Aston Villa Right-Back Options
While Aston Villa’s squad has a very different look to it this season, apart from Brad Guzan remaining between the sticks, there is one position that presents a very similar problem for Tim Sherwood, as it did Villa managers before him.
I’m of course referring to right-back situation. In the summer, for better or for worse Matthew Lowton left Villa Park. His talents divided the opinions of some fans (except of course for THAT goal against Stoke). But one thing is for sure, Lowton is not alone in the category of Villa right-backs who divide opinion. Step forward Leandro Bacuna and Alan Hutton.
Much like most of last season the mantle of first team right-back seems to be a straight fight between these two. The two men offer a very different set of skills and both are most likely doomed to be divisive figures among the fans but the question remains, who should be Aston Villa’s first choice right back? Let’s weigh up the pros and cons of each player.
Leandro Bacuna has seen more football than Hutton since the arrival of Tim Sherwood. The manager has tended to prefer Leandro Bacuna at right-back and there are certainly arguments for choosing the Dutchman.
The former Groningen player was initially brought in to play further forward and he has pitched in with goals from free kicks but he has seen most of his action for Aston Villa as an adapted right-back who can add support to attacks.
Bacuna has adapted relatively well to his role as a right-back who likes to get forward and his set piece ability is an upgrade on some other players in the squad. His versatility does seem to be a bit of a curse for him though. He has done well at right-back, but isn’t by any means a natural in the position and recent performances further up the pitch suggest that he seems to have lost some midfield qualities that may have merited him a place further forward.
Despite possessing a decent recovery speed, the fact remains that Bacuna’s tendency to drift forward meant that he has to recover all to often. When he is in position he has done well and deserves credit but there are times when games against tricky opposition seem too much for him, the recent game against Leicester being a clear example.
The man who replaced Bacuna against the Foxes was Alan Hutton. To say he’s had a rollercoaster of a Villa career seems an understatement. Hutton arrived under fellow Scotsman Alex McLeish and wasn’t the most popular of figures. After a change of management he was demoted to the bomb squad, and following several loan spells at other clubs, his time in claret and blue was seemingly over.
Eventually changes in approach from the club’s hierarchy gave Hutton a second chance and to his credit he got his head down and took it with no complaints. At the start of the 2014/15 season Hutton stood out as arguably Villa’s best performer for the opening months. The Scottish international had a reputation for being a bit of a hard man but he has been disciplined for the majority of his time at the club, although he does like an occasional yellow card.
Hutton likes to get forward up the wing to support the attack and on his day can put in some decent crosses. More importantly he adds physicality and height to the team and is a natural right-back, unlike Bacuna.
Hutton’s selection against WBA and Stoke, after his introduction in place of Bacuna vs Leicester, may point to a swing in his favour.
While Sherwood’s right-back selection to date has been between the two aforementioned players there are other options.
Micah Richards spent some of his best years as a right-back at Manchester City and could excel there, but it is clear that he was brought to the club as a centre-back and he has done relatively well in that role although there are some habits he needs to address. He will likely remain there for the foreseeable future although serious consideration should be given to an eventual switch to the right.
To remain in the middle Richards will need to act more like a centre-back and control his seemingly constant urge to sprint forward out of position both with and in search of the ball. While in general Richards had been solid, and his pace allows him to recover fast, there has been evidence of the problems caused by his forays out of position and also the habit he has of being drawn to the ball and losing the player he’s marking on his blind side. It has led to goals in preseason games against Wolves and Nottingham Forest, and in the league against West Brom and Leicester. Plus, as captain, what happened with the partying of the defence against Stoke City?
While Sherwood brought the former Man City full back in as a centre-back, it’s hard to argue against a back four of Richards, Okore, Clark and Amavi once Okore returns to fitness.
This would also settle the dispute about right-backs with ease. Mixed opinions on Bacuna and Hutton are one thing, but when Richards is added to the mix he wins hands down.
Jose Angel Crespo & Tiago Ilori
The assumption has been that Jose Angel Crespo has been brought in as versatile full-back cover but the Villa scouts must have seen something promising to bring him to the club.
But with all due respect, relying on a Premier League first timer, whose team got relegated last season hardly inspires huge levels of confidence. Crespo got his chance to stake a claim against Stoke in a back five, and interestingly it was Lescott that was ditched instead of him, when Sherwood switched to a back four in the second half against Stoke.
It’ll be interesting to see if Crespo makes another Villa start soon with the return to fitness of Okore and Clark after the international break. At least he’ll add to the competition for places.
The same curiosity surrounds the loaning of Liverpool’s Tiago Ilori, who is yet to make a start for his mother club. Again, like Crespo he comes with the ‘versatile defender’ tag. Will Ilori really get a chance in a club that is struggling against relegation? It seems unlikely.
Both Bacuna and Hutton are likely to get game time this season and the fact that Bacuna recently signed a new deal proves that he has a future under Sherwood, although it may simply be as a squad utility man.
Bacuna does add something from set pieces but not regularly enough to warrant an automatic starting role. Hutton, one suspects, would be allowed leave next year should an offer come in, but in my opinion he is the best choice for the role at the moment. He is a defender by trade and not by adaptation and he adds a physical element to the line-up.
Bacuna gets caught out of position and runs himself into trouble a bit too often for my liking. Alan Hutton (of who I was admittedly once the biggest critic) is a no nonsense type of defender, and there has been far too much nonsense in Villa’s defense in recent times.
Hutton is by no means a long-term solution, that would be the buying of a new and better right-back.Until a new recruit comes in, or Sherwood realizes that Richards may be more useful to the team at right-back, there is a choice to make. Tim Sherwood once claimed that he likes his attackers to attack and his defenders to defend, and as such Hutton is the better option as a defender, although expect to see him getting up the wings to join in when needed.
Villa have chopped and changed with full backs over the last few seasons and the back line is now in need of stability. Tim Sherwood must evaluate his options and realize what is best for the team or despite all his squad rebuilding, Villa may end up right back where they started.
Who do you think is Villa’s best bet at right-back?
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