In the time that Jack Grealish has been sidelined with an injury, it’s been tougher to watch matches as an Aston Villa supporter. The team has struggled to unlock defenses, has looked less apt to press-high, and has just lacked that little bit of spark. When things go poorly, supporters start to point the finger. Some players deserve criticism, and many receive it based on past performances and ill-gotten perceptions. (Some players have managed to undeservedly avoid criticism altogether). Today, we will take a look at a few players that I feel deserve less flak for their performances.
The Usual Suspects: Players Deserving Less Criticism
1. Alan Hutton
I’ll just start with the player that will surely cause the most controversy. Let me preface this by saying “Hutts” has by no means earned himself accolades for his performances, but has not been anywhere near as bad as many supporters have labeled him. According to data from WhoScored, Hutton has been, statistically speaking, the best fullback for Aston Villa. An argument could be made for James Bree, and he will likely be a RB candidate going forward, but his sample size is small. Hutton doesn’t rate at the top of the charts in anything besides minutes/games played, but is not at the bottom for any statistics either. His biggest issue is that he is too active. When he makes a mistake, it’s impossible to miss. (Same could be said for positive plays). Conversely when the likes of Neil Taylor, Ahmed Elmohamady, Axel Tuanzebe, or the aforementioned James Bree played poorly, it is and was because they are absent from the match. There is no denying that Hutton’s age and volatility can lead to mistakes, but let’s not forget that he is both A, our captain in the absence of James Chester, and B, one of a handful of players that will always give you everything he’s got in the tank.
2. Birkir Bjarnason
A LM for the Iceland national team, “BB” has been thrust into a deeper lying defensive-mid role during his tenure at Aston Villa. During the last month, he has featured in the Starting XI, and was pretty consistently berated (on Twitter most noticeably) for his “poor” performances. Just a couple of reminders. One, he has only recently returned to the team after missing a ton of time due to surgery. Two, he is playing in a CDM-CM role that he is not accustomed to playing in. (We would excuse John McGinn or Axel Tuanzebe for that reason, but not him?) Three, he’s not usually a starter. When Jack is back, Bjarnason will reclaim his spot on the bench to be used as an ad-hoc substitute. Similar to Hutton, Bjarnason garners extra criticism in part because his mistakes are so noticeable. He may give away the ball or make a cynical challenge here and there, but he is also very aggressive, and is not an offensive liability like his other backup DM counterparts. (Whelan and Jedinak). As mentioned, when Jack is back we can all rest easy knowing that the team will revert to the Hourihane, Grealish, McGinn midfield that was so potent in November. For now we need to accept that yes, BB is a slight step down, but that doesn’t mean he’s deserved to be berated.
Stay tuned for the next installment where we will take a look at a few players that deserve more (constructive*) criticism for their sub-par performances. UTV