Birkir Bjarnason: The Start of his Aston Villa Revival

BIRMINGHAM, ENGLAND - JULY 29: Birkir Bjarnason of Aston Villa during the pre season friendly match between Aston Villa and Watford at Villa Park on July 29, 2017 in Birmingham, England. (Photo by Mark Robinson/Getty Images)
BIRMINGHAM, ENGLAND - JULY 29: Birkir Bjarnason of Aston Villa during the pre season friendly match between Aston Villa and Watford at Villa Park on July 29, 2017 in Birmingham, England. (Photo by Mark Robinson/Getty Images) /

Birkir Bjarnason has so far been plagued by injuries and inconsistency which have halted his Aston Villa career. He’s almost a year in and it’s clear that things haven’t gone to plan. However, there is still time to turn it around.

(Photo by Clive Brunskill/Getty Images)
(Photo by Clive Brunskill/Getty Images) /

This time last year Aston Villa had one of their busiest January transfer windows bringing in seven new faces. Among those to join was one of the Iceland national team’s heroes, Birkir Bjarnason. He’d joined after a successful twelve months for club and country as mentioned in his official reveal on the Villa website.

"“He was a member of Basel’s Swiss Super League title-winning squad in 2015/16 and a key part of the Iceland team that reached the quarter-finals of Euro 2016 – scoring his country’s first-ever goal in a major tournament against Portugal.”"

He’d also played in Basel’s Champions League side in 2016 before signing for an undisclosed fee. Despite all his experience, he came in as an unknown commodity. This is especially true when compared to some of our bigger January deals Conor Hourihane, Henri Lansbury and Scott Hogan.

Bjarnason’s Villa story so far…

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His Villa career started in the worst possible way with a 3-0 hammering at Brentford. This was the same day it was announced that we’d signed Brentford’s best player, Scott Hogan. The match was in the middle of Villa’s awful nine-game run without a win. It was a run which saw us relinquish any late playoff hopes. Bjarnason featured in five of these nine games. He often looked off the pace, missed good chances and failed to make an impact on the game.

Villa had finally strung a couple of wins together and confidence was growing when Bjarnason suffered a knee injury in a 2-0 win over Rotherham. This kept him out for the rest of the season and stopped his run in the first team.

This season hasn’t been much better for him, having been in and out of the team due to injury. When he has played he’s been sloppy in possession, often making stray passes or running into trouble. He’s also been poor defensively. Often not tracking runners or looking lost on the pitch which made our shape look awkward and disjointed.

He was eventually dropped by Bruce and again became a forgotten man.

A Sign of Hope

Recently he’s been included on the bench and featured in the wins versus Middlesbrough and Bristol City. It was in our 5-0 thrashing of the Robins where Bjarnason gave his best performance to date.

It may have only been a twenty-minute cameo but finally, he made a good impression. He scored the fourth after only two minutes of being on the pitch. An intelligent run broke Bristol’s offside trap and Alan Hutton’s pass was controlled by Bjarnason. He then ran through on goal and slotted the ball into the bottom corner.

He was also involved in the build-up to our fifth goal. A skilful flicked pass over his head left his marker isolated and created space to run into. Bjarnason took the ball and played in Hepburn-Murphy to cross for Hourihane.

Bjarnason looked good on the ball and off it. Not only working hard to hassle a tired Bristol midfield but also making incisive runs into the box and looked to create chances on the break. The game may have already been won when he came on but he certainly helped the cause by stifling any fight Bristol may have had left.

(Photo by David Rogers/Getty Images)
(Photo by David Rogers/Getty Images) /

New Start

It’s too early to tell whether this was just a one off or not, but his performance versus Bristol City could be the catalyst for the revival of his Villa career.

In the central positions, we’ve relied on Conor Hourihane to not only provide creativity but also cover for Whelan’s consistent poor showings. This has stifled our attacking flair by forcing Hourihane into deeper positions and makes it harder for us to play on the front foot.

Having a player like Bjarnason in the centre working hard to close the opposition down, moving the ball quickly and driving forward into the box will only improve our style and attacking threat. Something we’ve missed, a proper box to box midfielder with bundles of energy.

He can also be utilised out-wide where he’ll make dangerous runs (like those in the Bristol game) track back to cover the full-back and offer something different from wide areas in comparison to Adomah, Snodgrass and Green.

Even if he is limited to coming off the bench, especially after a midfield of Jedinak, Hourihane and Grealish impressed, Bjarnason can be a good option to change a game or to help us control one.

It’s all ifs and buts at the moment however Bjarnason could be the man to give our midfield a new dimension. That’s if he can build on his recent good performance, starting with this weekend’s FA Cup tie against Peterborough. It’s down to him to prove he wasn’t a waste of money and that he can succeed at Villa.