Well, it shaped up that this was Michael Bradley week on 7500 to Holte. The midfielder, and sometimes captain, for the US Men's national team was the subject of two front page articles for us. While no one denies that Bradley is an important part of the USMNT, quite a few wonder about the hairless one's efficacy as part of the Aston Villa midfield.
With relegation fears (hopefully) behind us, I think it's OK for fans to begin looking forward to next season and who might be on the squad. Part of that is figuring out if Bradley has a future at Villa Park or not. Obviously, things could change, and rapidly. The biggest factor, to my mind, is whether or not Gérard Houllier stays on as manager next year or whether he is gone (be it for health or other reasons).
So that brings us to this week's question: Who do you see anchoring Aston Villa's midfield next season, and is there a spot for Michael Bradley in it?
You, of course, will find our responses below. And I'm really interested to hear what you have to say in the comments. I'll be particularly intrigued to see what you think with regards to an interesting idea that Aaron puts forward. Anyhow, to the answers!
Aaron: I've got to think Makoun is a given. He's been on the bench the past few weeks but I think that has a lot more to do with Houllier (and by extension McAllister) opting for a slightly more direct approach (read: a MON approach) that's a bit more suited to the players currently in house. There's no way you are going to convince me that Jean Makoun is not the best central midfielder on this team and with an a full summer transfer window and preparation he's got to be looked at as the anchor going forward.
Outside of Makoun, it's less clear. If Nigel Reo-Coker sticks around he's in the mix, but the two of them together seems a bit one-note. Makoun is less of a pure destroyer than I think anyone was expecting, but he's still primarily a deep-lying midfielder. It's a pairing that could work-especially in a 4-2-3-1 with two holding-but if that's what we see then this team is going to be funneling a lot of its attacks down the wing. Which is not inherently a bad thing with the talent on-hand. I'm 50/50 on whether I see NRC coming back; I wouldn't mind it; I think he's an underrated player as long as you're willing to accept his limitations and Villa doesn't not work as well without a ball-winner in the middle. But he hasn't had the best time at the club and if he sees an opportunity to start fresh with a team that appreciates what he brings to the table then I wouldn't blame him for taking it. There's a place for Barry Bannan midfield next year as well, and if Stiliyan Petrov is willing to accept a substitute's role there are far worse players to have in your back pocket. It would also not shock me at all to see Villa bring in another, more creative central mid during the summer. It shouldn't be a top priority (that's got to be the defense) but if Houllier (or whomever) has funds to work with it would be a very nice place to make a splash.
In any case, I do not foresee a scenario where Bradley gets much playing time. A lot will depend on whether he's given a look over these final four games and if so, what he does with it. If the club still think he has the potential to be an impact player for them down the line, a sign-and-loan to another Premier League team wouldn't be out of the question. It's also just speculation, but if Kyle Walker doesn't move to Villa permanently (and it seems reasonable to expect that he will not) then it's possible that the club might ask if Bradley would be interested in a switch to right back. I don't think Bradley would go for it and it seems like a big risk for the club to take, but it's a random thought I had that I am hoping will now turn into an actual rumor and cause Americans to hate Aston Villa even more than they already do.
Gareth: Well, considering how little Bradley has played, it's really hard to imagine him starting. Aston Villa have a glut of midfielders, and so undoubtedly a few of them will have to go. My gut says that if Reo-Coker jets off to Napoli for "Nigel's Champions League Adventure," Bradley will stay. The only other potential reason for him to be kept around is if Villa sends Jonathan Hogg or Barry Bannan out on loan again. I think my ideal midfield for 2011-12 (barring extravagant transfers) would be Fabian Delph and Jean Makoun, with Makoun going to Claude Makelele's Summer Camp for Defensive Midfielders Who Don't Get Sent Off All The Time. Reo-Coker can go if he wants, and Petrov can stay, but he doesn't get to play captain anymore.
Kirsten: I hate hate hate our midfield problem because I am convinced it means Barry Bannan will be sold. However, unlike Gareth, I don't think it's because Nigel Reo-Coker is going on a Neapolitan adventure. I'm fairly confident that he'll stick around, actually, and that all the stuff his agent made up is working to convince Villa to keep him. So that's one midfielder staying, one going. I <3 Jean Makoun and I think the club does as well, so he'll stick around as well. Robert Pires is clearly out the door. Fabian Delph stays. Stephen Ireland goes far far far away. As for Stiliyan Petrov, well, he'll be 32 at the start of next season. Keep him around, fine, but keep him on the bench. And let him take just one crazy shot per match. So with Jean II, Delph and NRC...that's already crowded. Does Bradley want to be a bench player? I think not -- and I don't think his fans want him to be either. Let another club pick up his option and give him a chance to actually be a regular.
Robert: I've got to agree with everyone else that Makoun is the core of our midfield going forward. Outside of that? I imagine Barry Bannan gets back into the mix if the team moves to a style that would best suit Makoun's abilities. Both Bannan and Makoun are creative mids who can give us some flow from back to front. Other than that, I'd expect to see Petrov back (you can't just ship away the captain) and for him to be joined by NRC. I'm not too unhappy with that situation, honestly. Makoun and Bannan give us some fluidity while NRC and Petrov give it a bit of backbone.
As for Bradley, I'd like him to stay on. In the scenario above, he would fit in fantastically as a 5th player, most likely to spell NRC or Petrov. It would require a little shifting, and maybe a move to a diamond-type formation, but with those five as the core, I think Villa's midfield could be a real asset next season.