Of all the notable team selections made by Dean Smith for the Wolves game, there was one in particular that continues to surprise me. We have had debates all season about the wide men, Wesley’s position up front, the full backs and whether Conor Hourihane should always start in midfield (the answer is yes).
However the less-obvious omission of Kortney Hause from the matchday squad continues to confound logic. Hause is the natural understudy to Tyrone Mings on the left side of the centre-back partnership and it would take a catastrophic loss of form or injury to dislodge the England international.
Week after week this season though, during this season, the £2million signing from Wolves has been overlooked, even for a place on the bench, with Smith preferring the defensive options of Ezri Konsa, Neil Taylor and on Sunday the returning club captain James Chester, who stepped into the squad to replace injured Bjorn Engels.
The surprising aspect of Hause being left out, is not really because he is better than the other options, but that he is certainly more versatile. His first foray into the first team, whilst on loan last season was at left back, before switching across to right centre back when Tommy Elphick sustained his season ending injury. Both of these positions he covered to good effect, despite some early doubts from fans and in fact was rarely required in his favoured position as a left sided centre half.
It is easy to forget quite how competent and impressive Hause was last season, as it feels like he is going under the radar somewhat this season.
When selecting a bench, of course Dean Smith would want to have access to his best options. As the man who sees the squad train and therefore has the best view of what each player offers, his opinion on this has to be given the utmost respect. However, also in the mix should be versatility and players who can step into an number of positions comfortably when needed.
Kortney is certainly a player who offers this, where certainly Chester and Taylor do not and having him there would cover multiple positions across the back four. He would also give greater options to switch formation to a back three should that need arise, during a match.
Thus far, Hause’s only outings have been alongside Konsa in the EFL Cup, latterly against Wolves at Villa Park. Being at that game I saw nothing to suggest that he was lacking in confidence or form, albeit not being troubled too much by Wolves’ under strength team on that night. Positionally he was on point and in possession he has a smooth, effortless style, but that in no way detracts from his defensive attributes both in the air and winning the ball on the deck. The main aspect which is so eye catching though is his distribution. Both his link up short game and his ability to stretch the play with a long ball off his left foot are very much evident, possibly as much or more so than Mings.
It is easy to see what attracted Dean Smith to sign him, but the confusion is regarding the issues which are keeping him out the first team picture. As in any squad, it only takes a couple of injuries to see a player come in out of the cold and hopefully seize their opportunity, as we saw last time out when Orjan Nyland made his unexpected Premier League debut in goal.
However, it seems obvious that Hause would offer more cover and options to Smith than say, Neil Taylor, who can only play at left back and the jury remains out as to how effective he can do that at Premier League level.
Whilst this may not be a critical team selection point, it maybe points to Smith’s conservatism when selecting his squads so far this season. He has explained that of the 6 outfield players, he likes to have 2 players from each area of the team, which makes sense. It could be said though, that by including Hause, it may allow for an extra attacking player on the bench, which may be something to consider if attacking reinforcements arrive in January. It is clear that those game changing options are few and far between in the Villa squad so far this season.
For now Hause will have to bide his time and do his best to impress in the cup outings which he is involved with. I am sure that when opportunity does knock, he will take his chance and prove his worth to the team.