Aston Villa went into an away match without specific planning and were soundly beaten. Cut me off if you’ve heard that before.
The tragedy of the whole thing is that it was utterly expected. Despite the excitement of Villa playing a ‘proper’ opponent, everyone must have known that misery was a possibility in the result of yesterday’s match? Steve Bruce must have known, surely! Aston Villa’s top man has been in charge of plenty of away games at this point. Barring the last two, Villa have carried depression on the road with them.
Speaking of Steve Bruce, the worst thing about following Aston Villa right now is the twin cults that have emerged in the fanbase. On one side, we have those who have put Bruce before the football club, and worship at his altar. On the other, we have those who are adamant that Bruce isn’t good enough. In reality, the truth is somewhere in between, as it always is when schisms like this emerge. And that’s the depressing thing. That despite the obvious flaws in the side, you’re always going to be questioned when you point those out by 50% of the Villa following, who can’t accept that Bruce isn’t good enough - or those who can’t accept that he’s still in charge.
But here’s the deal. Aston Villa, for the past 15 years, have been a side that refuse to learn anything. In fact, the only person who actually seemed to educate himself from routine beatings was Paul Lambert, who tried so many different ideas he ended up collapsing and destroying his own work. Martin O’Neil stuck to the same team every time and tried to batter every team via a cutthroat counterattack led by the buccaneering Ashley Young backed by the devoutness of James Milner and Gareth Barry. Gerard Houllier had some success thanks to the magic of Darren Bent. Alex McLeish relied heavily on certain crutches, while Tim Sherwood brought the best out of three players and let his team do the talking. Not a single manager, except Lambert - to a fault - has ever changed things for the better after the side has been exposed.
While there is a lot to be said against kneejerk reactions after a game - including a change of system - we must be able to highlight when things are going disastrously wrong. Consistency has, and always will be the key to beautiful victories. One only has to look up a league to see Pep Guardiola’s Manchester City eviscerate teams based on his system of play, where we see anyone able to step up in a ‘next man up’ style - including Fabian Delph (BOO!) excelling (BOO!) in a left-back role. The players change, but the system only adapts.
So yes, compliments should be paid to Steve Bruce for sticking to his guns with his 4-4-2. However, the system was not adapted for the presence of a Wolverhampton Wanderers side that have not changed their layout since June. 3-4-3, with everyone knowing their role - against a Villa side that might change everything at the drop of a hat.
Before the game, Bruce dismissed the role of tactics, which was a huge mistake. His tactics held his team back - and relied on individual talent which was hamstrung in a flat 4-4-2. Nuno Espirito Santo’s Wolves played a system that reinforced the incredible talent within that team that allowed them to carve Villa open at will. The talent in Wolves is great, but it’s not a tier above Villa’s own talent. It’s just that Santo has built a system that brings the best out of his team, while Steve Bruce is left seemingly clueless after every away defeat.
The problem itself is not the loss - it’s the apathy of the loss. It’s how every single loss mirrors the last. Steve Bruce’s Aston Villa lose in the same fashion, every single time. While Bruce has rightly earned the plaudits for a solid winning streak, his Villa are not learning.
Bruce’s refusal to adept stems from a fault of Villa’s own making. The individual talent within the team is insane. Bruce’s caution in stamping his own mark on the team allows them to play with freedom, but at a big cost. They will stand off if under the cosh, and will go missing when fitness or willpower elude them.
The best example of this is shown in Jonathan Kodjia. Aston Villa’s forward talisman is an incredible forward, but his display in yesterday’s match was utterly abject. Devoid of any kind of motivation, Kodjia only showed frustration and perhaps should have earned a red card via a high boot, or a slap (pick one), early on. Kodjia refused to make forward runs, refused to pass and refused to drop deep. Jonathan Kodjia is becoming the biggest victim, and the biggest perpetrator of the current Villa playstyle. He will leave himself isolated, and because of that - he won’t get involved. While the rest of the team ran empty, Jonathan Kodjia could be spotted in the top corner of the TV screen strolling around the pitch. Despite his goals, and ability - Kodjia risks becoming a ‘moment of magic’ player or some sort of Guardian Angel, who only scores when his team need him to score - not when a chance is actually made out of open play.
The reality of the situation is this - Aston Villa do not deserve to be promoted if they rely on individual talent - because as proved, individual talent can go missing all too often, and if there is no clear system in place to provide direction and instruction, what is the team if not just a grouping of 11 random men?