As this transfer has been in the pipeline for a number of weeks, fans will be relieved to finally see Ollie Watkins holding up the famous claret and blue shirt. Despite being happy to have a striker with an impressive goal record in the 2019/2020 season, the fee did initially raise eyebrows. It’s been rumoured that Aston Villa had the chance to sign Watkins for a fee of £10 million last summer, a similar price to what they eventually paid for Ally Samatta in January. Instead, Villa left it a year to end up paying what’s believed to be £28 million upfront with a further £5 million in add-ons, a club record.
Whilst Villa did pass up the opportunity last summer, it allowed Watkins to go onto score 26 goals in 49 appearances, similar stats to that of Tammy Abraham during Villa’s promotion campaign. Had Villa signed Watkins last season, they would’ve been signing a player who predominantly played on the wing. A season playing upfront has given him the experience Villa need ahead of the coming campaign.
As mentioned in a previous article, despite playing in a number of positions, Watkins has scored 10+ goals in each of his last four seasons (CH:26, CH:10, CH:10, L2:13). Perhaps the biggest attraction for Smith is the versatility Watkins brings. Whilst last season his main position was as a centre forward, the season before he swapped between left wing (21 appearances) and the right wing (20 appearances), proving to be almost equally efficient in both positions (4 goals and 5 assists at LW, 7 goals and 4 assists at RW). This versatility will benefit Villa, with him being able to occupy any of those forward positions.
It is largely expected that Watkins will occupy the centre forward position, at least whilst Wesley is returning from injury. This was Watkins most efficient position, showing a clinical-edge in terms of finishing. Off Watkins 26 goals last season, only two were from outside of the area, proving him can find the net should the chances be created. Even more encouraging was that none of those goals were penalties. It’s clear that Villa have business left to do and should Watkins be a success, further additions into the front line will be imperative. However, will be encouraged that Villa have signed a 24-year-old striker with a lot of promise, who will be eager to prove himself at the top level.
In-Depth Analysis – Villa welcome first signing, but where does Matty Cash fit in?
If you’d asked any Villa fan at the start of the window, “What position will our first signing play?” a right-back would probably have been the last position they’d have picked. On the face of things, Villa seem competent in that area and arguably have more important roles to fill. Both Fredric Guilbert and Ahmed El Mohamady were solid options last season, asserting themselves well, or as well as they could in what was a leaky defence pre-lockdown.
However, after weeks of waiting for transfer, Aston Villa announced their first signing, with Matty Cash arriving from Nottingham Forest for a fee of £14 million, rising to £16 million with add-ons.
From a glance on social media, Forest fans speak extremely highly of Cash, who won their player of the season award last year, and despite being disappointed by his departure, are happy to see him given a chance in the Premier League.
Where does he fit in?
The most obvious answer to this is that he slots into the right-back role and offers competition for Fredric Guilbert. However, with Cash costing upwards of £16 million and Guilbert just over a third of that, you’d expect him to start ahead of the Frenchman, surely. If so, then Guilbert who had a relatively solid first season in England will certainly feel hard done by. As would El Mohamady, whose strong end to last season would place him last in a third horse race for the right-back position.
Looking at the players in terms of statistics, Cash seems to be a much more attacking-minded full back. In terms of goals and assists, he was more productive than both El Mohamady and Guilbert combined last season, albeit in more games. Cash recorded 3 goals and 5 assists in 42 appearances, with Guilbert providing 0 goals and 2 assists (24 apps), and El Mohamady bagging 1 goal and 1 assist in 18 appearances.
Defensively though, Guilbert is certainly stronger. Despite playing in a higher league, Guilbert was able to record an average of 3 tackles a game, the most of any of Aston Villa’s defenders, as well as an average of 2 interceptions a game (joint highest with Matt Targett). Guilbert also cleared the ball the joint second highest amongst Villa’s ranks, second only to Tyrone Mings.
Cash on the other hand, whilst taking into account playing more games, averaged 2.6 tackles per game as well as 1.4 interceptions per game. Still, an impressive number, considering that’s split over 42 appearances.
As anticipated, Cash does boast higher stats going forward, to go along with his 5 assists, Cash averaged at least 1 key pass per game and 0.7 crosses. However, for a team that struggled to score headers last season, will this be wasted?
A utility player?
Despite being headlined as a right-back, last season was the first season in which Cash was considered in that position. Before the 19/20 season, he was predominantly used on the right-hand side of midfield, as well as making several appearances at centre mid. Perhaps the versatility of this player may have been key to understanding why Smith and co felt the need to spend heavily on him. Could he rotate with the likes of McGinn, Hourihane, Luiz and Jack through the middle, or even be considered on the right-wing. Smith has been known to play a right-back on the wing before with El Mohamady playing there several times.
While it may not have been the signing fans were hoping for, or even a signing that fans can get excited about, the reputation and outcry received from Nottingham Forest fans suggest Smith has acquired a good player, who will be hungry to prove himself in the Premier League. Hopefully, it won’t be long until fans have forgiven him for scoring and then consequently running towards the Holte End with his hands on his lips in that crazy 5-5 two seasons ago.