Lost in the losing chaos is the presence of James Bree in the starting XI. Two years on the periphery of the former manager, Bree has jumped Alan Hutton and Ahmed Elmohamady in the fullback depth chart in recent weeks.
We’re thirteen days into January and Aston Villa have a new entrenched starter at right-back. James Bree started three consecutive matches in the position following Tommy Elphick’s loan recall on New Year’s Day.
A 1-1 draw with QPR, 3-0 loss to Swansea in the FA Cup, and 3-0 league loss to Wigan have not been kind any players in particular, but Bree has been a quiet presence among the backline, which is all you can ask for when the defenders, midfielders, and goalkeeper around you self-implode. Bree turned 21 in October and it is beginning to look like he is the No. 1 option moving forward.
Let’s look at the alternatives: Alan Hutton is a free agent in the summer. He’s unlikely to return, in my opinion, even if he splits time with Bree these remaining months. Ahmed Elmohamady, long a favorite of Steve Bruce, has one more year left on his contract. He was left out of Saturday’s matchday squad, leaving Bree to man the right-back job with Hutton on the bench.
Perhaps Bree’s transition to Aston Villa came too early when he made the ~£3 million move from Barnsley in January 2017. His brief stints in the first-team have never been bad, but they have not been awe-inspiring either. He’s been a right-back (and emergency centre-back when need be) that kind of just exists on the pitch – rarely making mistakes, but never commanding on the ball.
At 21, there is a lot of room for development left in his game, especially so as a defender. If Bree can improve that, his crossing technique, and his work in possession, Villa have an efficient young starter under contract through summer 2021.