Four straight wins have propelled the Villans into sixth position. Whilst Derby County and Bristol City lurk just outside with games in hand, Villa are only looking upwards right now. One of the most pleasing aspects of the winning run has been the way the defence has suddenly tightened up. Villa has conceded just once in those four games. And that was somewhat of a freak goal against Nottingham Forest which was clearly intended as a cross.
Before this, Villa had kept just two clean sheets since the reverse fixture at the Riverside back on December 1st, which Villa also won 3-0. That was a run of 15 games, so it’s quite a transformation to suddenly boast shutouts in three of the last four.
Jack Grealish’s return has obviously been instrumental in Villa’s upturn in form. But defensively, there have been some other heroes. Not least Jed Steer, who has quietly come in and dislodged £7million January signing Lovre Kalinic as the current number one.
Kortney Hause has also stepped up and proven his worth as an excellent choice at centreback. The youngster on loan from Wolves was already impressing at left back before Tommy Elphick’s injury during the match against Derby forced Dean Smith’s hand somewhat and saw Hause shifted along the back line. He has simply improved game by game after a real shaky start.
Tyrone Mings has had the biggest impact of all in my opinion though. He has been a colossus. But it’s more than just winning balls with him. Mings has leadership qualities and you can tell he is ensuring there is an improved standard across the back line. He has a competitive edge to him, which borders onto the ‘nasty’ side at times. Aston Villa has lacked having that kind of character in the team as a whole for quite a while; we’ve been very ‘nice’ for too long.
Decisions to be made
However, there are some big choices looming on the horizon for manager Dean Smith to make. Over this break, it is likely that both James Chester and Axel Tuanzebe will both be there or thereabouts in terms of making their comeback from injury. That first match back against Blackburn Rovers could pose some real selection headaches if that’s the case.
Ultimately, it is, of course, a good thing to have options. But there is also a real worry of upsetting the applecart. For me, Mings cannot be dropped and must play whenever possible. He is playing so well and has become such a key player for us. During his short time at the club, he has played well with both Hause and Tommy Elphick, bringing out the best in both of those guys also.
You get the feeling that he just gets what it means to be at this club also. A bond with the fans has been formed and that is something that shouldn’t be underestimated. It adds an extra desire into a player who already has a point to prove.
Chester or Tuanzebe
As good as Hause has been alongside Mings, he is unlikely to keep Chester or Tuanzebe at bay. He will most likely keep his starting place by simply being shifted across to left back again. Neil Taylor would consider himself to be unlucky to be dropped after some improved recent displays, but if it’s a choice between the Welshman and Hause, you have to go with the more progressive Hause.
Which leaves Chester and Tuanzebe to go up against each other to partner Mings. And perhaps unpopularly, I think I would plump for the Manchester United loanee ahead of our captain.
Chester has been great for us since arriving three seasons ago now. His dedication in playing through much of this season with the knee injury that has ultimately sidelined him cannot be underestimated. We’d have sunk without a trace had he not have soldiered on.
But I just see Tuanzebe as a more dynamic option. His pace and power are huge factors for me and I see those qualities complimenting Ming’s presence a little better than Chester would.
Chester may be the captain and have an important leadership presence, but Mings has shown he can take the lead and shepherd a partner, and indeed the whole defence, through a game and I feel he’d partner up really well with Tuanzebe.
That would be a huge call for Smith to make, however. It’s going to be compelling to see how the situation unfolds in the coming weeks. But whatever happens, Smith has a balancing act to deal with and keeping everyone happy will be tricky. One thing I do hope is that he doesn’t try to achieve this by chopping and changing a pairing in an attempt to give everyone game time for the sake of it. Consistency is key, especially in a defensive partnership.
At the moment, the decisions have been largely taken out of Smith’s hands due to mounting injuries. He’s made an impressive call in sticking with Steer between the sticks. It’ll be interesting to see if he can he make a correct call for his centre back pairing too.