The possibility of losing Christian Benteke this summer comes as a huge blow to Paul Lambert and Aston Villa given how significant he was to their survival last season. Not only did the big Belgian score 19 goals in an impressive first Premier League campaign, but he also proved pivotal to the team's style of play.
Benteke brought more to Villa than just goals. Indeed, if the role of the striker in Lambert's set-up was just to find the back of the net then erstwhile captain Darren Bent would not have been displaced. The 22-year-old signing from Genk was charged with holding the ball up and bringing Villa's wide-men into play. He also provided an important out-ball when his team were under pressure, as shown by the statistics that reveal only Peter Crouch won more aerial duels than Benteke last season.
|Aerial duels won - PL 2012/13|
|Player||Aerial duels won|
Lambert has acquired 6'5" forward Nicklas Helenius but the Dane has already stressed that he is more comfortable playing off a striker than being the man to lead the line so there could be pressure on the Villa boss to find an adequate replacement for Benteke in order to make sense of his system.
Not only must Lambert find those 19 Benteke goals from somewhere but he must also hope his team can produce another series of strikes that saw only a Gareth Bale inspired Tottenham have more success from outside the area last season.
|Goals outside box - PL 2012/13|
|Team||Big chances missed|
Some of those strikes proved critical with Sky Sports pundit Gary Neville identifying Matthew Lowton's brilliant effort against Stoke as his goal of the season. The right-back might struggle to replicate that magical moment in 2013/14 but Villa fans will be hopeful that the former Sheffield United player can continue the encouraging form that saw him make more interceptions than any other Premier League defender.
|Interceptions & Clearances - PL 2012/13|
|Morgan Schneiderlin||139||Ashley Williams||381|
|Matthew Lowton||111||Brede Hangeland||337|
|Ashley Williams||110||Ciaran Clark||328|
|Jan Vertonghen||100||Winston Reid||321|
|Mikel Arteta||97||James Collins||316|
Ciaran Clark also featured prominently among the statistical stars for Villa, with only Ashley Williams and Brede Hangeland making more clearances than the 23-year-old Republic of Ireland international. There will be much cause for optimism that having come through a difficult 2012/13 season, Lambert's youthful team is in a position to enjoy further improvement in the forthcoming campaign.
And if all else fails, Lambert knows he can rely upon his last line of defence in goalkeeper Brad Guzan. It was a breakthrough season for the United States international last time out and his ability to come out and claim the ball succeeded in relieving the pressure on his defence. Villa will need more of the same from Guzan in 2013/14.
|Catches - PL 2012/13|