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Box to Box 3: A “Typical Championship Game”

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Villa dropped a win against Reading. How does that stack up with Steve Bruce's comments?

Aston Villa v Brentford - Sky Bet Championship Photo by Clive Mason/Getty Images

Back to it with Box to Box. This week in review are new signings, a return to form for Jonathan Kodija, and a less than exciting result to Reading.

Brentford Review

According to Steve Bruce, the first half against Brentford was the “best I have seen from this team,” and what the club “has been trying to implement.” This seems to mean that what the Villa offered versus Brentford is the game-plan for moving forward, and the 4411 is the plan of attack. To review, after the first half, Villa entered the half tied with Brentford but should have been up by a man after the shock tackle by Neal Maupay. At the end of the game, the Villa had dominated possession with 57% of the ball during the game and managed to out shoot Brentford 17 to 13. All in all a decent match, and showed the offensive ability that this team has needed after some dull first matches.

Here’s the rub, Villa did not offer anything new regarding formations or personnel that could hint at the “best” of the season. Instead, there is no reason to think that this is anything more than playing better against a team the team should have beaten. For example, when Brentford was in possession Villa tended to drop into a deep 442 formation, with Jack Grealish pushing to support Jonathan Kodija in the press. From here, when taking the ball, instead of building up through the pass, the plan was to bounce the ball up to the two “forwards” who then held up the ball waiting for the team to join in. It just seems that there is a lack of support in these moves, and even when Grealish can put a shot on target, there is no one in the box to grab the rebound, or even to add pressure.

If this is the best the team can offer, then this is going to be a long season. Shots and possession are beautiful, but when they come in long build-ups to easy shots, there is nothing to celebrate. Without another body or two in support, it is fairly easy to push Kodija and Grealish to points where they have less an ideal offensive plans.

Jonathan Kodija

Bruce was rightfully excited by the play of his striker, as Kodija is one of the only reasons that the club has points to its name this week. In Bruce’s own words, Kodija “is one of the best strikers in this division,” and he has shown that with his time so far at the club. Kodija looks to finally be back to full health, and ready to lead the line.

Without turning this week’s column into a total dismissal of Bruce’s comments, and perhaps this is clouded by the Reading result, the concerning piece is that Kodija is not set-up to play in this 4411/442 system that Villa seems to be wedded to so far this campaign. First, going back to the 442 in counter, Kodija is built like a target man but tends to arrive late in the box, meaning when he does hold up the ball he is too far back to create much. For example, when Grealish is the shadow striker off Kodija, he is going to get fouled before he makes it close to the box, even when Kodija does hold that ball for him to run onto. There is not enough support to get that ball to where it needs to go. Perhaps the new wingers will help that, but this is an issue for sure.

Second, Kodija is a finisher more than a creator. Without being able to create his own shots with dribbles, this means the club needs to get the ball to him in the box, as opposed to setting him up outside the box. Grealish is not going to hold up play, and there is no one else to create for the striker. This is why on the goal at the end of the game came off a de facto set piece, with the players in the box being set up to receive the cross from Elmo. These are the situations where the team looks to be the most dangerous, but makes the club look more like the away side than the home team in these games. Also, this shows that Kodija needs support to make sure he is not being double teamed out of the play.

While there is a reason that this article is here, and Bruce is in the dugout, there needs to either be more support for Kodija, more creation down the wings, or some change in the formation to get more support. Villa fans love Kodija, but he will not score 20 goals this season without some changes.

Welcome El Ghazi

If Bruce reflects the front office’s mood on this move, then the Villa believe they have a real coup coming to the club. Before seeing him on the field on Saturday, there was a buzz and excitement that could be felt through the screen from the presser. According to Bruce, El Ghazi was “the next big thing to come out of Holland,” and ran into some issues with the changing manager at Lille. Now with Marcelo Bielsa out of the picture, it seems that the French side did not need the player, which Villa will take advantage of regarding adding a quality player. Knowing how Bielsa plays, this move looks to be an offensive player who can take the ball to the corner, as well as move passes back to Grealish and others coming from the midfield. While built a bit differently than Robert Snodgrass, this move could have that same impact concerning offering something a bit different on the outside of the formation.

The one other note, and not being in the room it is always difficult to read the body language, but Bruce seems to be more excited about the impending signing, now official, of Yannick Bolasie. If both are fit and in the team, this looks to be a much different offensive force than the fans have seen so far. Maybe then even can create for Kodija.

Reading Preview/Review

This season, when Bruce talks about other teams, his favorite line is that they are ‘a team in transition” or that they are “experiencing a change.” While he ties this mostly to the manager, it does come off as a bit reactionary, in that Villa is more concerned with how other teams will play coming into the game than how they play. For example, Bruce commented on the move to 442 by Reading being a bit “tighter defensively” and “more compact.” The approach seems to be good for the Villa, in that the team can take the game to Reading, but sadly, that did not play out in the match. In fact there was nothing different in Villa’s approach from the Brentford game. While the team looked good versus the Bees, the ability to change is what will keep this team picking up points.

At the same time, Bruce is always first to compliment the other side, and in this presser, he reminded those gathered of how close Reading has been to getting out of the division. This was the same with Ipswich and Hull in past weeks. While it is only a presser, Bruce seems to take the same attitude towards every other team, which will be something to watch. This is not to say that Bruce should not look to how other teams play, but rather, that he is not going to give much away in these pressers. The respect for other clubs seems to be the closest that the fans will get to seeing how he approaches a match.

Bruce seemed confident of a result and wanted this to be the “icing on the cake” for the Villains with an excellent start to the campaign so far. Sadly, this did not happen, and much can be tied to the team playing the same line-up. The other piece is that even when adding El Ghazi to the team, the line-up looked and played the same. El Ghazi did not seem to play that much different than Albert Adomah in the formation, and this is a bit odd when the two are different players.

Villa seems to be approaching each match in the same way, not adapting to the opposition and getting the same results. Lots of shots from targets, and only really threatening when the team gets bodies into the box, which the formation limits.