Aston Villa captain Ron Vlaar might be nearing a return to fitness after missing the last four games with more calf-related problems, but he isn’t guaranteed to regain his starting spot.
That’s according to manager Paul Lambert, who, because of the excellent form of stand-ins Ciaran Clark and Jores Okore, has somewhat of a selection dilemma ahead of him.
“Ciaran and Jores have been absolutely excellent for us and have struck up a good understanding,” he was quoted in the Birmingham Mail. “They’re in form and there’s a good little partnership developing there.
“In the four games they’ve played together they’ve been outstanding, the two of them.
“You earn the right to get into the team and once you’re in it, your job is to stay in it.
“Those two lads have been playing really well now.”
Clark and Okore both started the season as the fourth and fifth choice centre-backs in Lambert’s plans but, with Vlaar, Philippe Senderos and Nathan Baker all out injured in recent weeks, the pair have struck up an immediate rapport.
“I’m sure Ron, Philippe and Nathan Baker will know that there’s a really big fight on for them to get in the side,” he said.
“You need that competition for people to play on top of their game.
“If you play well you stay in the side. That’s the advice you give any player.”
In the case of the in-demand Vlaar, one now has to question how this might affect his future at the club moving forward.
Out of contract in the summer, the Dutchman has of course been the subject of on-going transfer speculation since his starring performances for Louis van Gaal’s Netherlands side at the World Cup, with a reunion with his compatriot at Manchester United long-rumoured to be on the agenda.
In addition, Arsenal, Juventus and Napoli have all been mentioned as potential suitors and, with contract talks with Villa still to get off the ground, he himself has remained tight-lipped on his future.
"I have around me, of course, heard and read the rumours," he told Votebal International last week. "But it was certainly not that I had courted interest in the last week of the transfer window or anything.
“If clubs call in the winter? I do not know. Everything I say will be magnified in England."
Nevertheless, while Vlaar has certainly proven a vital contributor to Villa since arriving from Feyenoord in August 2012 for around £3.25 million, it’s also fair to suggest that his performances in Brazil have inflated his reputation somewhat.
Aged 29, the 31-times capped international is reaching the stage of his career where decline begins to set in and, having dealt with various injuries during his time at Villa Park, there is obvious reason to believe that those problems will increase in the coming seasons.
Villa’s lack of defensive cover prior to this season had made him indispensable but, with Clark and Okore since stepping up, summer signing Philippe Senderos proving a solid veteran presence and the once much-maligned Nathan Baker showing immense improvement before going down with a twisted knee, Lambert is now spoilt for choice at the back.
That in mind, one has to imagine that if bids come in for their star skipper in the New Year then the club will have to at least consider them, given the prospect of losing him for nothing at the end of the campaign.
With the likes of United and Arsenal all desperate for centre-back help, Villa could manage to coax a sizeable fee out of their Premier League rivals, despite his contract status, and those fund could then be used to sort out the noted problems further up the pitch.
It remains to be seen how Lambert himself will approach the matter but, despite how disappointed fans would no doubt be to see Vlaar depart, selling him in the winter transfer window could well be both a feasible and sensible move for the Claret and Blues.