Make no bones about it, Jonathan Kodjia, God love him, has practically single-handedly saved Aston Villa from a relegation battle this season.
Had he not departed for the African Cup of Nations in January, the club may have even made the playoffs. He has been that important.
‘Jimmy Danger’ is a fantastic player. I love him. You love him. Steve Bruce loves him. In fact, Bruce should probably dedicate his next novel to the Ivorian, he has been that dependent on him. With 19 league goals, he is just one shy of Peter Withe’s long-standing record. It’s a feat he’ll not match this season after a cruel ankle break suffered in the defeat to Blackburn Rovers.
It’s becoming more and more apparent, though, that maybe Jonathan Kodjia’s individuality is actually stunting the development of this Aston Villa team.
That’s quite a statement to make regarding such a mercurial talent, but it’s quite clear to opposing teams, that if you can stop Kodjia, you stop Villa. Dead in their tracks.
Steve Bruce, despite being handed some of the best players in the Championship, has seemingly devised a simple tactic of: Get The Ball To Kodjia And See What He Can Rustle Up.
When it works, it’s effective, when it doesn’t – we’re next to useless. It’s not good enough. Not for a manager who’s supposedly one of the best in this division, and not for a squad worth over £100 million. In fact, it’s embarrassing.
It’s difficult to know whether this is down to a lack of tactical nous from Bruce, or if the team just naturally gravitate towards Kodjia and pass the buck off to him. After scoring about 40% of the side’s total goals this season, it certainly seems that way. There’s an individuality to Kodjia’s play that is hard to deny. If he gets the ball anywhere near the box, his first and natural instinct is to shoot. Against Blackburn in the first half, he twice had the opportunity to play in Scott Hogan, who had drifted into dangerous open space, but choose to shoot in both instances.
Hogan, for all his clever running, may as well have been stood on the moon.
Despite his goal-scoring prowess, Kodjia’s awareness of his team-mates around him is a huge problem. His goal tally versus his assists (19-1) is a good example. For a player with so many touches of the ball in attack, surely he should have a few more assists?
It’s a minor quibble considering he’s scored many an important goal but the fact that he alone has scored so many of them is an incontrovertible issue. Any side going for promotion or the playoffs will have goals shared right throughout the side. After Kodjia, Villa’s next top scorers are Rudy Gestede (now at Middlesbrough) and Jack Grealish with 4. As Donald Trump would say: really bad.
New signings Scott Hogan, Henri Lansbury and Conor Hourihane have managed two goals between them since signing for the club. Hogan had scored 14 for Brentford before rocking up at Villa Park in January. Lansbury had bagged 6 for Forest, with Hourihane also scoring 6. That’s 26 goals whittled down to just the solitary pair under Bruce at Villa.
Midfield has been the major issue for years now at Villa. We’ve lacked any goalscorers in the middle of the park since the days of Barry, Milner, Downing and Young.
The likes of Hourihane and Lansbury were supposed to be the solution, particularly at Championship level, but they have yet to take off. Why? Are they being creatively stunted by Bruce, or is it something a bit more subconscious?
It might seem preposterous to suggest but, are they unwilling to make as many runs into the opposition box as they would have with previous teams? Anyone who’s played any football at all will know that unmistakable feeling of making that lung-bursting run from deep into space, waiting for the pass, and not getting it. The run hasn’t been spotted, or the player with the ball is just going to shoot no matter what.
Lansbury doesn’t seem to get forward at all, and despite Hourihane’s forays forward in the first few weeks of his Villa Park career, he too seems to have curtailed those foraging runs deep into enemy territory.
Is it because they’re just expecting Kodjia to work his magic, or is Bruce telling them to hold?
I simply can’t imagine it’s the latter, frankly. What manager worth his salt is going to buy two of the most offensively-minded midfielders in the league and then tell them to sit deep and not go forward? It just doesn’t make sense.
This isn’t a ploy to alleviate the blame on Bruce, though. With the squad at his disposal and 40 odd games under his belt, he should have Villa playing some sort of half decent football. The end result, though, is waiting for Kodj to produce the goods and that’s just not good enough. It’s his responsibility to find a clear and efficient way of utilising the players and he’s not managed it. Yet.
He has a huge summer ahead to whip the squad into shape and this injury to his talisman is a giant complication. He’s not going to be able to work on pairing Hogan and Kodjia together so will have to develop a style of play that suits the nippier, more direct-running Hogan; can he do that? The – albeit – limited number of games this season would suggest it’s going to be a struggle.
Going forward, the team has generally been awful – devoid of any creativity despite a handsomely talented squad.
Steve Bruce has a conundrum on his hands with the enigmatic Jonathan Kodjia – can he find the missing piece of the puzzle to get the best out of everyone, or do we have another Christian Benteke situation: a striker so good, we’re just too reliant on.
The Villa View would like to pass on our best wishes to Jonathan after hearing the news of his ankle break at Ewood Park on the weekend. We hope you have a speedy recovery!