After playing a highly influential role in Aston Villa’s promotion-winning season from the Championship, midfielder Conor Hourihane has so far been unable to nail down a starting berth in manager Dean Smith’s preferred XI.
Despite excelling for Villa in 2018/19 and scoring eight goals and registering 11 assists as the club reached the play-off final, after four games in the new Premier League season, the Irishman has registered no starts in the top-flight.
After a battling away performance against Spurs on the opening weekend, Villa have proceeded to fall short to both Bournemouth and Palace whilst earning their first victory of the season against Everton.
Alongside fellow midfielders such as Jack Grealish and John McGinn, Hourihane was exceptional for Villa in their promotion-winning season, and therefore the Irishman can consider himself to be very hard done by to have lost his place in the starting XI.
Smith has, so far, decided to start summer signing Douglas Luiz in a centrally defensive role at the expense of Hourihane, meaning Grealish and McGinn have retained their spots in Villa’s attacking formation.
Smith is now faced with a dilemma as to the dynamic he wishes to impose within this Villa side, and whilst Hourihane’s inclusion would attest to an aggressive and ambitious choice, Luiz offers a more steady option who holds attacking and defensive potential.
Villa were promoted largely due to their club-record winning streak in the Championship, and this was hugely based on their desire to attack teams and outscore them, irrespective of their opponent’s attacking abilities.
Whilst this does undeniably present Smith with a serious dilemma in whether his midfield is more attacking or more defensive, if results continue to fall short of what is expected at the club after their considerable £130m+ spending spree in which 13 new players arrived at Villa Park, then a switch from Luiz to Hourihane in central midfield could make considerable sense for the newly-promoted side as they bid to retain their Premier League status in 2019/20.