Since Steve Bruce was installed as Villa manager the team’s fortunes have improved dramatically from the start of their campaign in the Championship. This is despite the fact that he’s been stuck with what he inherited (albeit £50m+ of new players), without the luxury of a transfer window. The performances, and goals, have been a particular highlight but it’s another factor that Bruce’s Villa success has been based on to date, even after a disappointing result at Leeds…
Looking at the Villa squad it’s fair to say that the front line is not where the squad is thinnest (No, that’s not a joke about Gabby). That said, Di Matteo’s top heavy line ups failed to get the best out of our attacking prospects.
Steve Bruce has crafted a more efficient attacking unit, but the key to this has not been recruiting new players or front loading the team. Scoring several goals is just plugging holes if you’re leaking them at the back. However, if you don’t concede than even one goal can mean taking a full haul of points. It sounds overly simple but it’s something that wasn’t happening at the club. Bruce has built his early days at Villa on this principal.
We’ve seen better returns up front but one could argue that the new mans biggest failure to date has been failing to get Ross McCormack firing. When it comes to strikers it’s only really Kodjia who is on form. The formula to Villa’s rise has been built on a solid foundation, starting from the back.
What became clear early in the season is that goals conceded can have a much more detrimental affect to confidence than scoring once per game. Clean sheets breed confidence and everything else the team does becomes more efficient, be that possession or goals.
Doing The Dirty Work
Kodjia and Adomah have been getting the plaudits for their flair and goals but it is the back four who have shown the most improvement and built the platform for the aforementioned’s scene stealing. In addition to providing the solidity for front players to do their stuff the defence has papered over many of the cracks in the middle of the park.
Our midfield has struggled to impact games much this term, despite Jedinak finally shaking off the rust in recent weeks. Villa have mostly stayed tight at the back even when errors have been rife in front of them. With a weak spine in midfield the back four must carry an extra burden of pressure and they have acquitted themselves well.
Bruce made a big call not recalling the captain Tommy Elphick when he was available again but since replacing the initially disappointing Elphick, Nathan Baker has shown arguable his best spell of form in a Villa shirt. Injury inevitably struck and hopefully Baker can return soon.
Dropping Elphick also sent a message that nobody gets in the team on reputation, and challenges players to earn their place. The competition for roles in central defence is a luxury that shows the team has come a long way from playing the best two of a bad bunch as it was not too long ago.
Jordan Amavi has also benefited from Bruce’s tuition and it has been his defensive traits, not his attacking ones, that have been key in more positive results over the last couple of weeks. The forwards may be stealing the limelight but Villa’s defence has been putting in some under the radar star performances.
Against Leeds it was only later in the game when the team had to push forward that the home team snatched goals, and had Adomah scored his glorious chance than it could have been a very different game. In general the late late collapses are gone, and that is a relief to me and my nerves.
The best Villa teams I’ve seen have all been built upon a solid back line. We may not have a McGrath, Laursen, Teale, or Mellberg right now but Villa are finding their feet again thanks to resilient defensive work. Our back line are hardly world beaters, but they damn sure look better than before the arrival of the ex-Hull City boss.
Safety and Improvement
By focusing on organisation over individual reputations, and breeding competition within the squad Bruce has transformed our fortunes. Nowhere is that more true than in defensive departments. Thanks to this our forward players are reaping the benefits, goals are leading to wins. Changing personnel no longer necessarily means weakening the team.
The timing of this claim may seem strange after Aston Villa surrendered the points to Leeds but looking at the bigger picture, this Villa looks much more solid that the one that was humiliated by the likes of Luton just a few months ago.
With January comes further chances to strengthen the squad. Some defensive recruits are a must. However, the foundations that Bruce is building at the back mean that rather than panic buying Villa can put new additions into an already functioning squad instead. More importantly, the lack of necessity for a complete defensive overhaul means that Bruce can focus on improving in more important places (ahem…midfield please).
There have been, and will be hiccups along the way (Leeds) but it’s upon a solid defence that Bruce will build our new squad. So far, for the better, he’s turned Villa’s fortunes back to front, starting at the back.
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