After failing to convert a panoply of chances against Middlesbrough earlier in the week, Aston Villas’ next fixture puts them against Barnsley. Barnsley have seven points through six games, exactly the same points as Villa, albeit they have won one more game. After such a frustrating display during the Middlesbrough game that saw Villa play against 10 men for a large majority, Steve Bruce would be wise to throw caution to the wind and stomp on the front foot for this contest.

Villa had a very strange game against Middlesbrough and saw a one key player leave the game early due to injury. Andre Green is suspected to be out long term after severely damaging his hamstring. The young Lion has been seen posting pictures on social media of himself with some very daunting leg-wear on. Green chose to be on the side of doctors advice, and opted for a surgery to repair the damage. Not a good sign for Villa, as Green has been fairly decent as of late and looked to be really hitting his stride so early in the season. This could see Birkir Bjarnason come into the fold on the left side of the pitch. Joshua Onomah looks to come back into the starting lineup after sustaining an injury against Brentford last week. Onomah has made an appearance for Aston Villa six times in league play, and once in the EFL Cup so far. Steve Bruce will surely welcome him back with open arms against Barnsley. 

Barnsley currently sit two spots above Aston Villa on the table due to goal difference. The Tykes have an even goal differential, scoring eight goals and conceding the same amount. Barnsley are also coming off of a 3-2 win against Derby County in the EFL Cup which saw them barely scrape by. An 88th minute goal by seasoned midfielder Adam Hammill sealed the deal. Barnsley were constantly chasing the play, and seemed more likely to sit back and let the game come to them. In league play, their latest contest saw a 1-1 affair against Preston North End. This result shocked a lot of supporters on both sides, as Preston see themselves a more attractive standing on the table than Barnsley will most likely be all year. 

Barnsley are not known to be very mindful of a possession style of football, as previously stated. Through 6 games played in the Championship, Barnsley hold 45% combined posession. Not a very good statistic in terms of style of football that is known to win in the Championship. The other side of the coin shows that they break out of their own defensive end rather quickly. The Barnsley tactics seem to be a style that would be best described as “patient long ball”. Time will tell if this will play into the game of John Terry and James Chester. Both of the Villa centre-backs will be a little busier than usual, with no taller player in the back of the pitch to see away the long ball play of Barnsley. 

Barnsley pride themselves on being tidy in the defensive side of the pitch as well. Centre-backs Liam Lindsay and Adam Jackson are mainstays in Barnsley manager Paul Heckingbottoms’ side and for good reason. Each of these centre-backs are reminiscent of football from another era. While being physically gifted, both players are known to play very safe in their own half, almost to the point of seeming robotic, before whisking the ball up field in a fast manner. Aston Villa would be wise to try to stretch the pitch and get the back line of Barnsley moving away from each other in order to create opportunities. Steve Bruce will most likely look to select pace coming down the flanks in an attempt to confuse Barnsley and force them into questionable positions. 

Paul Heckingbottom was a caretaker manager for Barnsley before taking the helm in a permanent role. Many forget that Barnsley finished 9th in the Championship last season, and a lot of that success was attributed to tactical awareness by Heckingbottom. Although this is his very first head coach job, Heckingbottom is very fluent and mindful of all things football. A bit of a journeyman player, there isn’t much that Heckingbottom hasn’t seen and hasn’t experienced. His player CV ranges from Sheffield Wednesday to Sunderland to Gateshead. The former defender has instilled a belief in his squad that if they’re going to compete against the bigger teams in the Championship, they had better learn to defend properly as well. With 8 goals conceded in 7 games, this obviously is a work in progress for Hickenbottom. This may be in indication that Barnsley are still adjusting to tactics in the early goings of the season, and Villa would be wise to take advantage of such a glaring opportunity. 

I would be remissed of my duties if I didn’t write a bit about Barnsley owner Patrick Cryne. Cryne stepped down from day-to-day operations of Barnsley in November 2016 after being diagnosed with bowel cancer. In May 2017, Cryne was informed that his cancer was indeed terminal. Mr. Cryne penned a letter this past week to supporters to inform them of his “borrowed time”. In a heartfelt note, he remembered the good times the club has had and thanked supporters for the many years of kindness and loyalty. A true testament to Mr. Crynes’ professionalism and heart, especially in such a personally trying time for him and is family. 

Aston Villa have not been very good away from home in a long time, and it looks as if this game may be a deciding factor if Steve Bruce stays or gets the sack. Many supporters were very vocal after the Middlesbrough result, and for good reason. For a large majority of the game, Villa were up against a 10 man side after an early sending off from former Villan Adama Traore. Villa must be motivated after such a frustrating draw. Hopefully shades of the Norwich game, in terms of offensive prowess, pokes it’s head out and Aston Villa come away with a vital three points. Obtaining a win for Villa would surely calm the supporters, while at the same time launching the club farther up the table.

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