By Richard Wakefield
Villa finally recorded three straight league wins for the first time since the Martin O’Neil era as they beat Rotherham 2-0. The win will met with open arms from Steve Bruce as Villa now have a sizeable gap between themselves and the relegation zone. The three victories were accompanied with three clean sheets which will be very welcomed by the defensively-minded Villa manager.
Tuesday’s opponents will certainly pose a very difficult challenge for Villa as an away trip to Huddersfield Town is what awaits Steve Bruce. The Yorkshire outfit were unbeaten in their last seven games before their weekend defeat to league leaders Newcastle; a run of form which included six wins.
Huddersfield Town manager David Wagner was a potential replacement for Roberto Di Matteo but denied any interest in the Villa job to build on the great work he had started at Huddersfield. He has managed to maintain the Terriers form into the crucial part of the season and it’s now Villa’s job to become a rough bump in the road in their promotion run.
Here’s three ways of making it happen…
A huge up turn in form has uncoincidentally happened since Mile Jedinak returned from injury. His influence in the middle of the park was sorely missed during January and the results showed that. His ability to win aerial duels and to recycle possession and distribute it to more creative players is second to none in the Championship and he’ll continue to be vital on Tuesday night.
A stat which may surprise a few is that whenever the trio of Nathan Baker, James Chester and Mile Jedinak have played, Villa are undefeated. Nine wins, five draws and zero defeats in 14 games really emphasises how influential these three defensive players are. Having such a solid defensive partnership with a midfield anchor in front of them, allows all of Villa’s creative players to get forward and express themselves in ways that can influence the result for Villa on the other side of the pitch.
Steve Bruce has a tendency to chop and change his line-up or formation based on the difficulty of the opponent and this is a time he should definitely avoid anything drastic. Huddersfield will definitely enjoy the majority of the possession and will probably play the more attractive football, but the faith has to be placed on these three players to get the job done at the back. The foundation has been laid and it’s Bruce’s job to build around it, not destroy it.
Steve Bruce may have masterminded three straight wins to nil, but the drawback is that all three opponents were in abysmal form or below Villa in the table. Huddersfield will certainly be no pushovers, and will be looking at Villa as the prey in this meeting.
The Terriers are not in the top three by some fluke, but their goal difference tells an interesting story. While they are third in the table, Huddersfield only possess a slightly positive (+6) goal difference in comparison to the teams above them who have +27 and +40.
Huddersfield have only won games in the Championship by more than one goal on three occasions this season which shows their ability to hold on to leads regardless of the depth of their advantage.
With this in mind, if Villa fans themselves on the wrong end of the opening goal, unlike most matches, it’s very unlikely Villa will take any points back home. The front three that is often deployed by Huddersfield (Kachunga, Wells and Van La Parra) all have pace to burn and will certainly be able to beat all of Villa’s back four in a foot race. It may not be pretty, but a deep defensive line set up to frustrate the Terriers may be the only way that Villa can even think about snatching all three points.
Saved From Embarrassment
David Wagner has established himself as a competent manager and a big influence on his style has been taken by his former mentor Jurgen Klopp. The intensity that his Huddersfield team have when not in possession is a major factor of their success. Villa will know all too well about how effectively the Huddersfield players close down the player in possession with Hefele scoring without even kicking the ball thanks to a Gollini mistake.
Lighting may strike twice as a recipe for disaster is currently being concocted as Huddersfield’s high press meeting with Villa’s slow backwards passing will only end badly for Bruce.
Villa will certainly not have much of the ball on Tuesday and when they do, it will be in their own half. If any member of Villa’s back line even entertain the idea of passing it back to the goalkeeper, then they should be substituted on the spot!
Using the limited time on the ball more effectively by choosing to use forward players instead of being happy to play ‘it safe’ to Sam Johnstone (even sliced a kick again against Rotherham) will be pivotal in not letting Huddersfield score an easily preventable goal. After all, as Johnstone’s current motto has been, ‘anything Gollini can do, I can do worse’.
Follow Richard on Twitter: @_RichardAVFC