Yanks Abroad

Aston Villa's Eric Lichaj Proving His Mettle

When Aston Villa manager Paul Lambert signed up-and-coming England left back Joe Bennett, many thought that American Eric Lichaj was heading to the bench. Well, it hasn't worked out that way.
BY John Godfrey Posted
December 23, 2012
6:22 AM
Eric Lichaj's up-and-down tenure at Aston Villa seemed to hit another low on August 29 when the Birmingham club signed England Under-21 international Joe Bennett from Middlesbrough. The club paid $4.4 million for the left-footed left back, and Lichaj, also a left back, couldn't help but notice that Bennett seemed poised to take his spot on the squad.

"Joe's a really good player, young and hungry to succeed, and he's exactly the type of player we want here at the football club," Villa manager Paul Lambert said at the time. "There's no doubt in my mind that he will thrive in this environment and he fits in exactly with what we are trying to build here."

Even though all signs point to increased playing time for Bennett, Lichaj has fought through the challenge and is seeing plenty of quality minutes for Villa. Some of that is due to an injury Bennett suffered on October 7. And Bennett received an automatic suspension for a red card he received against Norwich City. But Lichaj's resolve and strong play has played a role too.

“In any team there’s always competition for places and if there wasn’t then I probably wouldn’t be as good or playing as well as I have been," Lichaj told the Birmingham Mail. “I feel extra pressure because I’m not a natural left-back, but I’m playing in that position now. I need to do as well as I can and hopefully I can keep that spot."

“Right now I’m having a good spell so I’m happy with that and hopefully I can keep it going."

A side-by-side comparison of the two players shows that the 24-year-old Lichaj has played twice as many matches as Bennett this season, and has one goal and two assists—one more than Bennett in both categories. Lichaj is also starting in today's match against Chelsea, with Bennett on the bench.

As American Soccer Now's Brian Sciaretta noted, Lichaj is in the last year of his contract with Villa, "a move this January is likely, and the Illinois native could have offers from other Premier League clubs waiting for him in 2013."

Whether he is fighting for a long-term contract at Villa or is auditioning for a move to another club, every minute he gets between now and January is crucial to the Downers Grove, Illinois, native.

“Everyone is looking to get a place in the starting XI and in every position there is a place up for grabs with maybe two or three guys in each position," Lichaj said. "so you have to be on your ‘A’ game no matter what, in matches and at the training ground.”

Would you like to see Lichaj move to another club? If so, where? Share your thoughts in the comments below.

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