Aston Villa’s Tactical Weakness and Negativity Invites Change and Rebuild

Villa supporter gives their opinion on the way ahead

By Matthew Talbot

Just Deserts

Aston Villa were deservedly beaten by Fulham FC in the Championship Playoff Final at Wembley Stadium, there’s no doubt about that. The negativity of the first-half performance was shocking and all the players, bar Grealish, ultimately did not deserve the support the Villa fans gave to them during the game. However, the players were not helped by Steve Bruce’s poor tactics.

The team was set up in the exact same way and with the same mentality as it was in the Middlesbrough game, a team that pose completely polar threats to Fulham. This tactical conservatism has been the root of Villa’s downfall of missing out on automatic promotion, with individual brilliance rescuing the team at times. It’s sadly the reason Steve Bruce has to leave.

Mentality Switch

Next season, the mentality of the club will have to change. With Financial Fair Play, Villa will no longer be able to do what they have done for the previous two seasons by going out and paying big wages to experienced players or cherry picking the best players of other Championship teams, because we will simply lack the funds to do so.

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Villa Engine on Hold

Villa will need to rebuild on different foundations. Bruce’s strength is at hustling and grinding with established players to promotion (but struggling from such short-termism once in the Premier League), rebuilding with a long-term mentality and trusting in youth to play their way to promotion is not what he does.

The truth of the matter is, the building of the much mooted ‘Villa Engine’, that will provide the club with a style of play and core club identity, cannot begin while Bruce is the manager.

Mr Smith?

The man who could be perhaps perfect for the job is Brentford’s Dean Smith.

At the Bees, Smith has built a strong, young team who play good football on a limited budget, as Villa have found out over the past two seasons (we haven’t beaten them in four games). Smith, who is also a Villa fan, seems to be able to get the best out of talented youngsters, who have yet to perform at the senior level. For example, a player such as Josh McEachran, who struggled to breakthrough at Chelsea, has established himself as an important player for Brentford.

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This kind of guidance could be key for players such as Rushian Hepburn-Murphy and Callum O’Hare, to start performing at senior level as they have done for the U23’s.

Unfortunately for Smith, Brentford have very much been a selling club, with his best players constantly sold off, but he has a knack of finding replacements. There’s no better example than when Villa took away his best striker Scott Hogan, the first thing he did was beat Villa 3-0.


Looking to the future, it’s not all doom and gloom. Obviously, losing players such as Terry and Snodgrass will be a huge blow, and players such as Grealish and Chester will receive attention from Premier League clubs. If those two also go, then Villa will potentially be missing seven out of the first XI that started in the play-off final at Wembley.

But if Villa are clever with their business and appoint a manager such as Dean Smith, there is no reason why we can’t be challenging for promotion again soon.

As fans, we have to be realistic, Villa will not challenge next season unless there is a change in mentality. Next season has to be about building long-term foundations and developing a style of play and having a little more faith in our talented young players, plus, ensuring the club stays financially stable. If we can do this, we will be back where we belong in no time at all and with the foundations of a team to challenge in the Premier League.

This is the perfect opportunity for Villa to become a club that once again is built on young, home-grown talent. Promotion can be achieved via this approach, just look at Southampton, a club now renowned for their academy and bringing through younger players.

As a fan, I’m quietly excited for what can happen. Obviously, I fear that the worst could happen and we become another Leeds United, but at the end of the day, we are Aston Villa – do you want to bet against us?


Follow Matt on Twitter here: @mattalbot13

These supporter opinion pieces are not necessarily the views of My Old Man Said

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  1. if the doc xia sells grealish to balance the books and keeps bruce in charge _ get ready for league 1

  2. im split between smith and bruce,,, bruce has got a lot right but we just dont have pace at the back and a benteke type forward who would allow bruces tactics to be more effective and less negative
    if bruce can get rid of all those underperformers and bring in players better suited to his tactics then we will be ok
    but there is a lot of players to shift out,, i would keep chester hutton elmo bennyb jedi albert grealish kodja green hourihane ,,,possibly davis and the young keeper,,, the rest get rid,,,
    lyden hep murph o hare and a few others promote and bring in a fast center back to compliment chester
    a benteke type forward and a decent right sided player to replace snoddy,,, plus left back needs strengthening,,, hutton has proved his worth but we need to replace taylor

    but,,,,, would a new manager do better with the underperforming players like lansbury hogan mccormack
    and get more out of hourihane benny b and grealish,,,,,
    and even richards

    the board has some big decisions to make

  3. Good article and completely agree Steve Bruce has had his day and if he stays then it will just be more of the same, he is a decent person but tactically back in the dark ages, not 100% on Dean Smith but he’s done well and in the absense of a high profile young manager he must be worth a go. And yes there is time to appoint new backroom staff. Personally I believe that Jack Grealish will stay and we should rebuild around him with our existing young players. Also agree about Wolves sussing Lambert we all knew he would be a disaster at Stoke and so it proved. Gutted like everyone else that we didn’t make it but let’s go again, I think the future can be exiting albeit might take a couple of seasons. Come on Dr T make the change now before it’s too late.

  4. From day one I have said Bruce is a dinosaur in modern footballing terms; plays far to negative; plays smallest man in Midlands up front and hoofs ball; midfield to slow to play the system with one up front; doesn’t believe in winning a game, just grinding out results and yes, even relying on the “bounce of the ball!” for the play-off finale; can’t change a game tactically at any given point; subs only used in complete desperation or as we go 2 or 3 down; the subs rarely change the outcome; indifferent performance from one game to the next or even one half to next
    What’s needed is for Villa fans to except that a complete rebuild is needed, be patient, get a manager to build a young outfit that will learn from mistakes (unlike Bruce) and look beyond the next season.
    If Bruce stays then he will have far less quality to utilise and will need to change to more direct football, can he change, will he change…????

    • your right,,,, but…. bruces tactics do work,,, thats why we finished fourth,,,, bruce now knows his squad,,, he knows whos going and where we need to strengthen and which kids to promote and he will have a fair idea who to bring in,,,,
      i dislike the football at times and its frustrating but sometimes we are good and effective,, but we could be a lot better to watch and if bruce can shift the dross and bring in a few decent players who genuinely make us more effective then thats ok
      we have come a long way,,, we all knew we are not the finished article and have a whole team of dross to sell,, its going to be a very busy summer,, but it could be we actually strengthen well and start the season quickly,,,
      personally i would like to see us bring in another coach just to improve the interplay and tactics around the box,,, not enough through balls or one twos around the box and better movement and incisive passing needed
      not just a bloody cross from the far touchline to a midget in the box,,,,
      we can be better,,, and we are very improvable,,, with the right coaching and aquisitions

  5. The alternative is more Steve Bruce,even wolves woke up to Lambert.
    Xia has to demand changes,it will be even harder now.Every coach knows
    Bruce inside out. New manager or face more of the same. This club really have
    to find a really top coach. The closest this club has ever come to finding one was
    Gerrard Houiler. There biggest mistake has been to employ old not young vibrant coaches.
    Europe have them in abundance, wolves woke up to that fact ,villa haven’t. Xia get new European

  6. Easy to say replace Bruce with Smith but what if Colin Calderwood & the rest of the backroom staff follow Bruce out the door . Will it be possible to replace them before the end of preseason ?

    • Cold light of day – Dr T must act fast – Bruce must go. The Watford model has much to commend it where only the coach and not his retinue of hangers on gets appointed. Much easier to deal with should he not work out. Smith is an interesting choice but we should not aim too low.

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