Welcome to the “Box to Box” column, offering weekly coverage of Steve Bruce’s press conferences as Aston Villa manager for the 2018-19 campaign. Much like the player role on the field, the hope is that this column will give readers full-field coverage of the talking points each week, and provide some insight and predictions for things to come. In this way, we connect the reader to the goals on the field, by making those key passes to link you right to the club. When readers do not have time to sit through those Bruce pressers, come back here for the main takeaways to get ready for the upcoming matches.
Wigan Athletic Pre-match Press Conference August 10, 2018 with Steve Bruce
Starting right with the sexy topic of transfers and players, Steve Bruce seems to be under the impression that a few more signings are on their way to Villa Park. When asked, he said his goal was still the same as the comments made following last year’s Playoff Final loss. Specifically, to replace the five or six players the team had lost on loans and other deals. At the same time, Bruce also stressed the need to be “patient” with additions. While Bruce still seems to think there is more work needed to get back into the promotion hunt on the player front, he will not add at the risk to the core. This means that on one hand, the gaffer likes what he has if nothing else happens, but will not deny interest in adding some more players to the fold.
What should fans take this to mean? First, expect one or two loan signings in the next two weeks as Bruce said there are those deals in the works. This team still needs some depth at the back, perhaps at center back specifically, and could also use some help up front if injuries keep the young strikers off the bench for some time. And yet, do not be surprised to see the club wait until the winter break to loosen the purse strings. One thing fans know is that they should not see another goalkeeper “walking through the doors”, but other spots on the field do in fact seem likely.
On the other hand, there is no indication that anyone will be leaving the club, as Bruce made is very clear that no players would be joining the Premier League. While Jack Grealish will be covered more below, this should be music to Villa fans’ ears as at least there will be no key subtractions to accommodate new additions.
Bruce seemed pleased with the result but less thrilled with how the team played last week at home to Hull. To be fair, it was a dull match to start the season, but the gaffer will not throw away three points to launch the campaign. In his own words, the club is “still a bit short,” and this is seemingly different than the players and transfer conversation. Bruce was impressed enough with Andre Green’s play last week as he made the starting XI against Wigan after this presser. This is welcome news for Villa fans who have long seen Green as one of the exciting prospects coming through the youth ranks to make an impact, in an area that is sorely needed on the wings.
While the presser took place before the match, it will be interesting to see why Bruce changed from the back three to the “4411” formation this week. Perhaps this fits into his call to play better, or offers a better usage of the new players added in the midfield? Bruce does tend to rotate during the season more than most, but it is also intriguing that he rotated so much after picking up three points. Even more, from watching the Hull match, Tommy Elphick looked to be one of the better players but dropped out this week.
So then, more work to be done, but nothing alarming taking the beginning of the season into account. Fans should watch for Bruce’s comments on the formation, as perhaps, the three in the back approach will be the play on the road? This seemed to be the plan last season, and with the result versus Hull, there seems to be no need to change that yet.
Well, the Wigan match was not the best in young Nyland’s career to date, but he ended up with his first win as the Villa keeper, and that is all that matters. While the transfer itself was puzzling to most media outlets, it seems that Nyland has been on both Bruce’s and Villa’s wish list for a while. In fact, Bruce said that Villa has been chasing Nyland for four years, but finances have gotten in the way in the past. Furthermore, Bruce switched to the first person when talking about Nyland, showing how much he wanted the player as well, as he repeated that “I wanted to strengthen” the position, and it seems that Nyland is Bruce’s pick.
The reasons offered for Nyland specifically were that he plays well with the ball at his feet, and the club valued the international experience as a key selling point. Bruce was specific in that Nyland is good with “both feet” and is happy to dribble out with the ball. This is quite common in the Bundesliga concerning keeper value, and even with Nyland being from Norway by birth, he has come into his own playing in the Bundesliga 2. As long as Jedinak learns how to look before making a back pass, Nyland seems to be a good fit right from the start. Andre Moreira’s name did not come up during Bruce’s comments, and this seems to hint that Nyland is the clear favorite to start between the posts. While that raises some questions about the move from Spain, Bruce also confirmed that Jed Steer was leaving the club via loan, and this opens the back-up role to the new keeper.
The Grealish Dilemma
Bruce offered the most direct comments on Jack Grealish’s transfer rumors to date, as he said the new owners would accept “no figure” for the playmaker. The reports in the media on deadline day were that a figure of €30 million plus might see Jack leave Villa Park, but, at least as of now, that is far from accurate according tor Bruce. Grealish is a top talent on this team, and Bruce was emphatic that the move was good for him as a manager who relies on the player. This is not news to Villa fans, but does offer some stability moving forward.
At the same time, Bruce was very open that he understood where there might be some frustration to keep Grealish from playing at a “top club” in Tottenham, and even denying him European competitions this season. And yet, Bruce was very quick to comment and remind those in the room that the player has been with the club “since he was six,” and comes from a family that is deeply tied to the club. These comments are refreshing in that Bruce seems to have a firm grasp on the situation, while also keeping the door open for a transfer in the future. This is not ideal for Villa fans but should avoid some of the tension that these moves can bring if the results go the other way.
Plans for the Youth
Finally, Bruce was very emphatic that he did not see some of the club’s top youth players leaving on loans soon. In fact, it seems that only injuries are keeping them from the bench to date. Callum O’Hare, Keinan Davis, and Rushian Hepburn-Murphy got explicitly named, and this shows that the club values their depth in attack at the moment. This might also explain the John McGinn signing a bit as well, as Bruce sees him as a player who adds something “a bit different” to this team moving forward. If these players are keen to stick around that can only be good news for the club, as seems that there is a plan to get these players minutes on the pitch sooner than later.
Even more, Alex Tuanzebe, while not a Villa player permanently, seems to fit into that mold as well. Bruce said that he could “play in all four positions across the back four,” which might also hint to a switch away from the back three from the Hull match. Bruce has always had a reputation for mixing in the youth, and this year seems to be no different. If not a season that sees the Villa go up, at least seeing the next generation play will be good for the fans and club as a whole.
All in all, still early in the season but with rumors of players to come in yet, Villa Park will be exciting to watch as the club get up to speed on another promotion-aimed campaign.