If the defeats to Nottingham Forest, Brentford and Ipswich didn’t stop people from hoping for an illustrious play-off spot, Villa’s 3-1 home defeat to Barnsley certainly did. The horrid run of form Villa have endured in 2017 has continued and they aren’t showing any signs of turning it around.
The games keep coming thick and fast and the biggest test of the season is awaiting Steve Bruce in the form of a trip to Newcastle. The Magpies are undefeated in their last six Championship games and sit second in the table. A chance for Rafa Benitez’s men to reclaim top spot will be enough motivation for the players to bring their ‘A’ game, whilst the fans will want to get the upper hand on the rivalry that has been brewing between the two sides over the last decade.
Neither pundits or fans are giving Villa much of a chance in this fixture, which gives Villa a rare opportunity to play the role of the underdog. Current form are a huge indicator as to why Villa are not likely to pick up anything from this match, but Villa haven’t won at St. James’ Park since 2005. Steve Bruce will need to yet again throw something new at the wall to snatch three points away from the Magpies, hopefully this time, it sticks.
Here’s three ways of making it happen…
Steve Bruce has begun to come under pressure as nobody can see where Villa’s next win will come from. The press has had multiple opportunities to talk to Bruce in the preparation for this television fixture and he dropped this bombshell when questioned about forgotten man Micah Richards.
“I could do with him on the pitch.”
To many, these words have sent shivers down their spines and made them hide in the deepest, darkest corner they could find. The thought of Micah Richards returning to the first team never even crossed many fans’ minds and rightly so.
His last two matches miraculously ended in draws and not defeats to Ipswich and Wolves earlier in the season. But his last appearance in the centre of defense was against League Two outfit Luton Town, where Villa were dumped out of the League Cup 3-1. His dismal performances in this game especially was more than enough Micah Richards that anybody needed to see.
If Villa are to have a chance at picking up three points against Newcastle, Micah Richards cannot start; it takes a special player to make Alan Hutton look semi-competent player.
Newcastle’s table position might make them look an unstoppable force, but their recent results wouldn’t back up that claim. Their last outing was an away draw to Norwich City and they also suffered a tie at home to QPR. Whilst they may not be defeats, they certainly show a weakness in the Magpies.
In both matches Newcastle enjoyed the majority of possession yet failed to make it count.
As good as the Newcastle squad is at Championship level, the squad is littered with players who aren’t at a top tier calibre. This means that the more of the ball they have, the more likely they are to committing individual errors. Whether it be a stray pass from Jack Colback in the middle of the park, or a switched off defender in the form of Ciaran Clark; a sight many Villa fans are all too familiar with.
Sitting back and allowing Newcastle to have the ball in non dangerous areas could become key in winning this game as the false sense of security opens up a perfect time for Villa to strike on the counter.
It may not be glamorous, but a necessary part of football is organisation. A quality Villa have sorely lacked in recent weeks which comes as a surprise given Steve Bruce’s experience. The switching between formations every week certainly hasn’t helped the new transfers settle in quickly and Villa are certainly still paying the price.
The game against Barnsley was yet another game to forget, but an unmissable reasoning for Villa’s collapse can be pinpointed to the lack of team shape. Too often were Grealish, Lansbury and Hourihane drifting out wide, staying too far forward when defending and too far back when attacking. There didn’t seem to be any real set roles for each player and the plan to seamlessly interchange with each other failed miserably.
Kodjia was another who was guilty of this crime, as sometimes he was seen drifting out wide on to the left and at other times, he was back in the middle with Hogan. Whether or not this was planned, it evidently didn’t work. The players that Steve Bruce has are certainly good players, but they’re not the level where they can swap positions with others at a moment’s notice. Against Newcastle, this experiment has to stop and a clear structure and plan has to be installed. Stick to the basics!
The return of Mile Jedinak to anchor the midfield will go a long way in achieving this, but Steve Bruce really needs to decide on one formation and make sure the Villa players get comfortable with it sooner rather than later.
Follow Richard on Twitter here: @_RichardAVFC