There is a sinking feeling at Villa Park and online that Aston Villa won’t achieve promotion as long as Steve Bruce remains at the helm. Bruce has arguably been supplied with the best team in the paper during his season’s in charge and has so far failed. The question I now ask myself is ‘was Bruce lucky in the success he has achieved’ particularly when looking at player choice?
When Bruce first arrived, results were very inconsistent. Gone was the attractive football played under Roberto Di Matteo. Bruce favoured a more solid defensive approach and probably had his reasons to do so. We conceded far too many late goals before his arrival and clean sheets as a whole were hard to come by.
What seemed to be the astute signing of leader and ‘been there done it’ defender Tommy Elphick just hadn’t worked. An injury led to the introduction of Nathan Baker.
A dependable, no nonsense defender who trypified Bruce’s approach. Alongside James Chester, he formed a solid partnership, which did lead to some success and seemed to be something to build upon. Following the arrival of John Terry, Baker moved on to Bristol City, seeking regular first-team football. His departure does seem to indicate that his introduction was more down to luck than good judgement from Bruce.
Albert Adomah’s first season with Villa was unspectacular, his second remarkable. But again his involvement and rich vein of form seemed more a stroke of luck than positive influence from Bruce.
The 2017/18 season began with Birkir Bjarnasson, Josh Onomah and Andre Green all given starts on the wing before Adomah. A combination of injuries and a lack of form resulted in Adomah being given a chance. He played in an unnatural left hand side of midfield following the arrival of Robert Snodgrass and it worked.
Adomah scored twice in a comfortable victory against Barnsley sparking a dazzling run of form and goalscoring few would’ve predicted. Again, however, Bruce seemed to have stumbled upon this rather than tactical nous. Bruce tried to offload Adomah to his former club Middlesbrough. Sounds similar to Baker, No?
One more example I can turn to is Iceland midfielder, Birkir Bjarnason. Injuries to Glenn Whelan and Mile Jedinak left Bruce short. He had a defensive midfield void to fill and Bjarnason was given a chance. His Villa career reborn.
During the time it was rumoured that Bjarnason was seeking a move from the club due to lack of playing opportunities. Instead, it became a month where he played a part in a 7 game winning streak for the club. Mobile and forward thinking he presented an alternative option to Whelan and Jedinak and was regularly involved in the run in to the playoffs.
This season he has been overlooked again. Bruce is trying to cram players into a midfield and struggling to find a successful balance. His lack of game time will only see the frustration that we saw glimpses of last season grow. It wouldn’t surprise me if he sought a move come to the January window if his chances remain limited.
Bruce’s tenure seems typified by this stumbling on players and their positions within his starting eleven. Keinan Davis is another which comes to mind. The only question therefore, is whether this happening will occur again and save Bruce his job before it’s too late?