Aston Villa have been super busy in this transfer window, adding five new players, including three new midfielders. From a side with no depth, Villa suddenly have a fair few options to choose from, particularly in the middle of the park. So who should start? Thanks to data from whoscored.com, I've been able to create a couple of nifty graphs to help solve the puzzle. Because even though President Trump tries, you can't dispute the facts.
These charts were compiled over the weekend, prior to Aaron Tshibola departing the club on loan.
Furthermore, Birkir Bjarnason does not feature, as the data available from the Swiss Super League isn't as complete as that from the Championship. In any case, it is unlikely that he'll feature in central midfield.
Player by player
I'm actually super disappointed that Tshibola has departed for Nottingham Forest on loan. It is worth noting that his game time is almost half that of the next player with the fewest minutes, which is actually an important factor, because it means that non measurable elements such as fatigue are less likely to be in affect.
In any case, the youngest of Aston Villa's midfielders has acquitted himself nicely when given the opportunity. His passing accuracy has been good, and, a rarity for a Villa CM, he actually scored a goal (albeit from a set piece). Three yellow cards and 1.3 fouls a game gives him an area of his game to work on.
The numbers don't lie. Gary Gardner is the weak link in the Aston Villa midfield. His passing accuracy is poor, and he offers nothing creatively. Defensively it isn't any better, as he concedes just as many fouls as he makes successful tackles. The one plus is that he has only picked up one yellow card, so either his total tackle/foul count is low, or he keeps his fouls to minor transgressions. Either way, he should not feature ahead of any other Villa midfielder.
I like Ashley Westwood, and I have defended him from his numerous critics on several occasions. The stats don't really tell us anything that we don't already know though. He is a solid player with good passing ability, but he is lacking creatively. He averages a key pass every other game, which isn't great, and he has no goals or assists this season, which is poor. He's quite well disciplined though, conceding less than one foul a game, though this doesn't quite make up for his biggest weakness, in his aerial prowess. This shows that he is most certainly a useful player to have around, but probably shouldn't be a starting fixture.
So far we've noticed a recurring theme, in that Villa lack a creative midfield player. Henri Lansbury will likely solve that issue, particularly in regards to goal scoring, netting on average once every 269 minutes. He has also been responsible for 1.7 key passes per game, which should help give Jonathan Kodjia the support that he needs. In addition, in Lansbury we have a player who is unafraid of getting stuck in. He has decent tackles per game numbers, and has the second highest aerial duel wins. Discipline could be an issue though. 1.7 fouls per game, and eight yellow cards this season is a bit worrying, especially for a team that struggles to defend against set pieces at times.
What you see is what you get with Mile Jedinak. A big physical presence, he absolutely dominates the aerial duels per game, winning 5.3 on average. For a defensive midfielder, you might expect him to have more tackles per game, but prior to Lansbury and Hourihane's arrival, he was by far the stand out midfielder. 7 yellow cards suggests that he has maybe lost a step due to age, but he still has enough about him to anchor the Villa midfield.
Villa's newest central midfielder, Conor Hourihane, has had a tremendous season with Barnsley, and this reflects in his statistics. An assist every 205 minutes is sublime for a player who has played a lot of minutes, and he chips in with goals fairly regularly too. With so many assists, it comes as no surprise that he makes 2.4 key passes per game, and has an all round high successful pass percentage too. He has picked up 7 yellow cards this season, but 3.2 successful tackles per game excuses that somewhat. If I were picking the Aston Villa midfield, he would be the first name on the team sheet.
For the most part, this data shows that every player on this list has some role to play at the club. It is clear to me that Conor Hourihane is the key man, with Mile Jedinak, Henri Lansbury and Ashley Westwood all vying for the 2nd and 3rd positions within the midfield. In Aaron Tshibola, Villa have an excellent prospect for the future, and though his numbers are poor, Gary Gardner is a useful backup option.
How would you like to see the Aston Villa midfield line up? Let us know below.