For all Aston Villa’s struggles this season, it is impossible not to commend manager Paul Lambert’s better decisions.
The most obvious of those was signing Christian Benteke. But one that may have slipped under the radar for non-Villa fans was convincing Brad Guzan to sign a new contract.
The American goalkeeper initially left the club at the end of last season when his contract expired; which was no surprise considering he had spent the previous four years behind Brad Friedel and later Shay Given.
Loan spells at Hull City and sporadic cup appearances for the Villains gave glimpses of what he could do. And after one particularly memorable night against Sunderland in the League Cup – when he saved one penalty in normal time and three more in the proceeding shoot-out – you sensed it could be the making of him.
And yet he always found himself in front of someone deemed better. Until Lambert convinced him to re-sign, that is.
We may never know what Lambert said. It certainly wasn’t that Guzan would be his first choice, because for the first two games of the new manager’s reign, he preferred Given. And yet now the American is firmly installed as number one. And a look at his side’s defensive record this season tells far from the whole story.
The truth is, without Guzan Villa would be in an even worse position than they are. In their last league game against QPR, he pulled off a series of great saves that ultimately contributed towards an outstanding and much-needed win.
Perhaps four years in the shadow of ‘keepers who may go down as Premier League greats taught him more than how to bide his time.
Today he comes up against the league’s top scorer, Luis Suarez. And if he thought he’s been busy before, today could force a rethink. Because if he somehow thwarts Suarez, Daniel Sturridge, Phillipe Coutinho and Steven Gerrard will be on hand to take any chances that come their way.
Behind the joint-worst defence in the league, Guzan will have to be at his very best today. Should he manage it, Villa may continue their recent renaissance and climb further away from the relegation zone.
They are at the stage where every single point is crucial, and it is in players like Guzan that their destiny lies.
Finally given a chance to shine, Guzan has been able to hold his head high all season. But that won’t mean anything to him if those flying saves don’t keep his team in the top flight.
They say you don’t know what you’ve got ‘til it’s gone. Luckily for Villa, Guzan wasn’t gone very long before Lambert convinced him to return and finally show what he could do.
How good has Guzan been for Villa this season? And will he be the difference between survival and relegation?