Mile Jedinak’s experiment as a starting centre-half failed under Steve Bruce. And though he’s still third-choice under Dean Smith, it’s back in midfield where the former Australia captain should feature.
Mile Jedinak’s full-time transition to centre-back is a tedious subject among Aston Villa faithful. His performances, thus far, leave much to be desired of a veteran player capable of dominating matches aerially.
That aerial dominance, coupled with advanced age, are the primary factors behind Jedinak’s switch from midfield to defense. Steve Bruce was so confident in his ability to play centre-back to begin the year, that he sent the trio of, Tommy Elphick, Easah Suliman, and Mitch Clark away on-loan.
He fizzled out early, and often, partnering James Chester at the position. Under new manager Dean Smith, Manchester United loanee Axel Tuanzebe has rightfully overtaken the former Australia skipper in the heart of the Aston Villa defense. In each of Smith’s three matches, Jedinak has been the third centre-back on the bench – unused in every affair.
But it’s back in midfield where Jedinak belongs, at least initially, and until proven otherwise. Birkir Bjarnason and Glenn Whelan have filled in as Villa’s holding midfielders for much of the campaign. And while they’ve done a solid, albeit unspectacular job, Jedinak brings so much more value in certain match-ups. In games where Smith determines a more solidified presence is needed alongside Jack Grealish and John McGinn (i.e. Conor Hourihane is dropped from the starting XI), Jedinak should be given consideration for the occasion.
When fit and properly rested, Jedinak has the ability to shut down opposing teams in the low block from a No. 6 position. Aston Villa did it in last season’s EFL Championship play-offs, conceding one goal across three matches against Middlesbrough and Fulham.
Before that even, Villa’s record with Jedinak in midfield vs. without Jedinak in midfield was substantial.
Under Bruce, Jedi excelled from a deeper defending position, sweeping crosses in the double digits every match and blocking speculative, distant shots. It’s defending in transition, especially in isolation, where Jedinak struggles to keep up with explosive attackers. It’s the main reason he hasn’t looked good at centre-back.
But of course, there are problems with him rotating in midfield. Villa’s top three central defenders will be on the pitch at the same time, increasing injury risk exposure. Moreover, Dean Smith’s attempt at turning Villa into a powerful, pressing side doesn’t play to Jedinak’s strengths – especially at the age of 34.
But maybe, just maybe, he should give Jedinak a chance back in midfield. The value he brings alone in attacking and defending set pieces is substantial.