By Richard Wakefield
Aston Villa continue their downward spiral towards the relegation zone after yet another defeat at the hands of Newcastle. The 2-0 loss provided the Villa fans with an improved performance, but two costly mistakes were all Newcastle needed to take all three points.
Villa’s opponents on Saturday are Derby County who will be looking to get their promotion push back on track after a string of disappointing results. With Villa losing the last two home games, after being unbeaten at Villa Park, now is a difficult time for expert tipsters to predict the outcome of this game. A mid-week draw against Burton extended the Ram’s winless run in the league to four games, which unfortunately pales in comparison to Villa’s nine.
Steve Bruce can take a lot of positives out of the Newcastle game; the first half performance before the Gouffran strike made Villa look like the better team against arguably the best team in the league. Signs of cohesion and team unity began to creep in to Villa’s game and developing on that will be crucial to picking up the three points against the Rams.
Here’s three ways to make it happen…
Newcastle may have took the lead in the first half, but it was definitely not deserved from their performance up to that point. Steve Bruce seemed to have finally got it right and Villa were looking the most likely to open the scoring. However it looks like Bruce forgot to teach the players how to handle corners. A loose ball from a set-piece was all it took to undo 40 minutes of hard work as multiple Villa players took swipes at the ball hoping for the best only to get punished.
The goal could be chalked down to a lapse in concentration, but it actually highlights a bigger problem. There is a severe lack of urgency in the team. It has been evident in many of the recent defeats like in games such as Ipswich and Barnsley; Villa’s tempo begins slowly and never seems to pick up. Watching the team coast along in first or second gear is why Villa look so limp in front of goal and has resulted in the opposition taking advantage and putting Villa to the sword.
Bruce can’t tell the team to come out of the dressing room all guns blazing in hopes of unsettling Derby from the kick-off; but he can instruct some of his more creative players to take the game by scruff of the neck when it’s needed. Players like Lansbury and Hourihane should have no problem increasing the tempo of the game with their range of passing. Changing the game’s speed at a moments notice is the spark that Villa have been missing to cut teams open as of late, and it will be the trick to break Derby’s defence.
On paper, Villa’s January transfer window looked impeccable. Steve Bruce’s influence partnered with Tony Xia’s money managed to persuade many top Championship quality players to the club. It can be understood why Bruce insists on playing these new signings as they were signed for a reason, but why does he expect different results when making the same mistakes?
Icelandic midfielder Birkir Bjarnason has certainly not lit up the Championship with his few performances. Firstly, it was speculated that he wasn’t fit enough, then it was considered he may not be all that good. It may be a little early to cast such dispersions without giving Bjarnason a fair shot.
Ever since he was signed, the label of ‘utility man’ has been touted about him. If Bjarnason really is good enough for a place in the starting XI, it’s time that Bruce plays him in his most successful position which is left-midfield in a 4-4-2 or a left winger in a 4-3-3. These were his most successful positions for his previous club Basel FC where he amassed 14 goals and seven assists last season. A fresh start and a chance to show everybody what he is really capable of could be the catapult for his claret and blue career.
The Newcastle score line wasn’t the only thing to pile on the misery to Villa’s season, both Jonathan Kodjia and Scott Hogan were taken off due to injury against the Magpies. By no means is this situation ideal. Over £20 million worth of strikers on the sidelines whilst an extra £12 million is out on loan.
Due to various circumstances Kozak, Agbonlahor, Hogan and Hepburn-Murphy are all out for the clash against Derby leaving Villa lacking options up front.
Perhaps it’s too early to give Kienan Davis a start, but Bruce does have the option of playing 4-3-3, but with feeling this time. Get Adomah bombing forward on the right and either Bjarnason, Grealish or Green doing the same on the left, rather than having them sitting deeper in midfield.
Hourihane, Lansbury and Jedinak should be able to deal with the Derby midfield, to allow Villa to take more of an attacking outlook to the home fixture.
Bruce says he hasn’t had the personal to play 4-3-3. I beg to differ, we’re perhaps more suited to playing that than 4-4-2, where it’s evident we don’t have a striking partner that has clicked into life yet.
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