By Richard Wakefield
A crushing 1-0 defeat to Ipswich Town put an end to Aston Villa’s unbeaten home form, their only saving grace this season. The next visitors, Barnsley will definitely fancy themselves to serve up another Villa Park defeat for Steve Bruce’s men.
Steve Bruce has hinted at a change of formation or tactics but some fans have begun to turn on the manager already and are beginning to give a vote of no confidence. Barnsley manager Paul Heckingbottom lost a lot of key players in the January transfer window; that has not stopped the Tykes as they have only lost once in their last five which includes three clean sheets.
A change of tactics or personnel is definitely needed after the abject performance at Villa Park on Saturday. The promotion hopes have certainly died, but that doesn’t mean that the season is over. Villa have to start looking over their shoulder to make sure that the Championship drop zone doesn’t sneak up on them, and three points here, would certainly dispel any fears.
Here’s three ways of making it happen…
Since his stunning strike against Brentford many months ago, Jonathan Kodjia has been the shining star in a pretty dull season. His vital goals have kept Villa not only afloat in the Championship, but he even kept many Villa fans hoping that promotion was a potential outcome for the season.
January has passed and new signing Scott Hogan has been brought in to share the workload. Last week, this column suggested that for this forward pair to work, Kodjia needs to learn to be less selfish. Unfortunately, against Ipswich, this sentiment seemed to fall on deaf ears.
From the start, Kodjia took a long range effort which missed the target by quite a long way instead of taking his time and looking for a pass. This trend carried on through the game which left Hogan having to feed off scraps, ultimately keeping him out of the game.
Jonathan Kodjia’s talent is undeniable and Villa are lucky to have him, but having a strike partner is not working at the moment and Villa desperately need points. If Kodjia is unwilling to adapt to accommodate Hogan by his side, it would be real shame if yet another game passed by where Hogan couldn’t get hold of the ball.
A rethink on Kodjia’s role is perhaps needed? Or will having more game time together be the answer?
Taking the Positives
The start to 2017 has been dreadful and the fans’ reaction has definitely been anything but positive. Despite zero points being returned from the last two matches, Villa definitely had their chances to take all three in both games. The many missed opportunities came from set pieces, which should make a lightbulb go off inside Bruce’s head.
Barnsley’s whole team severely lacks height, and even their centre-backs Marc Roberts and Angus McDonald are both only 6’0″, so this is an area that can be exploited.
The deliveries of Ashley Westwood are far behind us and hopefully the men and women at Villa Park will never have to see a corner hit the first man again.
Henri Lansbury and Conor Hourihane on set pieces has already looked infinitely more promising than Villa’s set piece takers from previous years. All these factors combining together will surely be able to break a tough Barnsley defence who have kept two clean sheets in their last two games.
Hopefully set plays have been worked on specifically to take advantage Barnsley’s shortfalls.
The last two outings for Villa have both finished in narrow defeats. These two matches against Forest and Ipswich saw Bruce implement a 3-5-2 formation, which ended up playing as a 5-3-2. This experiment has been the scapegoat, as it was blamed as the main reason the three points were not picked up in the last two matches.
However, this column thinks that the formation has laid the foundation for the winning formula. Villa only conceded to Ipswich due to an individual error from Tommy Elphick which was also the case for Nottingham Forest’s opening goal due to Sam Johnstone’s spill.
The problem isn’t with the formation, it’s with Bruce’s attacking philosophy.
Many chances were squandered in both matches but a lot of them were from set pieces. From open play, Villa are very lacklustre in front of goal, and this is because of the negative use of the full-backs. Hutton and Taylor may be good defensively, but this formation is begging for some attacking runs which players like Bacuna, Bree and Amavi can bring.
Also, dropping one of the two strikers could lead to playing a front three like Green, Hogan and Adomah, for example. A similar model to Antonio Conte’s Chelsea, having so much influence on the wings stretching the play at Villa Park would be too much for the Tykes to handle.
However, Bruce favours two up top, so it’s unlikely to happen and it wouldn’t be easy to drop either Hogan or Kodjia.
Whether Villa play with one or two strikers, Bruce must address the team’s lack of fluid and effective attacking intent.