Opinion

The Big Depth Problem Plaguing Aston Villa’s Midfield

Aston Villa currently have 13 midfielders in their senior squad – including wingers. This means key dressing room figures and youth prospects could both miss out on game time.
                 Words by Mark Jirobe   (@VillaMarkPGH)

Steve Bruce has enough on his plate at the moment trying to tie up late transfers/loans for Aston Villa. Not many would take that abnormally hot seat, especially when you think about the players he has at his disposal on a week-in and week-out basis. It is no secret that Villa has lost a ton of its loan-depth after not gaining promotion last season through the playoffs. But, the one area of the field that seems to have depth to the point of boiling over is the midfield.

As of now Aston Villa have the following players available for midfield duties (counting the flanks):

Albert Adomah, Henri Lansbury, Glenn Whelan, Andre Green, Conor Hourihane, Aaron Tshibola, Jack Grealish, Birkir Bjarnason, Mile Jedinak, Gary Gardner, Jake Doyle-Hayes, Jordan Lyden and Callum O’Hare.

Thirteen players that all have a little something about them. Thirteen players whom the Aston Villa faithful have loved, adored, not thought much of, hated, slated and wished away at differing moments of their Villa career. It seems almost like thirteen midfielders is a bit of overkill, no matter what squad or club they would belong to.

Figuring that the the likes of Tshibola, Gardner and Lyden probably won’t be getting much of a look from Villa manager Steve Bruce, there are questions abound of who exactly will feature in the midfield this coming season.

Bruce has utilised a 3-5-2 formation throughout most of preseason, seeing able wide-men like Albert Adomah and Andre Green playing a smattering of wing-back. But, if Bruce sticks to his guns and actually utilizes a 3-5-2 formation, which midfielders would prosper in the middle of the park?

Obviously Jack Grealish will be the first name on the team sheet. Grealish was also seen in pre-season playing in a little bit of a different position. He was almost playing as a “shadow striker” behind, and even next to Jonathan Kodjia and he looked to fancy it greatly. Since returning from his freak kidney injury last season, Grealish has found an ability to sniff out spaces on the pitch, even if they may draw him away from his position.

“Super Jack” does not mind having to track back defensively, or sliding back into the midfield area to create a passing outlet for his teammates. This is a sign of a hungry footballer, and something that most opponents of Aston Villa were not prepared to deal with last year. “If you can’t stop him, foul him” became the mantra for many teams that were tasked with containing Grealish. It showed statistically as well, as Grealish was one of the most fouled players in the Championship last term.

Glenn Whelan may have been a whipping post for some Villa supporters last season, but he did a fine job doing what he does best. There is no guile or trickery in the Irishman’s game. Whelan still possesses stamina and grit at his age and could very well be in Steve Bruce’s thoughts as the more defensive-minded midfielder in the new 3-5-2 formation, should Bruce decide to employ it.

Mile Jedinak is also an ageing defensive-minded midfielder who could do a job in the middle of the park with his strength, heading ability, tactical reading of the game and vocal leadership abilities. Not to say that Whelan and Jedinak are the exact same player, but they are very similar.

Everyone remembers the blazing season that Conor Hourihane had last season. Hourihane made 39 total appearances and scored eleven goals. Many Villa supporters still remember that goal against Birmingham City and all of them will illuminate with a cheeky smile if you ask them about it. Hourihane is set-up to have another good season for Aston Villa if he continues to push himself on the pitch. Hourihane showed off his passing ability throughout the entirety of last season and proved he can bang in a few goals along the way as well.

This spells trouble for one Henri Lansbury. While Lansbury has demonstrated a will and engine when he does see playing time, he was not utilised often by Steve Bruce last season. Lansbury only featured for Aston Villa on nine occasions last season and only played a full 90 minutes in two of those games.

Birkir Bjarnason is a very peculiar case for Steve Bruce this season. Coming off of a decent World Cup showing with Iceland, Claret & Blue supporters just might see more of the man they call “Thor” in the upcoming campaign.

When the bone meets the marrow, Bjarnason needs to be playing more at Aston Villa. He demonstrates an ability to hunt down the ball unlike anyone else in the Aston Villa squad. Bjarnason can be a real menace when played in a more defensive role as we saw last season when his number was called. We all also witnessed that Bjarnason can very well put the ball in the back of the net in situations where even the most grizzled football fan wouldn’t see coming.

I mean, do you remember the goal against Wolverhampton Wanderers? I still believe if any household-name player scored a goal like that, it would have been viral within minutes.

 

As far as youth candidates go, Jake Doyle-Hayes could be a dark-horse of sorts this coming season if we see a mass of injuries or lessening form by any of the aforementioned players. The 19 year old has a great first-touch, showcasing it at large during preseason. Doyle-Hayes may very well be a few years away from really snatching at a first-team chance, but it wouldn’t be outside of the realm of possibility to see him on the bench for Aston Villa at certain times this year.

Callum O’Hare has been the name that most supporters would like to see blooded into the first team and for good reason. At the moment, O’Hare is out with knee ligament damage, but is supposedly recovering well from the injury. When he does return to full fitness, the chants for the 20 year old’s inclusion will once again be heard all across Birmingham.

With such a massive crop of players to choose from for the middle of the pitch, Steve Bruce really has a lot to think about. We could even see one or two of fringe midfielders moved on for the solidity of squad rotation. None of us want to see the youth players get left behind, just as none of us want to see players like Bjarnason and Jedinak waste away on the bench or outside of the first-team looking in. There are some hefty decisions to be made by the Aston Villa coaching staff. Let us all hope they get it right and Villa has a massive season ahead.

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