Aston Villa have booked themselves a trip to Wembley in the Championship Play Off Final. The season in whole has ups and downs as any memorable season does, but the Villans now look forward to a shockingly good team in Fulham. While Villa have been labelled as an underdog of sorts for the chance at promotion to the Premier League, there is a begging question of who Steve Bruce will feature in defensive midfield for the Play Off Final.
While the tactics against Boro came off well with closing down Adama Traore by mob mentality, it may not happen the same way in a one-off game against Fulham. Instead of Villa focusing the majority of their tactics on one man, Fulham have two or three players in the side who can turn a game on its head rather quickly.
You’re living under a rock if you don’t know about Fulhams’ 17 year old wonder-kid Ryan Sessegnon. Sessegnon has netted 16 goals to this point in the season, and assisted on 7 others. He holds a 7.03 average match rating through 47 games played. Not bad at all for the young winger when compared to other wide-men in the Championship.
Fulham forward and Newcastle United loanee Aleksandar Mitrovic also has the ability and guile to confuse defenses. Mitrovic has 12 goals to his name and one assist, although he has had his share of injury woes earlier on in the season.
Who will Bruce pick for the Defensive Midfield role for the Play Off Final?
While Mile Jedinak is the name on the lips of many supporters coming off of his performance in the semi-final tie against Boro, he is not the only option as a defensive midfielder in the Aston Villa squad. Jedinak has been in the starting eleven or among the substitutes for the past 19 Aston Villa fixtures. Steve Bruce obviously sees something in the Australian as of late that can transform his squad into a defensive wall. While Jedinak does have the aptitude and defensive dexterity to cause problems for any opposition, he does lack in a few other areas of a midfielder due to his age. Jedinak does not possess much pace and he has been seen over the two semi-final legs making a few inaccurate passes. The Bearded Aussie has misplaced 19 passes over the two legs against Middlesbrough and that is something that Fulham could take full advantage of if that trend continues.
Glenn Whelan has also prominently featured in Steve Bruce’s 4-1-4-1 formation this season. Whelan is in the same boat as Jedinak in terms of lacking pace due to age, but you cannot fault the Irishman’s drive and commitment to Aston Villa this season. Whelan has featured in 2,545 minutes in a Villa shirt this season, starting in 30 matches and being utilized as a substitute in 3 matches. The 34 year old holds an 81% passing accuracy on 1,188 passes during the entirety of the campaign to this point. Whelan has been to known to be a scapegoat of sorts to a smattering of Villa supporters at times during the season, but the Championship Final may be the game where he finally wins his critics over.
The enigmatic Birkir Bjarnason would also not be a bad choice of a defensive midfielder against Fulham. Bjarnason has one thing over Jedinak & Whelan, and it’s his younger legs. The man they call “Thor” has also been very resourceful with his passing as well, boasting an 83% passing accuracy including 10 key passes. Let’s not also forget that of the three defensive midfielders named, Bjarnason is the one most likely to pop up with a goal at the end of the day. Not to knock Jedinak or Whelan, but Bjarnason tends to get much more forward on the pitch from the defensive-midfield position. This may be a way to unsettle the back-line of Fulham in a way where many teams this year have not dared to. If Aston Villa can apply pressure in the final-third with sustained posession, a late running Bjarnason just may be what Aston Villa supporters will be singing about all the way to the Premier League.