It could be argued that the decision to not play Axel Tuanzebe in his natural position at centre back, was the catalyst for Steve Bruce losing his job. Bruce continued to mystify fans by not playing the on-loan defender in his natural position. He undermined the defensive stability in his own team.
Mr Reliable and Bruce’s captain James Chester’s performances dipped. Understandably he looked unsure for the first time in his Villa career. Partnered by Mile Jedinak it seemed at times Chester was too worried and preoccupied with protecting and covering Jedinak’s lack of pace. Despite the evidence, Bruce didn’t make the change but Dean Smith has.
Smith made simple changes
In each of Smith’s games, he has chosen the same back four. This includes playing Tuanzebe in his natural position, centre back. The decision to play Alan Hutton at right-back is the one that has surprised me but it has contributed to steadying up a weak defence.
Tuanzebe’s pace and ability to cover the fullback compliments Hutton’s desire to get forward. Chester has also looked more assured and confident, apart from one lapse of concentration against QPR.
Since Smith has been in charge Villa have already kept more league clean sheets than they managed under Bruce. Two in four games compared to Bruce’s 1 in twelve this campaign.
Tuanzebe has played a big part of this, however, toughest tests await. Starting this weekend against Derby County.
Our defence will be faced by movement and attacking passing football. Possibly our biggest test so far this season. It will be an interesting game on numerous levels, but I believe parallels can be made to Villa’s 1-0 away win against Middlesbrough in January this year. It spread confidence to the team that a win can be attained against a rival away from home. Something rarely achieved in Villa’s spell in the Championship.
This is a trend that Smith will hope his side can learn quickly if we are to achieve promotion this season. It won’t be easy but with Tuanzebe at the heart of our defence, Villa stand a good chance. And if pushed, I would fancy our chances to come away from Pride Park with all three points.