In the run down towards the Sky Bet Championship Play-Off Semi-Final and afterwards, the writers here at The Claret and View are voting on who they believe deserve a number of awards, including ‘Player of the Season’, ‘Young Player of the Season’ and more.
For our second award, the ‘Most Improved Player of the Season’ award, we whittled down the choices to Alan Hutton, Birkir Bjarnason and Conor Hourihane.
The Icelandic midfielder Birkir Bjarnason finds himself The Claret & View’s Most Improved Player of the Season.
Bjarnason didn’t have an exceptional start to his Aston Villa career by any means. Bjarnason was acquired by Aston Villa from Swiss club FC Basel in late January of 2017. The Icelandic midfielder would be received by Villa supporters with a bit of mystique and intrigue for the new midfielder. Bjarnason would go on to feature 8 times in the remainder of the 16/17 season, not scoring a single goal or an assist. Featuring at left-midfield, he would seem to drift in and out of games but always showed a competitive edge that was admirable.
It wouldn’t be until the current season that Aston Villa fans would see what Bjarnason was truly and definitively made of. Bjarnason scored his first goal for Aston Villa in an EFL Cup clash against Wigan from a wayward Ritchie De Laet cross and tucked the chance firmly into the back of the net. During the 90 minutes, he was incredibly aggressive and even turned a few Claret & Blue supporters heads.
Bjarnason would then be in and out of the starting eleven for a number of months. When he did play, he was used as what was thought to be his most comfortable position of left-midfielder. It was not until the 13th of January 2018 that he was thrust into the role of a central-midfielder against Nottingham Forest as a half-time substitute for an injured Glenn Whelan. Bjarnason made a case on that day that maybe he should be considered to play at central-midfield often after a blazing performance. Every game the new central midfielder would use his aggression and vision to disrupt threats in the middle of the pitch before laying it off to a more offensively minded Villa teammate. While Glenn Whelan had been the defensive cog in the middle of the park, Bjarnason matched Whelans’ prowess and proved he could do it even better when called upon.
Bjarnason has played in the center of the pitch 11 times for Villa this season. Of those 11 matches, Villa have only lost 4 of those contests. With four goals and three assists to his name during the regular season, Bjarnason has proven that he is ready when called upon for Aston Villa in a multitude of ways. No Villa supporter will soon forget the thundering run and goal against Wolverhampton that saw Villa beat their Midlands rivals 4-1. While not the most prolific scorer employed by Villa, he does all of the little things on the field that Aston Villa have been notably missing in years past. Being an absolute menace, pressing the opposition aggressively, intelligent passing and defensive situational awareness are all in the Iceland international players locker. Steve Bruce was quoted this season saying that Bjarnason was like a ‘new signing’ because the gaffer believed he had not seen the best out of him yet.
At The Claret & View, we believe we are just beginning to see the best out of Bjarnason to date at Aston Villa.