Bodymoor Exclusive: Vlaar delivering on defensive promise
Ron Vlaar sat chatting to Brad Guzan after training on Tuesday as the pair discussed the term so far.
Vlaar enthusiastically informed the No.1: "You're not having to make as many worldies this season!"
It was a fact-laced comment from the skipper, with the claret and blue troops proving to be a much more difficult unit to break down in the opening weeks of the season.
Vlaar watched on in wonder at times during the previous campaign as Guzan kept Villa in games, culminating in the USA ace sweeping the board at the end of season awards dinner.
The captain, always an honest assessor of football life, knew things had to improve defensively as the new term began.
But he was confident the players would develop as a stopping unit as he "found his way" in a new country, at a new club and in a new league and others like Ciaran Clark and Nathan Baker progressed and matured.
That has been brought sharply into focus over the past few weeks, with Villa earning their third clean sheet in a row on the road against West Ham.
Vlaar is certainly delighted personally and collectively.
"It's going well. The general feeling among the team is that we're getting better.
Of course, we have to get better results at home but we're improving.
"The feeling in the group is we are developing and progressing all the time. It's now about pushing forward together.
"From a personal perspective, I feel good, I feel fit and I have a lot of confidence. It's going very well.
"Last year it wasn't that bad but I knew I could do better. That was my aim at the start of this season. "I wanted consistency. I wanted to perform in every game.
"Last year it was one good game, the next one wasn't so good then the following one was good again. I needed to have that top level for every match.
"I was made captain too. I had done it before but this was a new team, a new club, a new country so I had to find my way.
"With the captaincy, I always feel you have to do a little more too. You have to be the example - the leading person. I think that's going better this season for me.
"I feel very comfortable. I have my daily routine. I work very, very hard every day. Things are looking up definitely.
"I think familiarly is a big thing with our team this season. For a lot of players in the side, it was our first Premier League season.
"You have to get used to what's been asked in this league because it's a lot different from any other.
"We had a tough season last time out and we all, collectively, know we don't want to go through the same again. We had some bad experiences in certain games and we don't want that again.
"We certainly have a good resilience now. That's a good thing. That's been shown this season already.
"I was talking to Brad and I told him: 'You're not going to have to make as many saves as last year!' Some of his saves last season weren't simple either. He had to make some world-class saves!
"We all know he can still do that - but we don't want him to.
"We're more solid as a team. We're more together on the field. That's a very good thing.
"I have been impressed with Nathan and Ciaran too. They are improving all the time.
"They are playing more games. They are getting better and better.
"But it's about the whole team. That's the most important feeling. It's not individuals.
"My belief is that 'I need to help my team-mate when he's trouble and I know he will cover my back if I'm in trouble'. That's very much in evidence this season."
While the defence have gone three away games without conceding, the forwards have gone four games without scoring.
Vlaar insists he isn't losing a moment's sleep about that stat because of his immense confidence in the striking department, headed up by "phenomenal" Christian Benteke.
"We have a lot of quality up front. We will score very soon.
"Christian was very close at West Ham. He was unlucky with the crossbar and the good save from the goalkeeper. But it will come. I am not worried at all, actually.
"Christian, Gabby and Andi showed they are one of the best strikeforces in the Premier League last season - and they will show that again.
"Sometimes it's just a bit of luck.
If Christian's header had gone a little bit lower, it's a much different finish. It's little things.
"It's great to have Christian here. He's a truly unbelievable striker. He is massive for us.
"It's good to train against him too from my perspective. He's tall and strong. He's good in the air but quality on the floor. His technique is excellent.
"It's such a good challenge coming up against him.
"You have to defend strongly against him all the time. If you think you've got the better of him at one particular thing, he will find another way. He will find something different and you then need to respond accordingly. He finds a way. That's the way you improve each other.
"We have Libor and Nicklas too. They are good players to come in. But you have to give them time. You can't expect them to have the same impact as Christian.
"It could happen but it doesn't happen all the time. Patience is needed. They work hard, they have quality and they will come through strongly."
One of the key figures for any newboy - like Kozak and Helenius - settling in, of course, is the captain and it's a responsibility Vlaar takes very seriously.
He admits he's always there for his fellow players if they need advice - having offered words of encouragement in the previous campaign to injury-hit starlets Gary Gardner and Marc Albrighton.
And it's a role he's totally comfortable in now.
"It's a phenomenal feeling being captain of Villa. I am so proud.
"I want to try to be the best player I can be but also the best captain I can be. I take the responsibility very seriously.
"There have been some great captains down the years - Southgate, Mellberg and Laursen - and it's great to be in their company.
"I try to help players as much as I can. I don't rant and rave. I do shout on the field if it's needed. But it's more about the small details and leading by example.
"When it comes down to it, it's about your performance on the pitch. It always will be.
"I know some players say the responsibility of being captain affects their performance. But I don't feel that pressure.
"I have been captain at a few clubs in my career so far but I think I grew past that quite quickly. I had that but it passed.
"It's automatic now. I don't have to think about it. I am experienced now - 28 - and I have done it a while so it does become easier."
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