“The first half was as good as we’ve played in the two years I have been here”- Steve Bruce after the 2-2 draw with Brentford
I would have to agree with Steve Bruce for the most part. Villa looked up for it from the off with a high pressing game and regaining possession in good areas in the Brentford final third. For the best part of 70 minutes, and although conceding the opening goal, there wasnt a moment went by that i didnt think Villa wouldnt come away with the 3 points.
A sloppy goal from Brentford’s Maupay didn’t stem the flow of wave after wave of Aston Villa attacks and Jonathan Kodija levelled the game just before half time. So what went so wrong that Villa ended up having to fight for a point in a game that they were on top of for the majority?
Team selection and formation
Bruce knew that Dean Smith’s team like to keep hold of the ball and use quick, intricate one touch passing in the final third and the selection of the solid Glenn Whelan in the centre of midfield was more than justified but also Whelan was the perfect foil for John McGinn, when in an attacking phase, alongside him.
Jack Grealish again playing in the no. 10 position behind a rejuvenated Jonathan Kodija.
A recent backlash against the choice of Mile Jedinak at centre back hadn’t deterred Steve Bruce again selecting the Australian ahead of Tommy Elphick, more on that later.
Aston Villa v Brentford Highlights
Pressure from the off
It was good to finally see Villa really put pressure on the opposition from the very start of the game with Adomah, Grealish, Kodija and El Mohamady pressing in unison across the front line but noticeably Villa pressed aggressively in wide areas backed up by Hutton and Tuanzebe at full back. McGinn stayed within 5 yards of Brentford’s McEacharan just in front of Whelan in the central areas.
This positioning shown in the graphic below also allowed….
…what is shown in the next graphic to happen in the attacking transitions.
Winning the ball as high as possible allowed the likes of Adomah, Grealish and, in part, McGinn to play in dangerous areas around the box. Balls out to Adomah and El Mohamady out wide, whos delivery is getting better, ended with some good crosses into the box (Villa are the highest crosses of the ball in the Championship with 113). Grealish also tried to dribble his way through various avenues in what was basically a free role for him.
The main issue i noticed was that although Villa got in to some excellent positions overall the ball wasnt moved on quick enough and attacks broke down when gaps to exploit were there.
Exploiting the overload
A fair bit of Villa’s attacking play came down the left hand side with Hutton and Adomah combining well especially when Grealish helped to create an overload and the three were able to combine and get Adomah into the box and into some good chance creating positions.
The importance of Grealish & McGinn
It proably went unnoticed that John McGinn and Glenn Whelan had a very good understanding in the centre of midfield. Both played in a double pivot set up with McGinn doing most, if not all , the creative work and in doing so he was able to find Grealish and Adomah in areas between the lines on the left hand side (he needs to do this for the right hand side as much as the left but will have incentive to do this when Bolasie comes into the team) whilst Whelan was happy to sit and screen Chester and Jedinak even when Villa were attacking, Whelan isnt getting any younger but some fans massively underestimate his contribution in the team and his experience will be needed against teams like Leeds United for example who are playing their football on the edge of their opponents 18 yard box.
The importance of the final third
Both Grealish and Kodija had decent games for Villa in the final third and to an extent as did Adomah and El Mohamady but in the graphic below McGinn was on the periphery and id like to see him push up that bit further to influence the game even more.
“Im fully fit, confident and the team is confident with me”- Kodija post Brentford
Having started the season well Jonathan Kodija again played a pivotal role in the draw against Brentford by scoring a brace.
Kodija had a slow start to the game but grew into it as it wore on scoring a wonderful self made goal riffling home a powerful shot after wriggling free of his marker just before half time and then heading past Brentford keeper Bentley deep into added time in the second half to secure a point.
Kodija had done his upmost to hold the ball up dropping deep to make himself available as shown below. A criticism of Kodija is that he doesnt always release the ball when he should do and lay it off to team mates who could progress a move further and then getting into the box himself, evident in patches in this game as well. But in scoring two goals he can be forgiven of course.
The centre back conundrum
Like many i cannot get my head round why Bruce persists with Mile Jedinak at centre back when Tommy Elphick did his chances no harm in the opening game win at Hull City.
Against Brentford Jedinak continually stepped up to engage Brentford striker Maupay just short of the halfway line as shown below. This shouldn’t have been an issue but Brentford have the players in Canos and Watkins either side of Maupay to punish defences and so it proved with Chester having to try to cover his defensive partner on numerous occasions after Jedinak mistimes or misjudges a tackle. This was a concern due to Villa pressing high up the pitch including the full backs and so leaving Chester and Jedinak without cover where Watkins and Canos were operating.
In my opinion Jedinak is the weak link in the starting eleven and needs to be addressed if Villa are to challenge once again for promotion.
I often worry my articles drag on a bit but their was plenty to get stuck into post Brentford and i hope i have answered some of the questions some of you might have had, its food for thought if nothing else.
Thanks for reading!