While Villa are not planning to spend huge numbers in the coming Summer transfer market, they still need to do something to fix a number of gaping holes in the team.
Aston Villa suffered an enormous blow during their last away game of the season. While losing to Championship basement dwellers Blackburn Rovers - Jonathan Kodjia, Villa’s talismanic forward, was stretchered off. This has happened before - Kodjia has been removed from the pitch via injury on two occasions thus far, but it is this occasion which has had the most impact. Kodjia was found to have broken his ankle and the injury will put him out of action until a while after Villa set off on their next season in the Championship. Villa’s attack should be questioned, even with the presence of Kodjia and in the Summer, Villa do need to spend well on a striker that offers something different to what Kodjia and Hogan provide if they don’t look to Rushian Hepburn-Murphy.
However, despite Villa’s anaemic attack this season, one huge problem lies in wake. You see, if Villa don’t find striking options this year - we can at least see what others can do in the role. If Aston Villa lose the ageing Mile Jedinak to another injury, they can forget about winning football matches. Not much is true in football, such a dynamic game, but if you want to bet your house on something, it is that Aston Villa under Steve Bruce are nothing without Mile Jedinak.
Aston Villa need to make their priority clear in the Summer and while a striker will always be the likely and popular target, Aston Villa need to ensure that their midfield has a foundation. The talents of Henri Lansbury and Conor Hourihane can’t be denied, but without Mile Jedinak doing the hard work - they are toothless as they fight to win the ball back.
What does Mile Jedinak actually do for Aston Villa? The Australian isn’t exactly mobile, he’s not an excellent footballer either - but he is reliable. When Lansbury and Hourihane surge up the pitch, they know full well that they can go gung-ho because Jedinak won’t. Is it because he can’t? Maybe, but more likely it is because of his experience. Jedinak knows where the ball is going to be and he’s damn well going to be there when it falls to him so he can move it back up the pitch. Jedinak’s importance to Aston Villa is in their phases of football. Villa are not a great footballing team and they haven’t really been so for a number of years - especially since Paul Lambert left the club. While Lambert didn’t win a bunch of games, he did try to make his team play the game - but they ended up rather toothless without any support. Aston Villa now have a number of players that are single minded about the game. Players like Jack Grealish, Jonathan Kodjia, Albert Adomah, Lansbury, Bacuna and Hourihane along with Villa’s defensive corps of Hutton, Baker, Chester and Taylor commit solely to one phase. They are either too far up the pitch, or locked down in one end. There is no flow to the team, something which players like Fabian Delph, Tom Cleverley and even Ashley Westwood easily provided. Even in Villa’s darkest hours they could still move back and forth instead of making Villa Park a one-way street. Villa’s replacements in Lansbury, Hourihane, Gardner and Bacuna are gifted players in their own way - but they are all alike in the manner that they are extremely direct footballers. It is either on or off for these footballers. There is no tempo control, no dictation of play - simply surging runs into the box. This is good, but it doesn’t work if the ball gets lost, it doesn’t work if you don’t have players who can slow the game down and make decisions. Great football happens when players use instincts and are direct. Solid football, the football that you need to rely on week in and week out to grab points comes with smart decisions and choosing your moments. This is something that Mile Jedinak does and not just for himself, he makes decisions for his team-mates. He drops back as a third CB, he’ll push up to dominate the midfield. He’s either a huge obstacle or he is controlling everything on the pitch.
The evidence for Jedinak’s importance to Villa? Our writer Phil Vogel did the math - in 12 matches without Jedinak, Villa grabbed just 7 points. Five of those points came before Jedinak joined Villa later on in August. In 33 starts for Villa, Jedinak has helped the side win 54 points from 33 games. Phil stated that this works out to 1.63 points per game which runs you to 75 points over the course of a full season with Mile in the side. For a ‘bad’ Villa team, that’s solid. That puts you in the playoff picture and in Villa’s case, that would be a playoff picture achieved by default. Mile Jedinak is an on/off switch for success for Aston Villa.
Mile Jedinak, as a pretty above-average player, is of world-class importance to Villa right now. If they signed a marginally better player than Mile (and there are more than a few), all signs would say that this Villa team, as it stands right now will improve with any purchase of a player better than Jedinak. This could be to the tune of five extra points. Mile gets us 75, but an improvement would see us at 80 if everything else falls into place.
Mile doesn’t need to be replaced though; that’s the thing. He has suffered a number of issues - particular groin muscle issues - throughout this season. For Mile, that means his mobility has suffered. Mile has not had a rest all season long, and with those groin issues, we can pretty much guarantee that Jedinak has played a large portion of the season at about 60% of his total fitness. We can also guarantee that Jedinak has played for Villa while injured. That’s without mentioning his long haul flights to the Middle-East, East Asia and South Asia as well as Australia as part of his international footballing commitments. Any additions to this role and position help Jedinak. They allow him to be switched out, they allow him to be substituted onto the pitch and off of the pitch. Mile’s role demands a lot, and he could be the ‘replacement’ Villa needs if he can find the time to rest and get to full fitness. That is an option Villa could offer if they sign a backup.
Funnily enough, Aston Villa have a ready made backup in the form of Carlos Sanchez. The Colombian is currently on loan at Fiorentina and it is highly likely that Sanchez will be moved on in the Summer. If Villa can convince Sanchez to stay - they’d save a bunch of money. Carlos Sanchez wasn’t ever loved at Aston Villa, but that is rather unfair - he performed the same role as Jedinak in a team that had neither attack or defence. Sanchez’s departure will mean that Villa need to search for a backup.
If Aston Villa can improve on Mile Jedinak, or find a suitable backup, they have made a huge move towards the Premier League regardless of who is managing the side. A side with Jedinak actually works. A side without doesn’t.