After their poor start, Ipswich Town would be the perfect opportunity for Steve Bruce to trial new tactical options involving a midfield pairing of Conor Hourihane, John McGinn and Jack Grealish.
Words by Regan Foy (@FindFoy)
Aston Villa’s first home game of the season against Wigan saw Conor Hourihane dropped by Steve Bruce, and replaced by new signing John McGinn, who impressed and was considered Man of the Match by many.
Conor Hourihane, however, did not take his dropping lightly. Within just three minutes of being on the pitch, the Irish midfielder played a teasing ball towards the back post, where his Icelandic team-mate Birkir Bjarnason was rushing to meet it – burying it into the back of the net and gifting Aston Villa with a last minute winner.
In the cup against Yeovil, Hourihane didn’t have the best of games – but he did score the game’s ‘only’ goal, putting Aston Villa through to the second round, and putting himself back in line for a re-appearance into the first eleven.
The 27-year-old has managed two assists so far in 93 minutes of Championship football, and came out of the 2017/18 season holding the title of Aston Villa’s highest scoring midfielder since David Platt.
Whilst the vast majority of Aston Villa games under Steve Bruce have involved a defensive midfielder, usually Mile Jedinak, Glenn Whelan or Birkir Bjarnason, it’s surely time to look at a midfield triplet of Conor Hourihane, Jack Grealish and John McGinn.
The formation could quite easily involve a defensive midfielder, but Steve Bruce would have to forgo the use of wingers to do so. This wouldn’t be the end of the world, with Andre Green able to play more centrally and Albert Adomah looking a few miles away from the player he was last season.
If we take a look at how it could work, you’d start with the defensive midfielder. In reality, with such a dynamic midfield as mentioned above, this player would have to be Mile Jedinak – providing strength, height and a bit of jagged roughness to the side.
In front of Jedinak, you’d play McGinn and Hourihane, who’d act somewhat as a ‘Mezzala’, if you want to use the fancy term. This role provides more of an attacking flavour on the game, with these players occupying the space left by the vacant wingers, as well as a central role. These players have license to break forward and impact the play, but require discipline as they’d be limited to the area of the pitch they’d play in.
This is where Jack Grealish comes in, playing in the central area of the midfield three. Grealish would be able to press forward and support the striker – who in this case is Jonathan Kodjia – as well as support his midfield team mates if they decide to have a greater impact on the attacking aspects of the game.
With a lot of creativity, and goals in all of them, it’d surely make for an exciting game – and out-of-form Ipswich is the perfect place to trial something like this. The Tractor Boys have lost their season’s first three games, with two losses coming against newly promoted opposition, and the other against minnows Exeter in the Carabao Cup.
And whilst they’re all attacking prospects, they all put in a shift defensively too.
If Steve Bruce was to decide to not use a defensive midfielder, then he could always use Birkir Bjarnason in the Mezzala role, let John McGinn play the central role in the three in his favoured Box-to-Box midfielder role, and give Jack Grealish a more attacking role playing just off the striker.
It’s unlikely that Steve Bruce will make such glaring tactical changes after a start that has seen Aston Villa gain three wins from three, but if he should, then there’s an abundance of options that he can use.