As Steven Gerrard prepares his Aston Villa side to face Southampton this weekend, he has important decisions to make regarding his starting line-up.
Villa returned to winning ways last weekend with a hard-fought 2-0 victory at Brighton, a result that somewhat alleviates any pressure or concern that was building during a poor run of form.
The important thing now is that Villa build on that result and show consistency, and while Gerrard made tweaks to his side, both in personnel and tactically, it remains to be seen if he sticks with that formula against Southampton or adjusts accordingly to the opposition.
Facing Ralph Hassenhuttl’s side will not be easy as not only do they have talented individuals, but their recent form has been impressive and they’re steadily climbing the Premier League table as they sit five points and four places above us.
In turn, Gerrard needs to get his decision-making right this weekend if we are to close that gap and move up the standings ourselves, and one key call that has to be made comes in the defensive midfield role with Tim Iroegbunam pushing for a bigger role.
Path opens up for Iroegbunam to shine for Villa this season
After signing from West Brom in July 2021, the 19-year-old has impressed at youth level for Villa with his ability to control the game and set the tempo in midfield.
His physicality, athleticism and passing ability have all allowed him to stand out in games for the U23s, and while some of our other young talents have been loaned out to gain experience, Arjan Raikhy being one who plays the same position and role, Iroegbunam has emerged as a regular in the first-team squad in recent months.
He was finally able to celebrate his senior Villa debut this past weekend after coming off the bench in the latter stages at Brighton, and Gerrard was full of praise for the youngster when speaking about him after the game.
Gerrard on Iroegbunam: “He’s deserved that since first day I came in. Fantastic profile for No.6, long project for us, still very raw, got a lot of attributes we like. One I’m really excited to keep developing. Great kid, just got to stay humble & keep working hard.”#avfc #UTV pic.twitter.com/X1gKLArmdD
— Talk Villa (@thetalkvilla) February 26, 2022
So, the question now is whether or not Iroegbunam will be trusted enough by Gerrard to play a more important role for us in the coming weeks and months.
It’s a pivotal window of opportunity for him as ultimately the expectation is that Villa will move to sign a defensive midfielder this summer having failed with a bid for Yves Bissouma in January, as publicly revealed by Gerrard on more than one occasion since, and so Iroegbunam must show his ability and stake his claim for a regular spot in the side soon.
Based on what we’ve seen from him, he fits that role of the No.6 perfectly in terms of his attributes and characteristics, and while there is of course a lot of development and improvement in his game yet to be tapped into as he matures into a more all-rounded player, Villa are desperate for a more solid option in that role.
Douglas Luiz has bags of talent and there is no doubt that he’s a key part of the Villa side, but as a No.6, he has consistently struggled to do the basics of that role right, whether it’s his positioning, awareness or inability to shield the backline effectively.
The likelihood is that Gerrard won’t throw Iroegbunam into the starting XI any time soon as he’s stated himself that there is still a way to go in his development. Nevertheless, if he’s deemed good enough based on what he’s producing in training, there’s no reason not to trust him as there’s only one way to find out if he’s capable of producing at this level.
With an apprehension to seemingly play Morgan Sanson as a No.6, perhaps it opens the door for Iroegbunam. It’s hoped that we do see more of the youngster so we can make a full judgement of his potential, as with new arrivals and the likes of Raikhy arriving in the summer to potentially compete, time will tell if he’s able to not only simply avoid slipping down the pecking order but perhaps even establish himself as a key option for Villa moving forward.