If there’s one Steve Bruce selection issue that has courted the most attention and derision from Villa supporters, it’s his stubbornness in playing midfielder Mile Jedinak at centre-back.
The main reason supporter’s have questioned the Villa manager’s decision, has been Jedinak’s occasional glaring errors when he’s played in the back four, that have legitimately cost Villa points (both last season and this). Then there’s also a noticeable lack of mobility when facing opposition counter attacks.
Of course, Bruce is limited in options at the centre-back position. James Chester is the only recognised and experienced centre-back at the club. The inexperienced loanee Axel Tuanzebe still carries somewhat of a utility player tag and has played as almost as many times at defensive midfielder as he has at centre-back for Villa.
It would be fair enough to consider the ageing Jedinak as one of the four options a good squad should have in the centre-back position, but as part of your number one centre-back pairing? It’s not ideal.
Now, of course, it is arguable there is mitigation for Bruce not having the full quota of centre backs at his disposal.
The summer preseason was firstly one of uncertainly, with Tony Xia in a financial flux, that seriously threatened the club’s immediate future. Initially, there was no money for transfers. There was also a transfer embargo for part of pre-season, that squeezed the time frame for Bruce to operate in. Then, despite new owners, there still existed the restraints of FFP.
There was enough time and money to do something. Bruce had a frustrating time trying to rebuild his defence, after missing out on Joe Bryan at left-back, he also missed out on Harold Moukoudi and Scott McKenna, a duo of centre-backs that would have sorted out the situation. Still, you can’t always get what you want and managers and clubs miss out on targets all the time, the trick is to give yourself back-up options.
So why Jedinak over Tuanzebe?
So, why is Bruce persisting in choosing the Aussie international over Tuanzebe?
Tuanzebe, for MOMS money, has the ability and athleticism to be a decent centre-back. From what we saw of him in the Burton game in the position, he recovers any mistakes caused by inexperience, very well. That was evidence enough for him to have a run at the position to build his confidence, after all, he’s not really offering us anything extra at right-back
The best explanation for Bruce’s preference for choosing Jedinak has to be he’s trying to cover Orjan Nyland’s apparent weakness at crosses and set play deliveries.
If you’ve been watching the last few games closely, Nyland very rarely ventures beyond the six-yard line to collect anything in a crowded penalty box. After his earlier mishaps, he visibly stays rooted on his line for corners.
Jedinak averages winning nine aerial challenges a game. No other Villa player is close. James Chester by comparison averages 3.2. Even when the Australian was playing defensive midfield for the majority of last season, the amount of headers Jedinak won was always noticeable per game, even topping John Terry.
This season so far, Jedinak has won 81 headers, the nearest to that tally is Chester’s 32, and he’s actually played 103 minutes more.
Another significant stat is Chester has won 32 aerial challenges from a total of 63, that’s barely over 50%. Whereas Jedinak has won 75% of his 108 aerial challenges.
In short, Jedinak is a dominant force in the air.
So, like Bruce would choose Jedinak at DM, if Villa were playing a team that favoured the long ball or set pieces, it seems he’s applied the same logic to help support a keeper who is not confident at claiming the ball when it comes into his box.
Also, with Nyland in goal, does he want to have a rookie loanee centre-back in front of him?
The defence is a bit of a mess at the moment and may ultimately cost Bruce his job, as we’ve discussed before. Certainly, MOMS isn’t claiming Jedinak is the answer (we’d go with the more mobile option of Tuanzebe), we’re just trying to work out the method behind the madness.
There’s surely some truth in this, but judging by Bristol City’s goal, it’ll take more than Jedinak to cover for a keeper that presents Villa with a big dilemma…especially when his back-up is evidently just as bad.