I was quite surprised that we signed Neil Taylor in 2017, especially as he was willing to drop down a level. A player who I felt was a very competent left back. Admittedly no thrills however very solid and diligent. He was someone I felt could very comfortably find a position in the squads of the mid to lower table premier league teams. It seemed as though we were getting a ready-made Premier League player for our glorious return to where we deserved to be.
Purchased in the January transfer window of our first season in the Championship, in what became our ‘building with Bruce for promotion next season window’. Taylor’s arrival signalled the end for fellow left-back Aly Cissokho (remember him?), with him joining Olympiacos on loan. Taylor’s defensive first style was the antithesis to his remaining left back competition Jordan Amavi.
After making the position his own he made 14 starts and appeared assured and settled in Bruce’s defensive first system. It looked like he could well be Villa’s first choice left back for years to come and the first regularly dependable left back since? I struggle to remember. But it hasn’t quite worked out like that.
The start of the 2017-18 season saw him as the first choice left-back. Playing his part in three consecutive clean sheets in September and 5 from 6 games, something we can only dream of now. He seemed to be a regular part of what was becoming a solid defence.
An injury to Taylor, who was the only recognised left back at the club and remarkably still is at the beginning of October introduced the irrepressible cult hero Alan Hutton. Hutton made stepped up and made the position his own.
After Hutton’s marauding runs, important challenges and loveable deficiencies, it left Taylor as the second choice left back. He really struggled for the remainder of the season. Hutton’s shackling of the now flourishing Adama Traore across the Playoff semi-final meant he rightly started the play-off final.
This season, so far…
Bruce opted for Hutton for the opening game of the season against Hull. He continued his impressive form scoring a solo goal to cap an away victory. It could have been so different if we signed Joe Bryan but the less said about that, the better.
After Villa struggled in the league, Bruce reintroduced Taylor to the starting line-up against Blackburn. I believed this signalled a new start for the Wales international but Bruce once against turned to Hutton against Rotherham.
It was Villa’s first clean sheet in the Championship this season so I can’t see Bruce dropping Hutton for Taylor anytime soon.
The modern-day full-back
What signalled Taylor’s decline from a Premier league regular to a championship irregular? Some will point towards the incident with Seamus Coleman at international level. Others have never really understood the signing.
Bruce’s defensive first style to stabilise us in our first Championship season suits Taylor, who’s attacking deficiencies are clear to see.
In an age where full-backs can often be the main attacking force over the course of a game. Just look at the impact of Keiran Trippier at the World Cup and the full introduction and impact this season of Benjamin Mendy at Manchester City. Even in the mismatched attacking/defensive system we currently play the importance of an attacking full-back as an outlet is pivotal. Who knows what the future holds for Taylor, but his defensive first full-back style seems outdated in modern day football and has resulted in his lack of game time.