The year 2020 was very much a tale of two transfer windows, January and the summer. Going into the January 2020 transfer window, Aston Villa were in desperate need of reinforcements. With injuries to key players (John McGinn, Wesley and Tom Heaton), Smith was forced to dip into the market, conscious of spending more money with relegation a real threat. This meant loan-arrivals of Chelsea midfielder Danny Drinkwater and former Liverpool goal keeper, Pepe Reina.
Arguably Wesley’s injury at the beginning of January caused the biggest headache due to a lack of replacement. Villa’s only other options were an out-of-favour and soon-to-be departing Jonathon Kodja, and Keinan Davis, who was yet to score a Premier League goal. This meant that Smith needed to spend money, with loan moves for Olivier Giroud and Islam Slimani being rejected. In came Villa’s final two additions in Mwbana Samatta and deadline day surprise, Borja Baston.
Out of all four players, none remain at the club – even the permanent signing Samatta, who is currently on loan with Turkish side Fenerbache. Whilst none of the players may necessarily be deemed a success, they did consequently contribute to Villa staying in the Premier League, albeit minimally.
Fast foward six months to the summer 2020 transfer window – a new objective and style of recruitment. Aston Villa had now survived their first season back in the Premier League and shown that they most certainly weren’t ‘doing a Fulham’. In came the arrivals of five players; Ollie Watkins, Matty Cash, Bertrand Traore, Emiliano Martinez and an on-loan Ross Barkley. However, perhaps the most important business was captain Jack Grealish’s contract renewal.
While Villa did miss out on a few rumoured transfers – Milot Rashica, Callum Wilson and Joshua King to name a few – the players that did sign have all, so far, been a significant success. This then leaves the question, what/ who do Villa need to acquire in the January transfer window?
If fans were asked this question just one month ago, they would have likely asked for some reinforcements in the forward positions. While all of the summer arrivals had made an almost instant impact, Bertrand Traore was still struggling to find consistent game time. The situation was even worse for play-off final star, Anwar El Ghazi, who often found himself out of the match day squad, not making his first appearance until the 3-0 win over Arsenal in November. Trezeguet’s performances had improved from last season, but he was still lacking an end product, generating just one assist and missing vital chances in several games.
Almost a month later, and with injuries to Trezeguet and Ross Barkley, El Ghazi and Traore have had the chance for an extended run in the team, putting in some fine performances. El Ghazi has scored five goals in his last five games – already scoring more than he did last season. In those five games, Traore has also contributed two goals and a further assist.
Smith’s first ‘headache’ will come on New Year’s day when Ross Barkley is hoped to be available for selection. Introducing him back into the starting XI will mean changing the system slightly by dropping one of either El Ghazi or Traore and moving Grealish back out onto the left. Whilst there are no return dates for either Trezeguet or Wesley yet, they are expected back in the not-so-distant future.
With these players returning from injury and improvements in the current wingers, the argument could be made that Villa will not need to strengthen their forward line, with Wesley and a mixture of El Ghazi, Trezeguet and Bertrand Traore strengthening the often weak-looking bench.
Villa also know how difficult it is to acquire talent in those positions during the January transfer window. Often prices become inflated as clubs don’t want to lose top talent mid-way through a season. However, there are potential signings out there. Joshua King and Demarai Grey are both players in the final stages of their contracts and likely to be moving in January – signings that wouldn’t break the bank. These players aren’t likely to improve the starting XI but can offer good competition for places and provide cover for key positions. The most likely of these would be King, someone Villa have previously looked at and who is able to play out on the wing or through the middle.
While relegation seems a distant memory, Villa can now look up the table rather than down. To improve and achieve what the owners have set out to do, a stronger squad is needed. Smith has demonstrated several times this season a reluctance to bring players on from the bench, often waiting until the final 10-15 minutes, if at all. However, bringing players sturdy squad players like King would be easier in the off season, rather than a winter window. Smith himself acknowledged the upcoming transfer window following the Chelsea draw, claiming that, while they are looking, they don’t need to act unless the right deal comes along. As with last season, it may potentially be that Villa only act if forced to do so.
Who or what do you think Villa need to get sorted in the upcoming transfer window? Leave us a comment!