James Bree didn’t have the greatest of times under Steve Bruce, but could all of this change with the appointment of Dean Smith?
Words by Harry Trend (@HazaTrand)
For some at Villa, the change in manager was a blessing in disguise for their careers in a claret and blue shirt. The likes of Henri Lansbury, Scott Hogan and even Andre Moreira can start on a clean slate and try to force their way into the team.
Another one of these players is James Bree, who played just 14 league games in well over one and a half years under Steve Bruce. Since Bree moved from Barnsley for £500,000 in January 2017, he’s been used as a panic option, filling in across the back four when more preferred players were either suspended or injured.
Going into the 2018/19 season, things looked bleak for the former Barnsley man. The loan signing of Axel Tuanzebe, Alan Hutton’s new contract and Ritchie De Laet’s good pre-season form indicated that Bree was pretty far down Villa’s pecking order. Fourth choice right back on the face of it. De Laet would eventually go out on loan, but at 20 years old, a key period in a player’s development, things weren’t looking good for the man from Wakefield.
Whether Bree deserved to be in this position is debatable. Last season Bree played well after being rushed in at left back against Cardiff City, and was a crucial in the 0-0 draw at home to Boro which allowed us to progress to the play-off final. Bree marshalled Friend and Downing superbly as well as clearing a goal-bound Ryan Shotton header in the 0-0 draw.
It’s not that Bree’s a bad player, it’s just the competition. Ahmed Elmohamady was arguably one of the best right-backs in the Championship last campaign, with four assists, 20 clean sheets and a body seemingly powered by Duracell, Bruce was never going to drop the Egyptian in favour of young Bree.
What Bree does have going for him is that he’s versatile, recently filling in at centre-back in our defeat to Millwall. Okay, he wasn’t great, but the defender showed an understanding of the position that can be built upon. Strong and comfortable on the ball, if Dean Smith wants players who can play it out the back, Bree could be his man. Let’s not forget we could’ve got a point from the game had a flying Bree directed his header from Elmohamady’s cross between the goalposts.
Nevertheless, Bree is firstly and foremostly a full back, and was a trusted lieutenant in this role for Paul Heckingbottom’s Barnsley. He was a key part in the Tykes promotion in 2015-16 before featuring in 19 Championship games the season after, impressing with his attacking displays from the right side of defence. Ask any Barnsley fan about Bree and they’ll only tell you good things.
Bree has shown he can cut it in the Championship, it’s just up to Dean Smith to allow him to do that.