Birkir Bjarnason was one of the standout performers in Aston Villa’s first pre-season friendly against Minnesota United.
Words by Regan Foy | @FindFoy
Aston Villa’s Icelandic midfielder Birkir Bjarnason has never had it easy at the club.
Signed by Steve Bruce in the January of 2017, Birkir played a handful of games before picking up an injury that saw him miss the rest of the season, and Aston Villa fans were unable to get much of a look at the former Basel winger.
Steve Bruce said of Bjarnason’s return; ‘He’ll be like a new signing’ – but the issue was, he still was a new signing. He had played in eight games from signing close to deadline day in January, to the start of March – and these games weren’t necessarily the perfect opportunity to gain confidence at a new club for the Icelandic midfielder – as he was deployed in several different positions over these eight games. Left-wing, Right-wing, Left-back, Centre-mid and Defensive Midfield were all occupied by Birkir in a short space of time.
The 2017/18 season was a little easier on Birkir, although Steve Bruce still hadn’t figured out where the Icelandic national team hero was going to play. In 1,228 minutes of football, he’d been played in several positions again. However, Birkir made a little more of a mark in this season and was a vital part of Aston Villa’s seven-game unbeaten run, as well as scoring one of the most memorable goals of the season in a 4-1 win against Wolverhampton Wanderers.
Last season started well for Bjarnason, who played a full 96 minutes against Wigan in the second game of the season and scored the winning goal right at the death. However, he only managed five more league games under Steve Bruce before the manager was sacked and Dean Smith arrived. He started Smith’s first game as a Defensive Midfielder, helping Aston Villa to a 1-0 win against Swansea, before managing 40 minutes against Queens Park Rangers before being subbed off injured.
After this, Birkir only appeared eight more times for Aston Villa last season, and even those appearances were bit-part roles. He was like an ageing actor popping up in a half-wrung episode of Midsummer Murders or Doctor Who every couple of years. At least under Dean Smith, he played either Central Midfield or Defensive Midfield, rather than the cacophony of roles that he had experienced under Bruce.
Against Minnesota United, Birkir Bjarnason managed an entire half of football alongside other outcasted players such as Henri Lansbury, Scott Hogan and Lovre Kalinic. Whilst Lansbury had a relatively good game which was rounded off with Aston Villa’s second goal of the night, and Kalinic really didn’t have much to do in the net, Birkir was an exceptional outlet in the Aston Villa midfield.
Positioned in a Defensive Midfield role, he took the role which had been held by Hourihane and Whelan so often last season in his stride, spraying both of the aforementioned players trademark pitch-splitting balls across to wingers, all whilst bellowing instructions to his team-mates, so much so that he could be heard in the stands according to fans that were there.
He rounded up a strong performance with an inch-perfect header, almost Salmon like in the dive, into the ‘keepers bottom right-hand corner, before returning to his role in the midfield for a few more minutes, delighted.
It’s been a torrid time for Birkir in retrospect. For his national team, affectionately nicknamed Strákarnir okkar (Our Boys), he often appeared at Left-Wing but now spends his time between there or Central Midfield. For Aston Villa, unfairly, he’s a bit like chewing gum used to plug the hole in a leaking bottle.
It begs the question of who or what Bjarnason is performing for after such a strong performance in Minnesota, the Twin Cities (and the Land of the Vikings). Is he looking to work his way back into Dean Smith’s plans?
Or is it more that he knows there are more potential midfield incomings as reported in the press, in the form of Douglas Luiz or Marvelous Nakamba, and he’s playing for the shop window in order to secure a move away from the stop-start nightmare he’s had at Aston Villa.