Last Resort

It was expected to play out a little like this…

After dropping further points due to his unbalanced defence, Steve Bruce would see the error of his ways and drop Mile Jedinak from centre back. Bringing in the only other legitimate option, Tommy Elphick (or any other centre back he had drafted in during the loan window), until he could draft in an upgrade to his liking.

How it actually played out was the scorer of Aston Villa’s first goal of this season, Elphick, has moved to Hull City on a season-long loan, and Bruce failed to get any replacement over the line in the loan window. In the very next game, Sheffield United walked through Villa’s defence and were 4-0 up after just 49 minutes.

Suddenly the season wasn’t looking so rosy.

With all the transfer windows closed, Villa are now aiming for promotion with only ONE recognised centre back in James Chester in the squad. Normally, a balanced squad has four recognised centre backs.

Tuanzebe Puzzle

So, what has Bruce’s damage limitation plan been?

Well, he has a potential player that could develop into a centre back in Axel Tuanzebe, who certainly has the athleticism and speed to grow into the position. He demonstrated that against Yeovil in the League Cup. A further outing in the position was expected against Burton, but instead Bruce chose to play the Manchester United loanee as a defensive midfielder.

Lets recap a little…

First of all, Bruce loans in another team’s player, who truth be told, doesn’t really improve the Villa first XI. He puts him ahead in the pecking order of James Bree, who he signed outright. The similarly aged Bree plays the same positions as Tuanzebe, and it would benefit Villa more in the long-run for him to get games.

Never mind that though, Bruce then elects to play Tuanzebe in the right-back position, for which Villa already have four legitimate options (Hutton, de Laet, Elmohamady and Bree) in that position. Is he noticeably better than any of them? Not really.

Contrast that to Villa’s woes at left-back…where we’re still desperate for a decent left-footed player in the position.

Back to that Burton game. Why try Tuanzebe out at defensive midfielder, a position that is also well covered? I mean, Villa already have three internationals contesting the position (Whelan, Jedinak and Bjarnason).

What Bruce is doing defensively this season, doesn’t seem to carry much logic to it. Throw in the fact, he himself was one of the best centre backs the Premier League has ever known and it’s even more puzzling

Grudges

Back in 2016, Elphick was considered a solid signing by Roberto Di Matteo, after he had captained Bournemouth to the Championship title playing at centre back. He didn’t have the greatest of starts at Villa – not helped by an unsettled backline and the mistakes of a young keeper. When Steve Bruce came to Villa, to take over from Di Matteo, it was soon evident that he didn’t fancy the centre back he had inherited.

Elphick soldiered on and when John Terry was injured last season, Elphick filled in admirably, well, when he was allowed to.

Even after a man of the match performance, Bruce demonstrated that Elphick was a last resort to him, playing midfielder Mile Jedinak at centre back, despite the Aussie’s lack of mobility and mistakes that cost Villa two points at home to Sheffield United.

Unwanted Elphick was then loaned out.

Failed Defensive Recruitment

Having gone to Reading last season on loan, it was no surprise to see the centre-back looking to another loan out this season, after he was once again dropped in favour of Jedinak.

Bruce’s plan had been to get Le Havre centre back Harold Moukoudi to replace Tommy Elphick in the squad, but the 20-year-old decided to stay in France.

Bruce had doubts about getting it over the line, when he spoke to press before the Sheffield United game.

“Whether it’s the right time to leave France, I think that’s the big complication there,” said Bruce.

“He’s the one we’ve been pursuing but as he’s still young, he feels he will be better in France.”

Villa had also looked at the longer term option of Aberdeen’s 21-year-old centre-back Scott McKenna, but while their offer may have been in the acceptance ballpark, their late bid didn’t give the Dons much time to get a replacement in for one of their prized assets.

Dons manager Derek McInnes has earlier gone on record saying the defender was “too good” for the Championship, when the likes of Swansea City and Hull City were chasing his services.

If the Dons boss knew it wasn’t a good idea to continue into the season weakened in the centre back department, why didn’t Bruce?

Safe Option?

In MOMS opinion, Elphick should have carried on at centre back after the Hull game. Jedinak playing at DM would have kept his aerial strength in the team (if Bruce was so desperate for it) and Villa would have had a much better balance to their backline straight away.

tommy elphick aston villa

Elphick’s morale would have been positive and he would have stuck around. I don’t blame Elphick for wanting to get out of Villa, he was simply trying to save his career, which was being stunted under Bruce.

If Hull aren’t paying Elphick’s full wages (which are top end for this level) – I wouldn’t be surprised – then that would be even more of a disappointment to how this scenario has played out.

Surely having Elphick around was a better option than fumbling around with [failed] attempts at last minute deadline day loans? Sounder ground work could have been done to strengthen in the lead up to January, if Bruce either wanted to upgrade the position or get in more depth.

This is not hindsight, this is common sense.

The same applies to loaning out Jed Steer, a decent enough stop-gap keeper at this level. Bruce was fully aware that an overseas keeper such as Orjan Nyland, would need a period of time to adjust (and this is not even mentioning the previous question marks over his ability).

If you can bring in headline grabbing loans such as Tammy Abraham and Yannick Bolasie, then it’s hard to mitigate against such fundamental squad building errors when it comes to Villa’s defence.

Of course, you don’t always get the signings you want in any given transfer window, but you must ensure by the end of it, you haven’t created a glaring weakness in the squad.

Why are we continuing to gamble on the future of this club, instead of acting with purpose and good sense?

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13 COMMENTS

  1. The time to fire Steve Bruce is now. I have been his supporter on the few occasions i have posted in this blog. However,he is really bottling up this Villa team now. The way he has treated the likes of Adomah,McCormack and Elphick smacks of a manager losing touch with himself.
    Loaning out the likes of Jed Steer and Andre Green before giving them extended runs in the first team does not make sense.
    Dean Smith is a Villa fan and is making Brentford a far much better side than Villa. Just sack Bruce and bring Smith or the likes of Ralph Hassentutl(who is available).

  2. Bruce’s stupidity angers me now, mainly because he just keeps repeating the same old mistakes.

    Ultimately, the success or failure of a manager’s transfer dealings often determines the length his tenure and our guy should be in sight of the exit sign.

    The fact Bruce relies on acquisitions to paper over his mistakes means he is very active in the transfer market when resources are available – he rivals old ‘arry Redknapp in that regard. Yes, he has pulled in some talented players, but there is no clear shape to his thinking. Strategically, he is all over the place.

    When the manager admits he doesn’t personally focus on the tactics/technical stuff and it is evident he lacks planning and judgement in the transfer market and has scant regard for finances, what does he offer?

    I am sure the gaffer will argue he has the motivational skills to get the lads going (remember to wear yer boots now), but does that include isolating a growing group of the squad? Elphick’s lack of celebration after scoring his goal at Hull told a tale or two. What do Steer, De Laet, Elphick, Taylor, Richards, Tshibole, Gardner, Adomah and McCormack feel about their positions? I am not suggesting all should figure in the side, but I can imagine an unhealthy under-current developing, particularly as Bruce is beginning to publicly deflect criticism directly towards his players – those that still remain in his favour!

    It is an awkward time to suggest a change of manager, but I have little faith in the current incumbent.

  3. I agree completely that Bruce has made a right balls up of our defence this summer, but I cant believe that people are all of a sudden claiming Elphick was the answer to our problems. Yes he’s a nice bloke who always gives 100% but he has been poor since he joined us. When Bruce first came in most people were screaming for Elphick to be dropped due to his numerous mistakes each match. Funny how when a player has been out the team for a lengthy period, people forget their previous poor form and think they are suddenly the answer to our problems. Last season some were saying Tshibola was the answer to our midfield issues, the same lad who couldn’t get a game in a very poor league 1 team.
    I’m baffled why we didnt bring another CB in, we left it far too late in the day and when the French lad decided to see his contract out there was no time to turn elsewhere.
    I think the only chance Bruce has of saving himself now is to try and somehow get a 352 formation working, not sure who the 3 should be mind you (Bree, Chester, Axel maybe). If we stick with that flat back 4 we will be conceding bucket loads of goals until the January window.

  4. MOM’s is the Villa narrowboat yours? The canal photo taken just up from Aston Junction looking towards the Farmers Bridge Locks on the Birmingham and Fazeley Canal, I walk along that towpath a few times a week

  5. It’s turning into a circus now. The owners need to ask themselves questions though. The Elphick loan was either sanctioned by some one else or it was not, both situations pose serious questions.

  6. What we need is an unattached experienced Centre Back to get us through until January. Someone who understands what playing for Aston Villa means. A Captain, Leader and maybe Player Manager!!!!

  7. Totaly agree, Bruce has lost it and we will pay dearly for it. And yes I think he is the only person who thinks Jedinak is a CB, even after yesterday’s embarrassment what’s the betting he will play him at CB again against Blackburn, the whole transfer window and no defender signed and Elphick loaned out, almost beyond belief. Surely the new owners can see that this is a recipe for failure. It surely is incompetence of the highest order and he has to go, it will however be a hell of a job for a new manager now that it’s too late to get anyone in, just go away Bruce and enjoy your millions leave football to someone who knows what they are doing. And the sooner the better.

  8. Last year I told the kids that Xia was a businessman, he must be sounding out alternatives on the quiet, no-one would be stupid enough to gamble this level of investment on the pundits & Press’ best mate when the performance is so clearly woeful. I was wrong. The new owners decided not to gamble on Henry. Please God they are now talking to Dean Smith, Brendan Rodgers and so many other young, talented, innovative, driven, organized managers with vision and plans and systems to achieve that vision.

    There is no point reprising his myriad failings, those who cannot see and are terrified of change (or just being wrong) will continue to parrot ‘4 promotions’ while wilfully ignoring the evidence in front of them. I pray the new regime is pragmatic and decisive and have seen quite enough to know that their investment is at best on hold under Bruce and that they need to invest not only in talented young players but also in dynamic new management & methods. Otherwise we will fall further behind just by standing still.

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