Context of Defensive Woe
From the very start of the season Aston Villa have been fire-fighting when it comes to their defensive situation. Of course, Steve Bruce didn’t help matters by sending out one of Villa’s few recognised centre-backs, Tommy Elphick, out on loan at the start of the season. Then came the injuries to Axel Tuanzebe and James Chester that kept Villa’s centre-back situation precarious at best.
Head Coach Dean Smith and the Villa recruitment team reacted well to the problem in the January window. First, Smith rightly called back Elphick from his spell at Hull City. Then Tyrone Mings was drafted in along with Kortney Hause, who could play both left-back and centre-back.
Elphick’s recent injury, reaffirmed the wisdom of getting in Hause along with Mings during the January window, and allowed Villa to weather their latest centre-back injury at a key time. It still could prove to be a move that potentially defines the season.
Mings and Hause as a partnership has provided Villa with three clean sheets during the four-game winning streak.
While Smith has played the loan market well, he is now faced with a bit of headache with the return of Axel Tuanzebe.
Not only is there of the selection dilemma of whether he slots him straight back into the back four – by potentially moving Hause back over to left back, although Neil Taylor has played well in recent games – but Smith also has to contend with the rule on the number of loan players you’re allowed in a match day squad.
“Axel gives me not only a selection headache, but a loan headache. You’re only allowed five in the matchday 18,” confirmed Smith, this week in his in-house interview.
So one of the following Villa loan players will have to miss out:
Anwar El Ghazi
Obviously, Mings and Abrahams are two of the first names on the team sheet, while Hause and El Ghazi have been recent starters.
Tuanzebe’s versatility in being able to cover a number of defensive positions and even act as a defensive midfielder, makes him a good choice to have on the bench, if Smith doesn’t feel he’s quite ready to start yet.
That leaves Tom Carroll, who Smith would have no doubt have liked to have had a better look at during the final games of the season.
Carroll perhaps would be on Smith’s shopping list, if Villa remained in the Championship next season, so he would have liked to have made more of his ‘try before you buy situation’.
On the other hand though, Villa’s squad is looking increasingly strong – Henri Lansbury is also now back in training and Elphick will return in mid-April. So, it looks a different beast from the one that some supporters were dismissing only a month ago.
Smith will no doubt feel with the play-offs now back in sight, that should be the end game and Carroll’s future with Villa will have to take a rain check for now.
Of course, he can always still come into the match day squad, if a loan player gets injured.
The loan selection dilemma is certainly a good thing to have at this stage of the season, as Villa now have the favourable combination of both a healthy squad and the recent momentum of winning form.
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