In recent weeks Aston Villa manager Steve Bruce has come under increasing pressure from the Villa fans especially given that his main critics may have thought, or had hoped, he be replaced by Brentfords Dean Smith or more optimisticly former Arsenal and Barcelona striker Thierry Henry to name but two names linked with Bruce’s job.
However new owners Nassef Sawiris and Wes Edens didnt see it that way and decided that Bruce was the man to try once more to get Villa back into the Premier League after last seasons last ditch failure against Fulham in the play off final at Wembley.
So he can do it again right?
Well for us Villa fans its not looked so likely this season, so far.
First things first it shouldn’t be underestimated the impact the loanees who have not returned to Villa Park have affected the squad and Bruce’s planning.
Snodgrass returned to West Ham and has been playing regularly for the Hammers this season. John Terry has not returned for a second year and no matter how hard the club have tried it has been made clear to the former Chelsea captain that should he sign a short term contract he would not be returning on the same wages and terms as he was the year before mainly due to Villa’s on going financial issues but also this being the last year Villa will receive any parachute payments. Sam Johnstone, much to the annoyance that he could easily have stayed with Villa for another year, went to a promotion rival in West Brom, Lewis Grabban went on to pastures new and Josh Onomah returned to Spurs.
So blaming a squad lacking the quality of last year from a squad that mainly Bruce himself has built since being appointed in October 2016 is not the kind of thing fans want to hear. Neither is ‘the results will come’ or ‘the players are working hard’ or even ‘we are a big club and know where we should be’ or the most presumtious of them all, ‘we will be there and there abouts at the end of the season’, how can he be so sure? See @Myoldmansaid on Twitter for his amusing quotes for ‘Brucie Bingo’.
But the main issue that seems to get the fans up in arms, including me, is the consistency in playing some players out of position.
The benefit of being involved in football on a daily basis, especially doing tactical analysis and data work is being able to see certain things that some others may not. Tactically speaking. On the other hand what we have seen this season its pretty clear to everyone what has been the issues with team selection.
We were all thinking to ourselves that after last year we should at least be challenging for the playoffs even should we lose Snodgrass and Terry. And now given that Villa have aquired the loan signings of Chelsea striker Tammy Abraham who scored 26 goals for Bristol City the last time he played in the Championship and Yannick Bolasie Evertons long term injury returnee, Villa really should be aiming for the play offs and maybe beyond.
Bruce has a 45% win at Villa, more than anywhere else in his managerial career it should be noted.
Players out of positions
We are all familiar with Mile Jedinak being played in the centre half position alongside the ridiculous decision to let an orthadox centre back Tommy Elphick go out on loan. But other shapes and systems have been employed over the previous weeks and I wrote a post detailing what should be done a while back regarding what would be best given the squad Bruce has.
Tuanzebe constantly out at right back (he is a centre half), El Mohamady is not a right back, Grealish isnt suited out on the left and when playing centrally he has had his best games for Villa. I could go on of course but I think we all get my drift. And this is what fans just dont get about team selection and if the average fan can see its not working why cant Bruce?
I have advocated both of the shapes above in the past as i truly believe this is the best Bruce can get out of what Villa have, yes i know its three at the back but Bruce used it in pre season and then totally abandoned it when the league campaign started without any real reason as it did seem to work ok. Granted Jedinak is still one of those three centre backs but…well it is what it is.
Now i know that Bolasie and El Ghazi arent wing backs but if the team want to start going at their opponents from the off the 3-1-4-2 is probably the way to go. Whelan or Bjarnason will screen the back four and this shape also gets the best out of Grealish which is vital.
Of course Bruce has so many options and with Hourihane playing well he has another issue in selecting a competent but attacking midfield.
I feel like im starting to repeat myself. I would still like to see the diamond above against a lesser team (if their is such a thing) just to see how it could work. To be honest, its a stretch I know and the personnel have to be spot on but at least we have defenders in the corrct positions and two centre forwards plus a decent midfield with options to go to a 4-4-2 when defending.
Slow and sidways would be how I would describe the performance against Bristol City on Friday. As my pass map shows their was very little passing between players and the focus seemed to be get the ball up to Abraham and see what happens.
Grealish, Abraham and Kodija are shown as central here but this means the three players movement could have been across the front line especially Grealish and Kodija but overall it just didnt work did it?!
Tuanzebe isnt a ambitious full back at all and simply gave the ball to Hourihane in midfield. A full back should be an attacking option. Period.
Their was no width as Bruce abandoned the 4-1-4-1 that had seen Grealish produce his best form in previous games especially last season.
Against Sheffield Wednesday although ending up being beat 1-2 Bruce nearly got this right with one exception. Four at the back. Or the player selection of that back four (have a game of Brucie Bingo im not going there again)
At home Villa should be the dominant, attacking side and the 3-1-4-2 is the way to go given the players available for that game. This 4-4-2 is disjointed and looks nothing like a 4-4-2 should look like in any game let alone when playing at home. Fans want to see ambition and see their team put on an attacking performance especially at home but this doesnt seem to happening at the moment.
These pass maps are critical in showing the lack of tactical shape in a game and I wonder how or what some players are being told to play and what their specific roles are in a game.
Villa’s xG was 2.37 in the Wednesday game meaning they had chances that warranted at least 2 goals but again they fell short. Goals win games and Villa arent scoring enough.
However long Steve Bruce remains in charge Villa fans can expect multiple shape changes and personnel in various positions and its such a shame that this is the case as their are at least 2 other set ups that would suit the squad Bruce has and thats apart from the ones mentioned above.
The indecisiveness of team selection and playing players out of position smacks of a little desperation and not knowing what is the best shape let alone the best starting eleven is worrying even at this early stage.
A new director of football has been appointed so we may see some changes now that the position has been filled and with Preston coming to Villa Park tonight I cant help but feel Bruce is on thin ice with the fans anyway so 3 points is more than a must.