As nice as it would be to see Aston Villa come roaring out of the gates en route to a classy display against Wigan Athletic, Paul Lambert may well find that the better path will be found by simply looking to stop the bleeding.
Aston Villa's worst week in recent memory isn't technically over just yet. The 8-0 loss to Chelsea happened on Sunday, which means that this afternoon's game against Wigan will be Villa's third in the space of seven days. That doesn't mean much of anything really, but it's worth pointing if for nothing else than a reminder how quickly things have been turned on their head. This time a week ago, the mood around the club was buoyant. A win over Norwich City in the League Cup and a favorable semifinal draw against Bradford City was followed by a signature win at Anfield, bringing the middle of the table into sight.
And then, in the space of four days, all of the optimism was gone. After a month of steadily improving play, Villa looked as bad as any team has ever looked at the Premier League level. There's still plenty of time for them to build new momentum, and it's overly pessimistic to think that the stretch from early November to mid December was pure fluke, but it would be equally silly to believe that being outscored 12-0 over the course of two games won't have some kind of effect on this young team's psyche. What exactly that effect is and how long it lasts remains to be seen, but it's more than likely to shape the way this team looks come February.
This team desperately needs a bounce-back, but given their showing the last two times out it's difficult to be optimistic that they will find it this time out. There are certainly worse teams for Villa to be facing right now than Wigan, who have lost three in a row and five of their past six. But the Latics have largely managed to keep things close, and with Villa just three points ahead this is a huge opportunity for the visitors to earn a bit of breathing room. And beyond the events of the past week, there's the paper-thin factor of Villa's available team to be taken into account; an already thin and inexperienced squad will once again be without Ron Vlaar, Charles N'Zogbia, Gabby Agbonlahor, Darren Bent and Andreas Weimann, while Nathan Baker is a new addition to the injured list and Fabian Delph will be serving a one-game suspension.
Despite being a regular fixture at the bottom of the table, Wigan is very seldom an easy game for any team in the league. Though somewhat lacking an abundance of quality and depth, they're a well-organized side whose disciplined possession game and composure make goals hard to come by and they have enough firepower to threaten a side with as many defensive shortcomings as Aston Villa. Under no circumstances would three points from this game be a foregone conclusion, and given the current situation it looks an even tougher hill to climb. It's not especially pleasant to admit this, but in taking the season as a bigger picture, a point from this game could easily be viewed as a positive result. Sharing the spoils with Wigan at home isn't a great result in isolation, but if it can help to steady the ship heading into the second half of the season then it would have to be viewed as a positive.
The next two months has its share of challenging fixtures, but in comparison to the last few months it looks significantly less daunting. There are several winnable games over that stretch, and if the ship can be steered onto a more stable course quickly then the past week could end up looking like a momentary blip. But if this team isn't already in a tailspin, a home loss to Wigan would certainly kick the turbulence up quite a bit. Pragmatism isn't the most exciting thing in the world, but in this case it's called for; organize, stabilize, and begin to move forward. It's wonderful to think that Paul Lambert can simply rally the troops and have them come out of the gates flying against one of the few teams below Villa in the table, but the risks to such an approach would seem to have far bigger drawbacks than it does advantages. Right now, the primary motivator needs to be putting in solid performances and regaining some of the confidence that as almost certainly been eroded over the past week.