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Assessing Aston Villa’s Depth Chart: The Back Line

In 2016-2017 Villa conceded at a top five rate and still made their biggest move of the offseason a change in the back. Where does that leave the team today?

Fulham v Aston Villa - Sky Bet Championship Photo by Alex Pantling/Getty Images

The Centre-backs, our Leaders and Captains.

A look at Villa defenders at first blush should be pretty simple. Summer moves saw two veteran center backs incoming with the highest profile move in the whole of the Championship being the signing of Chelsea legend John Terry. Terry’s presence has clearly been felt both on and off the pitch so far and though he may have lost a step at the higher level, a spell in the Championship seems as if it is just the way for him to call a career.

Aston Villa v Watford - Pre Season Friendly Photo by Mark Robinson/Getty Images

Chris Samba, our other veteran addition, however, has been up and down. After looking effective in preseason matches, he came on as a head-scratching, last ditch forward against Hull in the opener. Samba suffered through a horrendous first half against League Two Colchester before finding a certain level of comfort and making some much needed clearances to close the Carabao Cup win. He has earned his place on this team, but still needs to find legs and consistency.

Samba will not get a nod over Villa’s former captain and a lynchpin to their success, James Chester. The Welshman was vital last season in partnership with the departed Nathan Baker and humbly ceded the armband when John Terry was brought aboard. Through two games this season, Chester is the only Villan to play all 180’ and, knock on wood, that’s predicative of how things will go the rest of the way. For 2016/2017 Chester was never subbed off playing every minute of every match. That’s our man.

Our other former captains Tommy Elphick and Micah Richards on the other hand…they don’t seem likely to feature. With Birmingham City rumored to be interested in bringing in Elphick and a healthy Richards ceding time to Mile Jedinak last season under Steve Bruce’s direction, it’s hard to say that there is a future with either on the pitch, yet Richards salary is likely to be prohibitive to a move. In preseason action in the (very-esteemed-you-can-tell-by-the-size-and-grandeur-of-the-trophy) Cup of Traditions, Richards picked up another injury and being that a win was to give Villa hardware to board in some kind of novelty oversized cargo container to take back to English soil, his substitution in the 10th minute could only have meant it was serious.

Mile Jedinak, when not in flight, is in a bit of a curious position. Villa achieved their best success last year with Nathan Baker, James Chester and Jedinak afield, and with John Terry replacing Baker even greater quality is expected. Bruce’s own experimentation with a partnership in front of the goal between the Aussie and James Chester last season show the flexibility that Jedinak can bring to the defense. With Terry’s caps likely to be managed and Samba showing a mixed bag, Jedinak, when back from his groin injury, could well be a very loud and combative asset, giving some breathing room to the additions and depth in the midfield.

Finally, any opportunity this season to bring Easah Suliman onto the first team would be welcome and Dr Tony has expressed a desire to see more of the youth crack the lineup. Suliman is riding high from his victory with the England U19s this summer and needs to find a pitch to play on somewhere. Of the talented assortment of young players Villa can boast he could be the best of the bunch, so with Elphick on the move and hardly knowing what’s to come for Richards, Suliman should make his way up if he doesn’t head out on another loan spell.


The Barren Landscape of Left-backs

In spite of the depth that Villa have in the in a few areas, the left of the field has not received the same attention, specifically the defense. Jordan Amavi’s exit for Marseille has the quite innocuous Neil Taylor the only true left back on the squad where he will perform adequately if unspectacularly. Bruce gave a game but unfamiliar Birkir Bjarnason a trial against Colchester, but for all of Bjarnason’s effort he simply cannot be expected to play there again. Ritchie de Laet came on in substitution and without addition to the squad, de Laet may be the only cover that Taylor plays with for this campaign. Curious.

Aston Villa v Norwich City - Sky Bet Championship Photo by Harry Trump/Getty Images

The Right-backs

The right side of the defense is likely to be manned by ALANHUTTONALANHUTTONALANHUTTON, whose assist to Gabby Agbonlahor amounted to the only chance among many Villa were able to put in net against Hull in the opener. Ahmed Elmohamady was brought in and has looked class crossing in from the right wing, but could push back on defense, too, and his familiarity with Steve Bruce could get him the nod over developing 19-year-old James Bree. Ritchie de Laet, in spite of his capabilities, wasn’t brought on board by the gaffer and might not engender the same responsibility in Bruce to see the field. He looks more likely to find time on the left. With Leandro Bacuna’s representatives working to get him a new home with Reading, he’s being left on the lowest rung here.

Birmingham City V Aston Villa- Sky Bet Championship Photo by Nathan Stirk/Getty Images

Finally before wrapping up, it might be important to point out that the best defenders that Villa have could very well just be Terry, Chester and Jedinak. James Rushton a month ago illustrated the idea of playing with three at the back when we still counted Nathan Baker a Villan, and the concept was discussed to be tested in the preseason against Watford though there was no follow through. With the additions to the team at the midfield, playing a 3-5-2 could get the most of Villas’ talent on the field at once. When we’ve completed outlining our depth by position, we’ll take a look at that, but in our final instalment of reviewing the depth charts, we confront the final boss: the Villa midfield.