It has now been more than a month since Aston Villa’s great escape in the capital on the 24th of July, securing at least another season in the top-flight. Fans will have been forgiven for thinking the club would act fast based on last year’s activity, coupled with Jesus Garcia Pitarch leaving the club days after survival. However, the arrival of Johan Lange was not followed by an announcement of any players, and fans are still left waiting, wondering and daring whether to believe the ‘ITK’ Twitter accounts as their only source of news.
Currently, it’s hard to identify players that Aston Villa haven’t been linked with. If reports are to be believed, Aston Villa are likely to spend a similar amount of money to last season, with an emphasis on quality over quantity. The rebuild last season was a risk and clear that spending an average of £10 million per player is not enough in the Premier League. So which positions do Aston Villa need to focus on and which areas should be a priority?
Perhaps the most obvious position to strengthen is in the form of a new striker. Many fans will argue this is the most important area to focus on, with a real lack of goals from Wesley, Samatta and Davis last season. In all competitions, the trio bagged just 9 goals in a combined 61 appearances last season. That’s a return of a goal every 6-7 games, clearly not good enough to make Aston Villa and established Premier League team again.
The most notable of these is current club-record signing Wesley. His season was cut short in January after making just 22 appearances, scoring 6 goals. Whilst it’s clear that Villa are in the market for a new striker, it would be hard to believe that the current owners are ready to give up on a £25-million-pound striker they signed 12 months ago. While Wesley is in Brazil and a return date still hazy, it’s likely he will still be at the club and in the manager’s thoughts throughout the coming season.
Mbwana Alli Samatta was a £10-million-pound January signing, assigned with the task of scoring goals to keep Villa’s Premier League hopes alive. While the latter came off, you could argue it was with little help from the Tanzanian. Despite scoring on his debut against Bournemouth and an impressive diving header in the cup final, this was to be the end of Samatta’s goal contributions to the campaign. Towards the end of the season, there was a notable lack of confidence which harmed Samatta’s performances, and as a result, he was often left out the first XI for Keinan Davis.
However, looking at Samatta’s stats from his time in Belgian may be a source of encouragement for Villa fans. Before joining Aston Villa in January, Samatta had score 7 goals in 20 league appearances as well as 3 goals in 6 Champions League games, his most notable of these a header against Liverpool. The season before Samatta outscored fellow Villa striker Wesley in the Belgian league, scoring 20 goals in 28 appearances compared to the Brazilian’s 10 goals in 28 games. These stats show that there is a striker there who is capable of scoring goals when the chances are created around him.
The last striker currently at Aston Villa (excluding Scott Hogan for obvious reasons) is home-grown talent, Keinan Davis. Now 22, Davis has been on hovering around the first team now for several years. Perhaps the real stumbling block for Davis has been his constant struggle with injuries. Davis managed just 18 Premier League appearances this season, with a return of 0 goals and 0 assists. It could be argued that while the stats themselves are damming, Davis’s real contribution is the ability to hold up play and bring in those around him, however for this to make a difference you would expect a higher number of assists. Despite earning a 1-year contract extension, Davis has made a total of 67 appearances for Aston Villa scoring 4 goals and assisting 5. With rumours of Davis going on loan to Preston, it could be that he must prove himself with a season in the Championship before his Aston Villa career is saved.
Perhaps the most obvious link and likely to be first over the line is Brentford striker and former Dean Smith signing, Ollie Watkins. Signed by Villa boss for Brentford from Exeter City in 2017 for just £1.8 million, Brentford would stand to make a significant profit if the rumoured fees of between £18-£25 million are to be believed.
What will excite Villa fans is how versatile Watkins is, being able to play both on the wing and in a central position. Watkins has also shown a clinical edge scoring double figures in each of his last 4 seasons (CH:25, CH:10, CH:10, L2:13). However, last season was the season that peaked the Premier League interest with a return of 26 goals and 3 assists since moving to the central striker position, replacing former Villa target Neal Maupay. Interestingly enough, these are identical stats to that of former fan favourite Tammy Abraham, the question then remains if Watkins can make a similar transition into the top flight as a lack of Premier League experience will still be a concern.
With Brentford this week signing what looks like Watkins replacement, Ivan Toney, it seems only a matter of time before Watkins move is announced. The question remains whether Villa will be the destination.
At 22, Odsonne Edouard is younger than Watkins (24), yet arguably more established. Edouard currently boasts top-flight experience as well as 3 Scottish Premier League titles, 3 Scottish League Cups and 2 Scottish Winner cups, a Scottish Golden Boot and a Celtic Football Club Player of the year award. While many fans will scoff at these accolades, making claims about a lesser league, it does show that Edouard will come to Villa with a winning mentality. Plus, fans should be reminded that a certain John McGinn managed the transition with relative ease.
In terms of a goal-scoring record, Edouard seems to be more productive than Watkins, scoring 27 goals and assisting a further 19 in 47 appearances for Celtic last season. 9 of these goals came in European competitions, showing he can score against a variety of teams.
The 22-year-old has also had the benefit of a long break and has started the season in fine form, 3 goals and 1 assist from 3 appearances. This (should) mean he’ll be some way ahead of the rest of the squad in terms of fitness, an advantage for the start of the Premier League season should this deal be done before September 19th.
Celtic are not likely to be eager to sell Edouard and if rumours are to be believed, it will take a club-record bid to lure him away from the Scottish Champions.
Other notable links
While Watkins and Edouard seem to be the biggest links in terms of a centre forward, other rumours have made the usual rounds on Twitter. These including, Kelechi Iheanacho, Divock Origi and Michael Obafemi. These all possess something neither Watkins nor Edouard does, and something Villa fans were crying out for during last summer’s transfer window – Premier League experience.
Despite many years in the Premier League, in particular Iheanacho and Origi, none of these strikers are yet to secure a starting XI spot at their respective clubs. This is not too much of a disservice to these players though with players like Firmino, Mohammed Salah, Jamie Vardy, Sadio Mane and Danny Ings all ahead of them.
However, the stats are not as impressive as maybe Watkins or Edouard in terms of goal scoring, with Origi scoring 19 goals in 91 Premier League appearances, Iheanacho scoring 21 in 117 Premier League appearances and Michael Obafemi scoring 4 in 28 Premier League appearances.
It seems a signing might be edging closer despite Aston Villa keeping their cards very close to their chest. And while a striker who can score goals is a must in this transfer window, you could argue that Villa’s current crop was not helped out by either of Villa’s wide men last season. Could the key to a successful transfer window lie in the wide areas more than the centre forward position?