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Box to Box 4: “The best reaction is a reaction”

Steve Bruce was happy with Villa's start. Then they lost 4-1

Burton Albion v Aston Villa - Carabao Cup Second Round Photo by Nathan Stirk/Getty Images

Like most Villa fans readers might still be recovering from the display away at Sheffield United, but as usual, we are back with the recap of Steve Bruce’s comments on the weekend.

“The one thing we need is a reaction”

Right off the bat in the press conference, Bruce was asked about the game versus Burton, and he was quick to move on from the result. At the same time, he did call for the team to have a reaction, and that the best reaction “is to have a reaction.” Things will need to change according to Bruce, and while not going into details, Villa fans would expect nothing less. Unlike past performances, Bruce was very quick to admit the bad result but did not want to dwell on the game on its own.

The key, according to Bruce, was getting back on the pitch, and he expected his team to rebound. Knowing the result from Saturday, fans know this was not the case, and in fact, the team put out their worst performance of the year. Cleary the reaction was not there, and this will be a major talking point as the team approaches the long layoff.

What was unusual about Bruce’s comments was the time he spent implying that Jack Grealish and John McGinn would not be in the starting team versus United. At the very least, that they needed a least another training session to see if they were fit. And then, both started in the game, even with McGinn needing to be subbed off early. So then, either the players recovered well enough, or this was a bit of cover for the whole team coming back from Burton.

There is not much else to say on this game, and Bruce will be interesting to watch at the next presser, as the team seemed to play in the same 4411 that they have been. The team did seem to be a bit tired or sleepwalking to start the match. Is this the result of the punch from Burton, or the result of the team’s overall confidence? Time will tell, but Bruce seemed confident that the team would respond, and they did not.

When the team knew the difficulty of this match, and did not change how they set-up, does this mean that Bruce is out of ideas, or that the team will still grow? This is the major talking point for all fans this week.

Onto Sheffield United

At least four times in about a minute, Bruce commented how tough it is to play away at Bramall Lane. At the same time be remarked that the result from last year from this ground might have been the turning point to last campaign. For Bruce, the “goal from Snoddy was the point in the season that the supporters started to enjoy the team.” Bruce was looking for a similar result to keep the good run in the league going.

All in all, Bruce looked to be very happy, up until this game, with the form in the league. He used the phrase “delighted” often and seems to be seeing what he wants working on the field. For Bruce, the Burton game as distinct the rest of the year, with Sheffield being the real test. United was the chance to show what Villa could really do this campaign. And while he did not say this, Bruce also seemed to be thinking that a draw away was a good result.

At the same time, in typical Bruce fashion, he quickly pivoted to what has changed since the last meeting between the two sides. Not only has Aston Villa lost “six or seven key players” but Bruce talked more about Robert Snodgrass than any of the current Villa players in this press conference. Bruce thought he was the most significant loss, and the smile on his face showed how much be enjoyed the player. The team is different from last season, but Bruce was looking for who the Snodgrass will be this year.

Loan market

Bruce’s comments on the loan market were the most interesting in the conference, with some hedging going on concerning how quickly players will be brought into the club. First, Bruce commented that the team “was dismantled as quickly as you put them together.” With the reliance on loans for this team, the quick changes over the summer were tied to the transfer strategy. So then, there is not much continuity to the players, but Bruce also seems to be focused on these loan players being key pieces. If not, then the turnover is not as big an issue.

Second, loans were precisely the plan again this year, as Bruce said they left their business late to take advantage of the big clubs. The idea was to allow the Premier League teams to add their signings, and then move for the backups they needed to move to make room. This is why Yannick Bolasie was even available according to the team. Also, the plan, in part, explains why the team made the moves they did, as the club perhaps needed another defender, but if that was not on the market at the last minute, the strategy quickly turned to the attackers Bruce wanted. This seems to be a smart play, if they got the pieces they wanted, but also sets Villa up as the feeder team on the top six yet again. At the very least, this is not how Fulham, Wolverhampton, and Newcastle built their promotion teams.

Third, even with some of the comments on how tough it is to rebuild the team with a focus on loans, this is not a big enough concern to stop the process. Villa has built through loans again and will be in the same spot next year. The best example is Axel Tuanzebe, who Bruce prizes. Of all the Villa players he got the most time in this conference. Not only is he valued as one of the best players in the squad, but he will also play based on the arrangement with Manchester United. Fans should expect to see a lot of Axel moving forward.

At the international break

Bruce views the international break as the critical moment in the season, as he will be able to work with the whole team and kick off the rest of the campaign.

In his own words, “if you take away Burton, we have to be happy with the start.” So then, to this point, Bruce is happy, but there are still players to be worked into the side. If he is happy now, imagine what the team will look like after the new players are incorporated. This seems to be the line he is sticking with moving forward. In fact, according to Bruce, after the break, this team will be unrecognizable to the team that lost the playoff final last year. Not only the names but “how they play” as well.

When asked about Bolasie, he said the goal was always to have him ready to go after the break, and the quality he has shown in training has been good to see. So then it is not a concern to not have seen him to date. Bruce said he would have doubted the chance to add the player before the end of the window, and views this is a coup for the team.

The thing to watch will be where he plays. El Ghazi seems to be locked into the left wing, and there is no way that Grealish moves out of the starting eleven, or if at all, out of the middle of the park. This means that Bolasie moves to the right. What then happens to Elmo, and the others that are the few holdovers from last year? Bruce faces many decisions in the next week, but this will be the major one for fans to watch.