Villa might have improved considerably under Bruce but there's still work to be done if they are to reach the play-offs.
New Aston Villa manager Steve Bruce
All credit for Steve Bruce for somehow transforming an almighty mess at Villa Park into something resembling a side capable of challenging for promotion.
Yet, that does not mean the promotion specialist will be content with twiddling his thumbs in the New Year. With ambitious chairman Tony Xia armed with a chequebook and a mountain of millions, Villa have some work to do in order to avoid also-ran status.
Strike off a striker
Bruce has made no secret of his desire to cut ties with one of Villa’s multitude of misfiring strikers in the January transfer window. Ross McCormack has been heavily tipped to depart but the former Hull City boss admitted that his remarkable goalscoring rate in recent seasons, 66 in 132 prior to the current campaign, means time is on his side at Villa Park.
The same, however, cannot be said for towering hitman Rudy Gestede. He may be a viable plan B when ‘hit and hope’ becomes the only option but he has only scored nine league goals in two seasons. A swift switch back to the Premier League could ensure Villa recoup the hefty fee they paid Blackburn for his services.
Trim the fat
This is the inevitable by-product of a revolving door approach to management; each one arrives with his own ideas, and players, before leaving behind the dregs for someone else to clear up. The fact that the likes of Aly Cissokho, Libor Kozak and Micah Richards remain at Villa Park sums up the complete mismanagement that has led to the club’s decline.
These players add nothing to the squad but remain a constant drain on resources, meaning Bruce must swing the axe in the New Year.
Don’t cut out the middle man
Bruce was left seething as Norwich full-back Ivo Pinto drove through an immobile and idle Villa midfield to set up the winner at Carrow Road earlier in the month, with the divisive Mile Jedinak and erratic Josh Grealish out-fought and out-thought. Ashley Westwood (below), meanwhile, remains a very average Jack of very few trades.
Therefore, Bruce must target a combative, energetic all-rounder a la Jake Livermore at Hull in order to add a layer of protection to a soft underbelly. Or, for that matter, actually give summer signing Aaron Tshibola a game.
Understand the importance of an understudy
21-year-old shot-stopper Pierluigi Gollini may be pride and place in Italy’s never-ending legion of talented young goalkeepers but he has endured a baptism of fire in his first season in English football. Targeted on occasion by opposition bully-boys, the former Hellas Verona man could have benefitted from being introduced to this most unforgiving of leagues at a rather more gentle pace.
Instead, he has been thrown in at the deep end, starting all 20 fixtures. Therefore, a better alternative than Mark Bunn or Jed Steer would allow Bruce to rotate his number one on occasion to prevent burnout as Villa approach the ‘make or break’ section of the season.
Sign quality, not quantity
Steve Bruce said it himself, to the Birmingham Mail; “I will only bring in people now who will improve the squad dramatically. In the past, if I am going to be critical, I don’t think that has been the case here.”
Of all of Villa’s many summer signings, only regular goalscorer Jonathan Kodjia and versatile defender James Chester can be marked ‘hit’ rather than ‘miss’ so far.
Yet, a few, targeted additions, in central midfield and in the goalkeeping department in particular, could add meat to a relatively sturdy spine.