JONATHAN Kodjia breezed into Villa Park and has been an instant success – yet question marks remain as to where to play him: out wide or up top.
Seven goals in 14 games, a player of the month gong and becoming a firm favourite among supporters and teammates alike. What’s not to love?
Well, frustration has been brewing ever since Roberto Di Matteo ushered his star buy out wide against Brentford on a warm Wednesday evening back in September.
And, despite scoring a scorcher after cutting in, Kodjia, that day, basically played the whole game as a wing-back to accommodate both Ross McCormack and Rudy Gestede.
Kodjia was oh so deep that day and the vast majority inside Villa Park were bemoaning that he was playing on the toes of both full-backs, Richie de Laet and Aly Cissokho.
Fast-forward two months and the same is happening again: Kodjia’s having to make way for other frontmen. Even Gabby Agbonlahor infamously got the nod to play centrally against Brighton with Kodjia out wide again.
The Ivory Coast international, meanwhile, did start this campaign for former club Bristol out wide having to play second fiddle to their on-loan starlet Tammy Abraham. Four games later, though, Kodjia was in Villa colours.
In his 14 outings in claret and blue to date, the 27-year-old has started out wide on six occasions compared to eight as the lone frontman. A bit of a mishmash yet, to his credit, he is still providing the goods having bagged a goal in every other game.
MOMS, though, asks the following question: what would Kodjia’s tally be if he played centrally a lot more than he currently is?
He’s a great technician, is Kodjia, whether it’s clutching the ball from mid-air out wide before taking his man on or upending a full-back before firing in a cross or shot. It would just make a lot more sense to do his damage in and around the six-yard box and to give centre-halves a torrid time of it further up the field.
Opposing teams, for example, must be relieved somewhat to see Kodjia – Villa’s top scorer – out on the wing. Garry Monk’s eyes would have lit up prior to kick-off last weekend. Try and keep him quiet out wide and that defuses one of their biggest threats, he must have thought.
And that was the biggest bugbear for Villa supports watching on from Elland Road: why play our main man out wide again?
It was clear to see that Bruce plumped for having a bigger presence up top away from home, with Leeds’ duo of Kyle Bartley and Pontus Jansson being big lads. But for what Kodjia lacks in physicality Gestede seriously lacks in quality – the one key ingredient that was missing in the final third against Monk’s men.
And Bruce, like RDM before him, is yet to grasp his best attacking formula. Some might say the Championship is horses for courses but if you look at those promoted last season – Hull, Burnley and Middlesbrough – all three built their success having formed a strong and formidable understanding in attack.
Abel Hernandez (20), Andre Gray (25) and Jordan Rhodes (16) bagged more than 60 goals between them. All three played centrally and were never deployed out wide to make way for others.
However, do Bruce’s problems lie within his ever-so expensive and top-heavy squad?
Albert Adomah is arguably the club’s only out-and-out winger, while Jordan Ayew and Jack Grealish are more No.10’s than they are wide men. Ross McCormack, meanwhile, is neither here or there at the minute but the Scot is more than capable of coming in to play a part – something he’ll have to do in January when Kodjia departs for Gabon 2017.
Villa’s most potent prong, though, if they want to get Kodjia firing during the festive period, would be Ayew, Grealish and Adomah operating as the supporting cast behind the ex-Bristol City man, who last year had a playmaker similar to Grealish floating in and around him in Lee Tomlin.
Kodjia did partner either Kieran Agard or Aaron Wilbraham in a two-man frontline during the first half of last season. City, though, managed just four wins from August to December before changing tact to introduce Tomlin, a No.10 in every sense. As a result, Bristol kicked on and won nine games during the same period with Kodjia notching 12 times to keep The Robins singing.
And to keep the Villa faithful singing Bruce needs to bounce back and get the best out of his prized asset and play him where he’s at his deadliest best.
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