A Defence Under Siege: Aston Villa under the microscope
The World Cup has been the perfect smokescreen for Xia and Co behind the scenes at Aston Villa Football Club. With all eyes on Russia and most of Twitter saying “Football’s coming home”, they’ve left us high and dry. The Aston Villa faithful have been left in the dark regarding next season’s plans, a clear lack of transparency on where we stand financially, and even if Bruce will stay. One would say it’s fair to assume we’re left to work with what we’ve got. This will be the start of a three part series in which I will assess the current Villa squad; and where better to start than the defence?
The departure lounge:
It’s common knowledge the situation Xia and Wyness lead us in, with us in need of raising £40m to avoid FFP, it meant we weren’t in the position to give former captain John Terry’s contract or back up Chris Samba.
Whilst there are some contrasting reports regarding John Terry’s situation with the club, with some “jerkalists’ (Cheers for that one, Tony) saying it isn’t a closed door, I find this extremely hard to believe, from a financial stand point.
I’d like to believe JT wanted stay another season, but it’s safe to say this is NOT happening, it’s time tabloids stop reporting on his fitness updates on Instagram… Hill sprints in Mykonos? Who cares, he isn’t our player and this isn’t news. The headline might as well read “Athlete keeps himself fit”, it’s irrelevant. Thanks for the memories John, it was a pleasure watching you down B6, but it’s time we move on.
I have a lot of respect for big Chris Samba, he came and trained with the U23 squad and earned his contract. Though it’s clear Samba was never the quality of JT, he wasn’t as bad as Villa fans expected when he featured during the Christmas period whilst Terry was absent due to injury.
With us having to reduce our already large wage bill, Samba had to go. What worries me is with the departure of two central defenders and no money to replace them, we look extremely short of players who could fill in if we were to have any injuries.
Bombing down the wings (sometimes):
If there’s one thing Villa has in depth, it’s right backs…
Alan Hutton was recently rewarded with a new one year contract for his efforts over the past two seasons. Whilst Hutton is traditionally a right back he had reinvented himself (again) playing at left back. Whilst it sounds like Hutton was offered double the money at Middlesbrough, with an additional year on his contract, it’s great to see a hard worker rewarded. Though I’m not sure of the financial repercussions, I’m happy that the Scottish Cafu is sticking around.
Ahmed Elmohamady left Russia early after Egypt failed to make it out of their group. Elmo didn’t feature at all, but every cloud has a silver lining; at least Elmo isn’t at risk of injury and is back in time for a full preseason. Elmo offers so much going forward; and in my opinion he is a very underrated player.
Young James Bree will be looking to make an impression on the first team after featuring heavily in the U23 squad in their play off run and cup triumph. Bree stepped into the first team occasionally, noticeably against Cardiff last season in our 1-0 win only finding out he was playing five minutes before kick off. Bree played at left back and looked decent playing on his weaker side. More recently he filled in at right back in the second leg off the Playoff semi final second leg against ‘Boro. This wasn’t his best performance, but he is a young player still with a lot to learn. I’d imagine Bree would probably go out on loan to get some game time, as he still looks rough around the edges, there’s a player in there somewhere, the youngster just needs game time.
Richie De Laet; one that’s often forgotten about. After being brought in by Roberto Di Matteo he didn’t feature a lot after Bruce arrived and spent half of last season out on loan to Belgian outfit Royal Antwerp. On the occasions we had seen Richie, I liked him a lot, he’s very quick and has a fantastic cross on him, and makes plenty of attacking runs, which is what I want to see! Unfortunately I don’t see a future for our Richie at the Villa, which is a shame, but if someone’s interested we can’t turn down an offer, every little helps.
Micah “Zulu”Richards, the forgotten man. What’s there to say? I don’t think we will ever see Micah kick a ball in a Villa shirt ever again. With two years left on his contract, he’s going nowhere. Not even the MLS or Chinese Super League want him. It’s a shame really, he was once dubbed the next Garry Neville, England’s next big prospect, but moving to Italy seemed to have killed his footballing career. Jamie Redknapp said Micah was “one of the signings of the transfer window”, hindsight is a wonderful thing, isn’t it Jamie? It’s not the first think Redknapp has got wrong and it certainly won’t be the last.
Finally, we are left with our one and only natural left back, Neil Taylor… To those of you who listen to “The Villa Filler Podcast” you would certainly know my feelings towards the Welshman, no one knows this better than my good friend and podcast co-host Dan Wiseman (sorry Dan!). It says a lot when Bruce is willing to play Hutton on his weaker side over Taylor, the natural left back. When Neil joined the club in January of 2017 he signed a four and a half year deal, so I have a feeling he won’t be going anywhere anytime soon…
Heart of the defense:
As I said earlier, with the departure of JT and Samba we are left extremely short at the back.
The ever present James Chester has been linked with numerous moves away, more recently with Championship newcomers Stoke City. I find it hard to believe he would leave for another Championship club, at 29 he isn’t getting any younger and he deserves a crack in the Premier League again. He was easily the best defender in the Championship last season, and is criminally underrated by anyone who doesn’t support the Villa.
The club has a tough decision to make regarding Chester. As he’s one of our most sell-able assets, and there are supposedly clubs interested, it puts us in a position where we can ask whatever we want for him. Chester really was the spine of the team, I couldn’t even begin to think of the mess we would be in if we lost Chester.
Tommy Elphick has returned from his short loan spell at Reading after not featuring much due to injury and was linked with a permanent move back with the Royals; with boss Paul Clement extremely keen on keeping Tommy at the club. Though recent reports from the Birmingham Mail suggest Tommy is here to stay..
I always felt sorry for Elphick, he always engaged with the fans and performed with his heart on his sleeve and gave everything for the club on the pitch. For whatever reason when Bruce came in things didn’t work out and Tommy didn’t feature much. When John Terry was injured Bruce opted to try Jedinak at the back, which certainly sent a message to Tommy clearly telling him where he stands in the pecking order. Though when Tommy managed to claw his way back into the team over the Christmas period he looked decent, leaving Villa fans confused as to why he hadn’t featured earlier. But what left us Villa fans even more confused was why we loaned him out as we were already short on fit defenders.
It would certainly be a fairy tale ending, watching Tommy and Chezzy reunite at the back in our quest for promotion. Were going to have to use what we’ve got, plus Elphick has played in the Championship and knows what it’s all about.
Midfielder at the (Jedi)back?
Forgive my poor pun, but we already know Bruce is a fan of playing big Mile in defence. Whilst this isn’t an option I’d go with, it’s something that must be considered, with what is looking like it’ll be a quiet transfer window, we will see players shoehorned in all over the place to ensure we have depth in certain positions.
Mile’s aerial prowess helps him a lot when he’s playing in defence, standing tall at 6″2, every ball which is in the air we know our Mile will win. One thing he’s never been known for is his pace, and with Mile being 34 years old, it’s safe to say he doesn’t have a lot of it. With how quick teams break in the Championship, Mile would stand no chance against pacey forwards, as showcased at Sheffield United at home last December.
Our hands have been forced, were going to have to integrate some of our younger lads into the squad soon enough. Chances more often fall too attacking players as typically you can see more of an impact from them, take Andre Green, Keinan Davis, Callum O’Hare and even Rushian Hepburn-Murphey as examples of that.
It’s even traditionally tougher to try to integrate a centre half as they will be under a lot of pressure due to the position. Young Mitch Clark has impressed me over the past few years, and looks like he will develop into a fantastic player. When I first watched Clark he played at centre half, yet when he was handed his debut against Wigan in the cup he played left back.
It’s not uncommon for young players to change positions so they can get game time, Liverpool’s Trent Alexander Arnold was a central midfielder, but moved to right back as there was less competition. Whilst I love Mitch Clark’s no nonsense approach to the game, due to his height he is probably better suited in the fullback position, as he is extremely quick and carries the ball extremely well going forward.
Jacob Bedeau joined Villa from Bury for 800k and hasn’t made an impact in the first team. Whilst I’ve only heard positive things about Bedeau from a friend of mine who is a Bury fan, I can’t understand why we would pay near enough a million pounds for a young player, when we have an academy who develops young players. An academy that has produced England under 17/18 captain Eissah Suliman.
Whilst we are on the subject of Suliman, I’m shocked he hasn’t been integrated into the match day squad, even if he is to sit on the bench, for young players it’s all about giving them the experience, once they get a taste of the first team, it will only encourage them to work even harder.
In-between the sticks:
With the papers are reporting that Sam Johnstone is on his way to West Brom for £5m, it’s safe to say we won’t be seeing him pull on the Villa shirt again. Our only chance of keeping Sam was if we achieved promotion. Sam deserves to be playing Premier League football, so it does hurt a little that he’s linked with the Baggies.
Though this again will force our hand and make us play either of our young keepers Sarkic or Jed Steer, who has been waiting patiently for his opportunity at the Villa. Steer has been unfortunate in that he’s joined the club when we were on our way down, with pressure to perform he was never going to get anywhere near the team, and he’s unfortunately suffered injuries during his spell at the Villa meaning he hasn’t featured often.
Given he’s fit, it start Steer in goal, with young Sarkic as his backup, as he looks like he will be a decent keeper in the future based off his performances in the U23’s squad.
If possible, it’s crucial we keep Chester. We would simply fall apart without him. It’s time to bring trough the young lads to help flesh out the squad, keep them match fit and sharp. Play them in the cup and reward them with minutes in the league if and when possible. Five minutes here and there at the end of a game will give them all so much confidence.
Whilst it’s tough to find the perfect compromise with bringing the youth through into the first team, of there’s anywhere on the pitch that needs that little bit of extra depth, then it’s the defence.
As always, make sure you tweet me your thoughts and tell me what you think of our defence going into next season. Tweet me at @danmorgi34 – I’d be delighted to hear what you have to say.
Up the Villa
Categories: Opinion Piece