photo by Richard Heathcote/Getty Images)
Aston Villa fans should still be rejoicing over Saturday's win against West Bromwich Albion--not just because the Villa finally picked up all three points, but because the starting XI looked about a thousand percent better than the team that played against Liverpool last Monday. Much of this credit can be given to Emile Heskey, who might not have a perfect finish, but can at least slow down play and create space. Marc Albrighton's crosses should be studied by football scientists for being almost textbook examples of the platonic ideal of a cross. Ashley Young was a monster who just might feel that wearing the captain's armband gives him special superhuman powers.
But in all the excitement over the win, what may have been neglected was the right side of the defense. Reactions on both sides of the Atlantic to Eric Lichaj's start were overwhelmingly positive. The English Villa fans just wanted to see another youngster get a run-out, while fans in the States were, of course, thrilled to see a USMNT player make his full Premier League debut. With such high hopes pinned on Lichaj, the young defender could've either been slammed with criticism or piled upon with praise. Fortunately for him, it was the latter.
Now, I know we're a pro-Lichaj blog, mostly due to Aaron's well known reputation for being in love with Eric (Twitter overwhelmingly voted that I call and wake him up on Saturday morning). But around these parts, we also try to be a bit fair,unless I'm writing about Barry Bannan (we all have our favorites). And Lichaj, well, he wasn't spectacular against West Brom. Should the Villa really be starting him in absence of a Luke Young injury?
After all, Young the Lesser is a solid footballer, full of experience at 31 years of age. He's able to get forward and help the attack, and if that doesn't work, he can tear down defenses with his penetrating stare. He might not have been Martin O'Neill's cup of tea, but Villa aren't exactly rolling in dough and he's taking up a big portion of the wage bill. There's really no need to have a quality right back on the bench, just to give Lichaj a bit more first team experience.
Except for the fact that Luke Young just might not be very good. He can get forward, sure, but often at the expense of his defensive duties. That stretches the defense, forcing the center backs to cover to make amends for his mistakes. And as we've all seen this season, that usually doesn't turn out well. There's only so many diving headers and perfectly timed tackles that James Collins and Richard Dunne can execute, and so when Young's off trying to find glory, things tend to go uncovered at the back.
Eric Lichaj is not going to solve all of Villa's problems in one go. He may have received plenty of adulation after his match this weekend, but he made a few significant mistakes. The thing is--he made amends for them. When he was beaten, he didn't stand around. He hauled over to help cover in the center, making sure his error didn't lead to a goal. I can't recall the last time Luke Young did that.
At this point, it just might be a toss up between Young and Lichaj as to who would be better on the right. But the only reason I can see to play Young is his wage bill--or to give others a look, to get rid of that wage bill. As for Lichaj, what he lacks is experience. He has the instincts, that much was certainly evident on Saturday. He's able to press up the pitch, as anyone who watched him against South Africa would know. And he's nine years younger than Young. Give the guy some playing time and there will be no question as to who deserves to be the starting right back for Aston Villa.
And in this season where the club is almost certain to not clinch a European spot, why not take a chance? The Villa are developing their kids throughout the rest of the pitch. Start Lichaj, give him the necessary experience, and Villa will at least fix one element of their faltering defense. Now if we could just find a left back...