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Time to shake up the Villa midfield?

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Villa are on course for a European challenge, but is our midfield tired and in need of a boost?

Aston Villa v Newcastle United - Premier League Photo by Clive Brunskill/Getty Images

After some subdued performances beyond defense in the past few games and tough games ahead, the conversation of whether or not change is needed in order to keep up Villa’s blistering first half of the season is finally coming into the mainstream.

At times over the course of the season, the midfield in particular has looked lost. Vacant spaces and the loss of spark between holding players and the attacking cohort has stifled the Villans on too many occasions, even during their rich vein of form.

It’s these inconsistencies, which have even been brought up by Dean Smith in recent weeks, that depict Villa as world-beaters on their day and then like a shadow of their 2019 selves the next.

What the gaffer seems reluctant to do, however, is provide a real Plan B as the usual suspects in set positions are substituted for the purpose of giving players a breather rather than chancing things tactically.

This isn’t a diatribe against that, or against the current set-up. Villa’s progress has been staggering this season and full credit where it is due in creating a team and set-up that has allowed us to enjoy the football we have been witnessing.

What I suggest here is a way that can see us through this choppy patch or offer a different strategy when Villa are struggling 0-0 against a team playing a successful high-press and stopping our creative outlets with ease.

Getting McGinn and Barkley back to full fitness

An image with a line-up proposal for Villa with Traore in CAM, Sanson replacing McGinn as one of the CDMs and Trezeguet replacing Barkley and moving to the right wing.
Same formation, some big changes in the middle for Aston Villa.

The idea is to rest Ross Barkley and John McGinn, who have both struggled with long-lasting injuries and maintaining fitness for a full game as of late - allowing them to gain fitness and minutes from the bench while testing a different dynamic.

The Covid schedule has been difficult for anyone dealing with injuries; especially for players with minimal opportunity to rest. It shouldn’t be considered a negative mindset to recharge the batteries and be there for the bigger moments later in the game and the season ahead.

The main reason as to why it’s so important that these two get rejuvenated is that as the top and bottom of what is essentially a midfield diamond, there have been games where they have been shut out entirely; severing the connection between midfield and attack.

Making the most of Traoré’s strengths

Aston Villa v Newcastle United - Premier League
Bertrand Traoré has added flair and unpredictability to Villa’s ‘front four’, but his skill set could be better used in a more central role.
Photo by Clive Brunskill/Getty Images

Bertrand Traoré moves into Barkley’s central attacking midfield (CAM) position too, for two reasons.

First, Traoré enjoys having the ball at his feet and either finding the short pass, quick flick, or making the move towards goal.

In Villa’s system, this is much more suited to the CAM position as the players normally try to use speed down the wings; especially to help out in defense where the former Lyon man has found it difficult to keep up.

Trezeguet’s speed and dedication to high pressure football is much better suited to that right midfield position, which is something that could be even more needed with Matty Cash’s potential stint on the sideline!

Second, and perhaps less obvious at first glance, Bertrand Traoré’s movement into the middle would allow Jack Grealish to roam more freely into the number 10 role from the left wing as Traoré can interchange with him at will.

This will force teams who have taken to man-marking the Villa captain to either abandon the practice, allow one of their players to play out of position, or entrust the role to more than one player - usually nullifying its effectiveness.

Ollie Watkins would likely benefit too. When Villa aren’t getting forward as a unit, the forward is consigned to becoming a winger to try and drive the ball forward and start a sustained drive.

Traoré, in a more free-attacking role, can stay up near him and occupy this role; feeding the ball to him in more attacking positions for quicker forward moves.

Seeing Sanson

Aston Villa v West Ham United - Premier League
Not much of a sample size as yet, but Sanson’s eye to turn defense into attack through both passing and possession can help.
Photo by Simon Stacpoole/Offside/Offside via Getty Images

Morgan Sanson’s introduction to the Premier League has been currently fleeting, but encouraging. He’s quick, energetic, and looks to drive plays forward through a mix of short passing and possession.

With positive experience both in defensive and attacking midfield positions, Sanson could be the perfect link-up player to negate high-pressure sides and flip defense into attack; bringing the front four into the game quicker and from deeper where necessary.

His ability to play attacking midfield means that when Traoré needs to play on the wing, he can fill that central attacking midfield role if Jack is nullified or in too deep a position on that attack.

What’s more, as he was brought in with next season’s squad decisions in mind, now would be an excellent time to test his pedigree as a starter and what he can provide to the current formation that Dean Smith plays.

Games against Leicester, Leeds, and Wolves will ask plenty of questions of our midfield to not succumb to high-pressure and to try and enforce our own game on them.

Watch this space as changes to make that happen might well become enforced in order to progress further.

What do you think? Is there an issue with the midfield? Should Ross and John be rested? Are Trezeguet and Sanson the right players to bring in to the starting XI?

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