Once an Aston Villa afterthought, center back Nathan Baker relishes his chance to prove what he is capable of.
When experienced central defenders Tommy Elphick and James Chester were brought in during the summer transfer window – one could be forgiven if they did not foresee Nathan Baker, of all players, being a near lock in the starting lineup.
It took time, however, coupled with a little bit of injury luck and an outgoing transfer.
Ciaran Clark’s £5 million pound move to Newcastle United proved the Villa brain trust thought Baker had a vital role to play this season.
Baker, now 25, has spent his professional career teetering between the fringes of Aston Villa’s first team and subsequent loan moves.
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While always hunting for more, it took an untimely injury to captain Tommy Elphick for Baker to seize his chance.
So far, Baker is not looking back.
His performances during the last four league matches have been nothing short of spectacular – with WhoScored ratings of 7+ in three out of the four matches.
This leaves manager Steve Bruce with the unfortunate scenario of leaving his captain to the bench week in and week out. The left-right center back combination of Nathan Baker and James Chester has been lights out for the Claret and Blue.
Since taking over in the first eleven, Aston Villa have conceded four goals in five league matches. The culminating eleven points catapulted Villa up the Championship table.
The next question on many supporters’ minds: is this form sustainable? Is Nathan Baker a part of the future, or is it simply a good run-of-form in which an extended sample size will reveal his true ability?
Perhaps a mixture of the former and the latter.
Nathan Baker’s style of play is a very throwback form of football defending. At six foot three inches tall, he is a no-nonsense center back. The knock on Baker is that he was far too often injured to develop properly and not nearly technical enough to succeed.
Many pundits speculated Baker’s skill set fares much better in the Championship as opposed to the Premier League. So far, this could be true. Last year, Baker’s season-long loan to Bristol City proved he had the ability to excel in the English second division.
This campaign furthers that theory with his impressive displays in shutting down opposing attacks.
Alongside James Chester, Nathan Baker and the entire Villa defense have eased goalkeeper Pierluigi Gollini on the pitch. No longer is Gollini making mistakes that bleed the team desperate points.
For that, Nathan Baker should receive a ton of credit.