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Why Aston Villa Have Been the Premier League's Most Fun Side to Watch in 2012-13

NORWICH, ENGLAND - MAY 04:  Gabby Agbonlahor  of Aston Villa celebrates his goal with his supporters during the Barclays Premier League match between Norwich City and Aston Villa at Carrow Road on May 04, 2013 in Norwich, England.  (Photo by Mark Thompson/Getty Images)
Mark Thompson/Getty Images
Michael CummingsWorld Football Lead WriterMay 7, 2013

Say what you will about Aston Villa, but the 2012-13 season has never, ever been dull around Villa Park.

Sure, there have been lows, and even a few moments of despair. But there have also been heady highs, and as the season nears its conclusion, Villa appear all but safe from relegation—with possibly even some hope for the future.

Along the way, first-year manager Paul Lambert has taken his team from dour, dire relegation favorites to a rollicking, attacking side worthy of admiration.

For us, that's been a recipe for the most fun team to watch in the Premier League this season. Here's why.

 

Wildly Varying Fortunes

It's not that Aston Villa have been a great team all season. More like Villa have been both excellent and awful and everywhere in between—and thus a compellingly flawed squad.

Villa began the Premier League season with back-to-back losses, at West Ham and at home to Everton. In November, they lost 5-0 at Manchester City, and in December,  there were losses to Chelsea and Spurs by a combined 12-0 score.

What's fun about that? For fans, the answer is obviously nothing. But for neutrals, who have in recent weeks witnessed Villa's turnaround (more on that momentarily), it provided the backdrop for a season of wildly varying fortunes.

Seeing a club struggle and later make good can give neutrals reason to care—and reason to keep watching.

 

Low Point and Turnaround

A harrowing January saw Villa crash out of both the Capital One Cup and FA Cup against Bradford City and Millwall, respectively. Losing to lower-league opposition in both cases, Villa reached the low point of their season.

Then the tide turned.

Starting with a 3-3 draw at Everton on Feb. 2, Villa have hauled themselves out of relegation trouble with a stirring run of form. In their last 12 matches, Paul Lambert's men have collected 20 points from six wins and two draws. Their only losses during that time have come against Arsenal, Manchester City, Liverpool and Manchester United.

More importantly, they beat fellow relegation candidates Norwich City, Queens Park Rangers, Reading and, most impressively, Sunderland. The latter came with a resounding 6-1 scoreline and showed off the attacking style that has won Villa many admirers in recent weeks.

Where Villa struggled to hold possession before, they have more recently become a thrilling side that uses pressing, passing and pace. As B/R's Sam Tighe wrote in April:

Aston Villa have Gabby Agbonlahor tearing down the left and Charles N'Zogbia sprinting through the middle—a fearsome sight for any defence. Andi Weimann can also rack up the yards with his unorthodox style of running, giving (Aston Villa) three rapid outlets.

That's not even mentioning Villa's most exciting attacking force this season.

 

Benteke and Beyond

The performances of full-back Matthew Lowton have been a revelation in the run-in, but Villa's irrepressible star this season has undeniably been Christian Benteke.

Signed from Genk on deadline day last summer for £7 million, Benteke quickly replaced Darren Bent as Villa's top offensive player and has steadily secured his status as a beloved figure at Villa Park.

Benteke, 22, has scored 18 league goals in his debut season while giving Villa a physical presence at the top of the formation. In the famous win over Sunderland, he demonstrated the latter in frighteningly vivid style, towering above his marker at the level of the crossbar to power home his header.

"He's an absolute monster. Everyone's tried to rough him up but they've all failed," Delph told BBC Sport. "I asked him when he came: 'Do you eat raw meat?' But the reality is he's just a natural monster."

Benteke's exploits have reportedly drawn outside interest, and Villa are set to respond with an improved contract offer this summer (via Daily Telegraph). Whatever Benteke wants, he should receive it, as Villa must know he is a player worth building a squad around.

And with pieces of a young, talented squad already in place, that could be an intriguing future prospect, both for Villa fans and neutrals. If this season has been any indication, further excitement is in store.

 

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