As 2017 came to an end, it appeared that several players would depart Aston Villa for pastures new. One of those was the Icelandic international Birkir Bjarnason.
Up until the 5-0 demolition of Bristol City on New Years Day, Bjarnason had played only 99 minutes of Championship football. In fact he’d only played one full game way back in August.
Bjarnason was introduced as a second half substitute in the Bristol game and went on to score his first goal in claret and blue to contribute to Villa’s biggest win in four years.
Since that game, he has gone on to play more regular football after showing particular strengths playing in the defensive midfield role.
Bjarnason has brought a calmness to the centre of the pitch and has won numerous battles as well as the infamous ‘second ball’ which we have often lost time and time again when others have played in that role.
One aspect that has particularly impressed me has been the way in which Bjarnason will calmly bring the aerial ball down and look for the progressive pass. Too often we’ve seen aimless headers and possession immediately surrendered.
Dig a little deeper into the recent form of Bjarnason and the numbers make for good reading when assessing his position as a defensive midfielder.
1) 81% pass rate – Higher than Glenn Whelan (80%) and Mile Jedinak (77%)
2) 23 key challenges – 6 of these have directly prevented clear goal scoring opportunities.
3) Currently ranked 9th in the Championship by Squawka.com since January 1st in terms of defensive actions across all midfielders in the league.
4) Highest average duels won per game in defensive midfield (50%) – Higher than Mile Jedinak (46%) and Glenn Whelan (40%).
It should be admired the way in which Bjarnason has worked hard to get back in the team and establish himself as a key figure as others in the past and still now have been all to happy to sit back and avoid putting in the effort to get back in as a regular.
Axel Tuanzebe has been touted as wanting to play in the role too despite being a versatile option like Bjarnason. However, if the form in which Bjarnason is showing continues, it will be very difficult for Steve Bruce to withdraw him.