Signed from Barnsley two years ago, James Bree has yet to truly have a chance in the first team.  We discuss why his time should be now.
Words by Matt Blogg (@Blogg_Matt)

Signed two years ago in January from Barnsley, James Bree has yet to be given a prolonged run in the team, but after starting the last three games (two at centre back) the youngster could finally be getting his break at Villa Park.

Bree is still only 21 and has a lot of development ahead of him, but he will be thinking more than anyone that this is his time to break into the starting eleven, and stay there. Deployed as a full back under Bruce, the defender always looked assured and composed for such a young and largely inexperienced player, but never appeared in too many consecutive games. 

He did however appear in some very significant games last season, notably Cardiff at home and Middlesbrough at home in the Play-Off semi final 2nd leg, so he has gained invaluable experience playing in front of huge, nervous crowds who can grow easily hostile. I also remember him being a stand-out player in last season’s blizzard battle at Bolton, creating chances, defending resolutely and nearly scoring an equaliser, so the potential has been there since the early stages of his Villa career, he has just had to wait a while to get the chance to prove it.

The young Englishman has still only made 5 appearances this season, but after being trusted as James Chester’s central defensive partner against Leeds and Swansea consecutively, Bree is on his way to staking a claim as a starting defender. With Tuanzebe out for what looks like a number of weeks, Elphick will be expected to burden all the pressure of filling the gap, but Bree seems as capable as anyone of filling in and becoming Dean Smith’s go-to replacement centrally, having played well there against Leeds and brilliantly against Swansea. 

As well as all this however, Villa’s full backs at present are the weakest links in the team, consistently gifting goals and chances to the opposition and becoming targets. Therefore Bree has a great claim to be a starting full back too, and his performance against QPR will have done his chances no harm, with the 21 year old putting in another very decent display. Centre backs Elphick and Suliman have both been recalled from their loans, and Smith certainly isn’t recalling them without the intention of using them, so full back does seem the more likely position for Bree, and if he continues to play how he has been over the last few games, he will be one of the first names on the team sheet.

When deployed centrally, Bree did very well as a centre back, with good awareness, assuring composure and an excellent physical presence, especially for such a young player. But as a full back last season he did have a good impact on the majority of the games he played in, coping with his opposition winger well and providing an attacking option, and playing in place of Elmohamady against QPR, he showed everyone the potential he really has. 

Obviously there will be people who don’t think he should be a starting defender, but he has shown genuine quality in the games he has played in (the ones he has been on the pitch long enough to make an impact) and has as good a claim as anyone in the club at the moment.

He could be a really important cog for Villa in the future, especially if we fail to get promoted, and while it is likely that Dean Smith will be looking to bring defenders in throughout the January transfer window, it is always important to think about what you already have, and in James Bree, he could already have a serious asset who come the end of the season could (and in my opinion should) have been allowed to play a massive part, have a massive impact, and become a massive player for Aston Villa.

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