Assessing the midfield depth is the trickiest of all even while recognizing the variety of roles we’ll need to fill to fit Steve Bruce’s likeliest of formations. Since the close of the January transfer window, Mr Bruce has overwhelmingly chosen to play a 4-2-3-1, so prior to a few key characters getting a little healthier—or inversely prior to some other key characters getting injured—it’s likely to assume we’ll continue to play a similar formation. So let’s break it down to our defensive midfielders, central and attacking midfielders, and then we’ll work out to the edges.
Our Defensive Midfielders
Mile Jedinak we’ve already discussed with the center backs. He has Bruce’s trust and he’s a proven performer for this squad. When he’s healthy, he’ll be the number one option.
Glenn Whelan will provide cover for Jedi’s particular skills and still allow some ability to make plays further down the field. He didn’t look particularly sharp against Hull, but has a lengthy body of work that will keep him uniformed for sure until our Aussie is back barking.
Jordan Lyden sees a number of players above him when he should be breaking through, but if he’s included, he can bring an attacking mindset and push play further up the pitch.
- MILE JEDINAK
- GLENN WHELAN
- JORDAN LYDEN
Central and Attacking Midfielders
The central and attacking midfielders is probably where we find the most difficult decisions being made. Jack Grealish, who was finally released from hospital for his kidney issue, was granted the number 10 which showed the hard work he’s put in to impress the club after an up and down few years. There’s no need to rehash what we’ve already been through with Jack—his injury derailed what should have been a season leading this team to a promotion spot. It’s up to the depth to hold the fort for him until Christmas or do the job for him for the year.
Henri Lansbury put in a great 70’ against Hull before taking an elbow to the head and seeing his play drop off. His work created a number of chances for the squad and we ended with a draw through no fault of his. If he’s not feeling any ill effects, he can continue to make plays.
Conor Hourihane had an up and down game against Colchester, showing a good bit of chemistry with Scott Hogan off of set pieces, but missing almost consecutive opportunities on net. He has all of the tools in front of him to exceed his reputation at this level and both he and Lansbury should markedly improve Villa’s woeful play from free kicks.
Our loanee Josh Onomah missed his chance to put away Hull in the opener, but got a start next to Hourihane in the Carabao Cup and displayed all of his talent against the League Two squad, specifically working in tandem with Andre Green.
Birkir Bjarnason should recover to a familiar position after being forced to play left back against Colchester. That he’s being asked to play in areas foreign to him shows that Bruce wants to give him opportunities to make an impact, but he has a lot of teammates to jump in order to do so.
Callum O’Hare won our hearts with a beautiful pass to generate Villas 7th minute goal in the cup and nearly missed a long distance strike which if it were a few feet shorter would have forced this writer to lie down for a bit. He looks like he’s ready to make a difference.
Gary Gardner remains on the squad, but hasn’t featured and didn’t travel with Villa to their preseason tournament in Germany. He’s been most recently linked to a move to Nottingham Forest.
- JACK GREALISH
- HENRI LANSBURY
- CONOR HOURIHANE
- JOSH ONOMAH
- BIRKIR BJARNASON
- CALLUM O’HARE
To The Left
With Andre Green reporting himself out for the weekend, Villa are likely to rely on Gabby Agbonlahor on the left. This is like to change when Jonathan Kodjia returns, though the outlook there was pushed further back, but the injury to Green is dispiriting as his play against Hull stood out. Our writer Alex Carson pointed out that during the crucial twenty-five minutes from the half to 71’ Gabby only amassed five touches, whereas when Green came on to take over the vacated area, the whole of the pitch opened up and Green had fifteen touches through the end of the game. Whether this is a result of Agbonlahor’s conditioning or focus, or Green’s enthusiasm, Villa simply need to put stress on the defense from all angles to allow more space for the attack and it’s not clear that Gabby can be responsible for putting 90’ of stress on a defense.
A better option for the team could be Albert Adomah, who has produced from the left over his career netting four goals and two assists over fifteen matches. We need to see him make a lineup at left over Gabby before putting him first on the list, though.
- GABBY AGBONLAHOR
- ALBERT ADOMAH
- ANDRE GREEN
1 and 1A on the Right
The right is a mix because of two great options for the squad. Albert Adomah, now healthy, and Ahmed Elmohamady who has impressed in preseason and drew no complaints against Hull. Whereas I would prefer to put Adomah in the lineup, I think Elmo is the likeliest to make it on Bruce’s list. Both will be positives for this team and will create plenty of chances for whoever is collapsing on goal.
- AHMED ELMOHAMADY
- ALBERT ADOMAH
The depth chart complete, the next step for this team—for now—is to see if we can grab three from Cardiff. After that and into next week, we hope to get to explore some lineup combinations that could get the most out of the Villa talent, some potential changes to formation, and what this team could be when all are healthy.