Why Villa and Bruce are a mismatch

Steve Bruce – express.co.uk

Steve Bruce is not a bad manager – his record at Championship level proves that. For his management to work however, there is a certain mould of player required.

His 2012/13 and 2015/16 Hull sides were all about power in central areas, much like his promotion-winning teams at Birmingham before that. The physical build of those players suited the direct style that Bruce favours.

Since relegation to the Championship, Aston Villa have signed six attack-minded players: Ross McCormack, Jonathan Kodjia, Albert Adomah, Scott Hogan, Conor Hourihane and Henri Lansbury. Each of them arrived with the reputation of being one of the most creative or clinical performers in the second tier.

On paper then, the result of them playing together should be goals galore. In fact, the Villans have scored just 39 goals in 38 Championship games under Bruce’s tutelage. Burton Albion are the only non-relegated club to have scored fewer in that time and they have a far lower budget.

Of the six expensive imports mentioned, only the currently injured Kodjia has been a success, because he had the individuality to score without much help. The other five had generally played in expansive teams that passed through the midfield, allowing them to develop their confidence and technique in possession.

Chairman Dr Tony Xia’s logic is that if he appoints a manager with a track record of promotion and spends a lot of money on players with the best goal/assist record, that will automatically result in goals and by extension promotion.

While investment helps, promotion also requires a coherent plan which ensures that the players signed are in line with the tactical approach that the team is likely to take. Aston Villa have played 61 inaccurate crosses in their first three games of this season, alone. Crossing simply does not suit the strengths of the players available. Striker Hogan has competed in nine aerial duels this season and he has lost every single one of them, unsurprisingly for a player who is 5’9″ and hardly ever attempts to score with his head.

Perhaps understandably, Bruce has gone into the club with a set template of how to win games at this level that has worked for him consistently in the past. That template though just doesn’t work with the players Villa have. Xia isn’t in a position where he can change the whole squad instantly to suit direct tactics and it would seem irresponsible to, given the obvious talent available.

For that reason, a parting of ways between Bruce and Villa may be best for all concerned.