That one thing; is scoring goals. Regardless of the level of competition, Bent has shown the ability to score in bunches. At just 27 years of age he is in the midst of his physical prime, a scary thought for opposing defenders. Aston Villa’s massive investment in Bent, upwards of £24m, raised some eyebrows and a good deal of criticism from the Sunderland support. However, this was a smart purchase for a Villan’s side that needed a guarantee of goals scored. In purchasing Bent, they bought just that.
Since Darren Bent’s season with Charlton when he scored 18 goals in 36 Premier League games he has been able to maintain a scoring pace that is nearly 1 goal in every other match. Following his 56 goals in all appearences for Ipswich Town over his first four professional seasons, Bent’s move to Charlton was the first step in a career that has seen him earn call-ups across the England set-up, culminating in his March 2006 start against Uruguay. His transfer to Villa during last winter’s transfer window provides a nice glimpse of Bent’s raw ability to score. His arrival at Villa Park did not cause him any pause and he showed more potency in the second half of the year. Bent is actually an economical striker. He takes slightly more than 2 shots per game and finds the target better than 50% of the time. As is evident from the chart below, Bent converts chances into goals at a 25% rate.
Whilst Darren Bent is an exceptional goal scorer, he is lacking in nearly all other aspects of the game. This is not much of an issue for the role he’s been asked to play in the past and Alex McLeish’s 4-2-3-1 attack highlights Bent’s ability to convert chances, providing 3 attacking players directly behind the prolific scorer. These three players, currently N’Zogbia, Heskey and Agbonlahor with Marc Albrighton making substitution appearances, are all being deployed with an eye to creating scoring chances for Bent. Bent himself has helped his own cause, making two dribbles and creating three chances already this season.
Darren Bent is not a particularly balanced striker with the majority of his goals being scored with his right foot. He has shown a willingness to strengthen weaker aspects of his game – and his heading has shown improvement since his 2008-09 season with Tottenham. In that season with Tottenham Bent attempted 17 headers and was off target 14 times. The other three attempts all resulted in saves, leaving him without a goal scored by header. Since that season he has managed 6, 2 with Sunderland in 2009-10 and 2 with each SAFC and Aston Villa in the 2010-11 season.His reliance on his right foot does not seem to have impacted his ability to score. As the above chart shows, Bent has remained remarkably consistent in taking and scoring his chances.
This season will be an important one for both Bent and Villa. Following the departure of Stewart Downing and Ashley Young it will be incumbent on McLeish to find tactics and personnel that are able to get Bent proper service. Already this season we’ve seen the two sides of the coin. Against Fulham Bent did not take a single shot, against Blackburn he took two shots, both on target, one forcing a save and the other netting a goal. The service in these two games has come from a quartet of passers, three of whom we’ve included in the chalkboards below.
N’Zogbia, bought following the departures of Downing and Young, has been very good in all aspects of his passing game with the notable exception of the final entry into the box. In the match with Fulham he attempted 8 passes around the FFC box and was successful with only 3. Even in the more successful team performance against Blackburn, N’Zogbia struggled delivering the ball into the box with just 3 successful attempts out of 9. In fact, even a cursory examination of the chalkboards shows that there is very little successful service for Bent. As we’ve noted above, this does not appear to be a problem for the English hitman, but it is something that bears watching as the season progresses. Marc Albrighton, the final of the quartet, has been used only off the bench and has himself made only 4 pass attempts into the box, all four of which were unsuccessful. Bent, as a credit to him, does not seem to get his head down about this, but rather drops back into the midfield and engages the attack from an early stage. While the below is a little difficult to make out, this is an ‘average position’ map from ESPN.com which shows that, over the course of the match, Darren Bent’s “average position” is actually behind the average position of three different “midfielders” during the game with Blackburn Rovers. #10 – N’Zogbia, #11 – Agbonlahor and #25 – Bannan all played slightly further up the pitch than Bent. This would appear to fit well with what McLeish is attempting to create through the use of the 4-2-3-1 and in particular with use of two forwards (Heskey and Agbonlahor) in the left and central attacking midfield roles.
This is interesting to note because one major shortcoming in Bent’s game is his previous inability to create goals for teammates. While this is a small sample it appears that he is going to be in a better position to turn provider this season having already earned an assist, which is 1 more than he had in all of 2008-09. In short, Bent’s unique skill set and work ethic make him a nice fit for any team, but particularly for the type of offense that Alex McLeish has used in the initial two EPL fixtures of 2011-12. Though this attack hinges on the willingness of two forwards to adapt to a new role, and subjugate their own scoring to create chances to be taken by Bent, it appears to work, at least against weaker defenses. If AVFC are able to get Bent 3-4 shots on goal per game they would be all but guaranteed a goal a match and this offense looks to both supply him with chances and use his presence to create space for the wingers. Given his track record it is fair to think that this season, in a lineup that is custom built to provide him opportunity, coupled with his own improved aerial ability and lethal finishing touch, Bent will challenge his personal best total of 24 EPL goals from 2009-10.