Aston Villa: 3 thoughts on the defeat at Derby County

DERBY, ENGLAND - DECEMBER 16: Jack Grealish of Aston Villa shoots at goal during the Sky Bet Championship match between Derby County and Aston Villa at iPro Stadium on December 16, 2017 in Derby, England. (Photo by Nathan Stirk/Getty Images)
DERBY, ENGLAND - DECEMBER 16: Jack Grealish of Aston Villa shoots at goal during the Sky Bet Championship match between Derby County and Aston Villa at iPro Stadium on December 16, 2017 in Derby, England. (Photo by Nathan Stirk/Getty Images) /
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Aston Villa suffered a disappointing blow on Saturday, losing to the Rams of Derby County at Pride Park. Steve Bruce’s curious striker-less team selection created rather unappealing attacking results. Here are three thoughts on the defeat.

Villa came, Villa saw, but Villa did not conquer. Steve Bruce traveled with a depleted squad to fellow promotion contenders Derby County and lost 2-0. Former Villan Andreas Weimann (we still miss you, Andi) was gifted the opening goal through Glenn Whelan’s awful mistake.

Johnny Russell sealed three points for the Rams with an adept second-half finish, and like that, the gap between 4th and 5th-place widened to four points. Next week, Aston Villa host 6th-place Sheffield United at Villa Park. A loser in that match faces an uphill battle in the top-six challenge.

Here are some closing thoughts from Pride Park:

1. Jack Grealish starred, as predicted

“Starred” might be too positive, but Jack Grealish was quite good on the afternoon. Steve Bruce finally afforded the 22-year old his first league start of the year. In the #10 hole, Grealish completed 90.4% of his passes, registered 2 key passes, and attempted to spark life in the Villa attack through three shots.

Next: PLAYER GRADES: Villa 0-2 Derby

Keinan Davis’ absence through sickness complicated matters for the claret and blue. Usual central attacking midfielder, Josh Onomah, was pigeon-holed into center-forward. Predictably, it did not go well.

Grealish certainly earned the right to continue as an automatic starter until proven otherwise. What’s missing, is an actual striker in squad to play off of. The goals are drying up at Aston Villa and Jack’s ability to maintain possession, draw fouls, and penchant for taking shots on the opposing net are sorely needed.

2. Glenn Whelan limits the Villa attack.

Glenn Whelan is a valuable member to Aston Villa. On the whole, his season has been average to pretty darn good. The Republic of Ireland international brings tenacity in the middle of the park and always seems to be in position, thus maintaining proper team shape.

However, Whelan’s presence hampers Aston Villa in the attack. It might seem counter-intuitive that a defensive midfielder is a cause for bad offense, but the thought has merits.

Whelan is a black hole offensively; his passing range has fallen off a cliff since leaving Stoke City. His short passes and limited carrying ability harm a club that tends to hold so little possession. While his defensive ability is terrific, if he makes mistakes like the opening goal above, he does not provide any value to Aston Villa.

In a perfect world, Mile Jedinak starts deputizing in defensive midfield. But, the absence of healthy central defenders meant the Aussie had to start at center back. Which brings me to my final thought…

3. John Terry can’t come back soon enough

Villa’s recent uninspiring run of matches can, at least partly, be attributed to John Terry’s broken foot, one that is nearing a return to health. In fact, there is a slight chance he returns for Sheffield United at the weekend.

John Terry was huge for the club until he broke a metatarsal at the beginning of November. While Chris Samba filled-in admirably (only 7 goals conceded in 7 league matches), his own injury woes forced Mile Jedinak into center back and Tommy Elphick back into the first team picture, thus limiting Bruce’s options in restructuring Villa’s defensive midfielder.

Next week’s match against the Blades will be an inflection point on Aston Villa’s season.