Former Aston Villa manager Ron Atkinson believes the club’s fortunes this season depend on the fitness of captain Ron Vlaar.
The Dutchman has been sidelined for over a month after picking up a calf strain in the 1-0 home win over Hull, with Nathan Baker and Ciaran Clark forced to fill in alongside Philippe Senderos in his absence.
While Paul Lambert’s side managed to record an impressive 1-0 win at Liverpool over that period, Villa have since suffered consecutive 3-0 defeats to Arsenal and Chelsea, and Atkinson believes the presence of Vlaar in the linuep could have made for a different set of results.
‘I’ve got to say, I’ve been very impressed with what I’ve seen of Vlaar,’ he told the Birmingham Mail.
‘If I’m being honest, I am amazed he is still at the club because I thought with the ex-Dutch manager [Louis van Gaal] going to Manchester United, he would follow.
‘Fortunately for Villa he has stayed and he’s there for the season.’
While his fine World Cup performances failed to result in a big summer move, Vlaar is still to enter negotiations with the club over a new contract, with his current deal set to expire in 2015, but Atkinson is confident that the two sides will work something out.
‘If Villa do well he may be tempted to stay, which would be great,’ he said.
‘The sooner he gets back from injury, though, the better because he’s an important player.
‘The younger guys in the team have done alright when they’ve been called upon but Vlaar is an international who was on top form before his injury.’
Vlaar remains a doubt for Saturday’s home game against Manchester City, and Atkinson doesn’t like the odds of Villa getting a result without their star man in the heart of defence.
‘The defence is a very important unit and it seems to be getting better at Villa.
‘If you’re conceding two goals a game for arguments sake, which certain teams in the Premier League do, you’re going to struggle to win.
‘You are very unlikely to score three goals so you have to keep it tight.
‘Whilst everyone likes to see free-flowing football, you have to have people who can defend.’