While the individual performances of Jack Grealish, Ross Barkley and Anwar El-Ghazi have all proven to be major parts of Aston Villa's success this season, it's also notable that Dean Smith made a slight tactical tweak after staying in the Premier League by the skin of their teeth.
Clearly, it's paid dividends so far but there has been a big-name victim of the shift.
Conor Hourihane has made only four appearances all season after previously lining up alongside John McGinn and Douglas Luiz regularly in a three-man midfield unit during the 2019/20 campaign.
As a result, yesterday's print edition of the Sunday Mirror (page 70) claim Smith could allow the Republic of Ireland international to leave.
Championship outfit Middlesbrough are believed to be keen on a move for the 29-year-old this month. For his part, the midfielder is said to be looking for a permanent deal as part of any temporary switch he may make given there are only 18-months left on his contract.
GIVEMESPORT's Jonathan Gorrie says...
It says a lot about Villa's rapid improvement that such a key member of last season's team has dropped out pretty much altogether.
Only Grealish recorded more assists than Hourihane during their Premier League campaign last time out and he also ranked second behind the club captain for key passes per game.
Still, Villa look to be in great shape from a midfield perspective this season with Barkley having joined on loan while the emergence of Jacob Ramsey as a viable first-team option has only increased the competition for places.
Boasting a £5.4m valuation on Transfermarkt, trying to recoup as much money as they can for him while he's still a reasonably sellable asset seems a smart idea.News Now - Sport News