A winless January for Villa has done no favours in convincing their critics that a promotion charge is possible. However reinforcements have been called in to bolster the midfield and could be the missing ingredient for Villa’s winning formula.
New midfield signings Birkir Bjarnason and Conor Hourihane were grouped with defender James Bree as the three new players were announced within 24 hours of each other. These add to the already signed Henri Lansbury and loaned Sam Johnstone. All of these new additions are a clear sign of intent that this season will not be written off by Bruce or Dr. Xia.
The first destination for the claret and blue new boys will be an away trip to Griffin Park as they are hosted by Brentford (first away trip there since the 1950’s). The Bees may sit a few places below Villa, but they stole a point at Villa Park and have only lost once in their last five home matches to promotion pushing Newcastle.
A disappointing draw versus Preston in Villa’s last outing may have left fans with a bitter taste in their mouth, but there was certainly some major positives to take away. Brentford will pose a threat but are certainly not an immovable object, three wins from their last twelve shows that a win on Tuesday could finally be a baby step in the right direction.
Here’s three ways of making it happen…
Steady Wins the Race
It comes as no surprise that Bruce has wanted to make the squad his own as soon as possible. Five new signings in the January window is an unusual feat in itself (with potentially more to come), but to sign five first team players can cause problems.
With Johnstone and Lansbury already settling in to the team, it’s time for Hourihane, Bree and Bjarnason to step up to the plate. Many would suggest to throw all of the new names straight in to the starting eleven but the repercussions could cause yet another game of dropping valuable points.
One of the main reasons Villa are in the predicament they are is because there was lack of team chemistry and togetherness in the early part of the season, which led to many dropped points from winning positions. Even experienced players who had played in the division before, like Tommy Elphick, struggled to communicate properly with teammates like Gollini or Jedinak. Poor performances from those three at the start of the season led to individual errors – does anyone need reminding about the games against Huddersfield or Sheffield Wednesday?
As we saw in the relegation season too, sometimes throwing in too many new faces at once doesn’t always pan out well.
An impressive performance from Green should warrant another start from the bright prospect; starting Bjarnason may send the wrong message to not only Green, but the other youngsters around the club. As poor as Hutton is, one last game for Scotsman would have its advantages as throwing Bree straight into the squad, after less than a week’s training, could damage his confidence if he has a poor game.
Pick and Mix
Regardless of whether Green, Adomah, Bjarnason, Grealish or Bacuna plays on the wing, this game is going to be won or lost based on how Villa exploit Brentford’s slow full-backs or lack of full-backs. Dean Smith has regularly changed from his basic 4-2-3-1 and has recently deployed a 3-5-1-1. Both formations have a similar problem and it is that it struggles to defend against fast wingers.
Defenders such as Colin, Dean and Egan are all guilty of lacking in the pace department. With Brentford playing at home, they may play their narrow three at the back formation, which would see the Bees try to push Villa back and retain possession, which would suit the counter-attacking nature of Bruce.
Andreas Bjelland in particular can be often found as a left centre-back or an unfamiliar left back. The defender may have a wealth of experience on his side, but with centre midfielders like Hourihane and Lansbury playing, they should focus on utilising Adomah on the right-hand side as much as possible.
With Jedinak injured it was expected that Ashley Westwood would get a last chance to prove himself as a complimentary midfielder to Lansbury and Hourihane, but with him now seemingly heading to Burnley and Tshibola gone, Bruce perhaps will be pushed into his preferred 4-4-2 formation earlier than expected.
Lansbury and Hourihane should finally give Villa a strong enough two-man fulcrum in the middle of the park to play the formation more effectively.With Green/Bjarnason and Adomah on the flanks.
The Villa boss might as well opt for Kodjia and an improving Gabby upfront, as this should provide a more direct threat that should give Brentford plenty to think about.