Aston Villa Midfield Transfer Link Hots Up, Raising Questions in the Process

Aston Villa Morgan Sanson Transfer Link

By Calum Slater

What was expected to be a low-key transfer window for Aston Villa could fire-up with the capture of Marseille midfielder Morgan Sanson, according to reports in both the Daily Telegraph and BBC. The 26-year-old Frenchman has previously been linked with several Premier League sides, including West Ham, Wolves and Arsenal, but negotiations for a move to B6 seem to be developing rapidly.

A fee of between £15-20 million is the reported cost – this seems to be better value than the price that was initially being mooted around in the summer in the £25-£30m region. Marseille allegedly rejected a £25 million bid from West Ham in the last transfer window for the midfielder, but the landscape has seemingly changed somewhat since then.

The collapse of the €814m per year TV deal from Mediapro since has changed the economic landscape of French football and so Ligue 1 clubs that aren’t funded by the wealth of Qatar are now looking to offload some of their more valuable assets.

Dean Smith has stressed that deals would only be made if the right opportunity were to arise, and such a situation may have facilitated this.

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Sanson’s Attributes

Sanson fits the profile of an all-round central midfielder; his attacking contributions this season have been notable, with two goals and three assists in 11 league games. Marseille line-up in a similar formation to Villa and Sanson has been utilised both as a central midfielder and in the more attacking central role behind the striker, given more creative licence. He is comfortable on the ball and likes to run at defences when given the chance, with the passing ability to produce quality in the final third.  

It is the development to the defensive side to his game that has been particularly impressive in recent seasons. Solid in the tackle and keen to create after winning the ball, it is this element of his game that will have piqued the interest of Smith given that he is most likely to be deployed in the heart of midfield.

An attack-minded player with the desire to carry the ball, coupled with solid defensive attributes make him a good signing to provide cover and competition for Douglas Luiz and John McGinn. This is particularly important given the lack of strength in depth we have in this position – Nakamba has underwhelmed and Hourihane looks potentially set to depart having fallen behind youngster Jacob Ramsey in the midfield pecking order.

Sanson offers a technically stronger, more involved and dynamic presence in the midfield and is better suited to carry the physical and technical burden of Smith’s style than the likes of Nakamba and Hourihane, or the inexperienced Ramsey.

He would also give Smith more resilience from a tactical standpoint. The injury to Ross Barkley has forced Jack Grealish into a central role, flanked by two more traditional wingers. However, if Sanson were to join, he could fill the central attacking role in Barkley’s absence, allowing Grealish to stay on the left and drift inside to take on creative responsibility. 

The uncertainty created by the current Covid-19 situation would also benefit from such a midfield option to add genuine depth. The team sheet against Manchester City will give supporters an insight into where the club’s recent ‘significant’ Covid outbreak leaves Villa, in terms of available players. In that respect, it may also provide a clue to Hourihane’s immediate future too.

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Continuing the Ambition Trend

Signing Sanson would be a good show of ambition for the side whilst remaining responsible in the market. He is clearly an important player on the Cote D’Azur, playing in all six games of a disastrous Champions League campaign; additionally, a recent injury that saw him miss five league games contributed to a poor run of form for the team. However, with 18 months left on his contract, a decision has to be made by the hierarchy of the French club and, given such interest, it may be difficult to convince Sanson to sign an extension.

Manager Andre Villas-Boas seems to have been informed of the clubs position and has accepted the possibility of a move in the coming days. When questioned on the potential sale in a recent interview, he admitted a move was a possibility.

“We’ll see,” reasoned the Marsaille manager. “Sanson is a player who is highly rated… he is a boy who interests English teams because of his characteristics, and it is possible that something could happen”.

Whether or not the deal is done, the calibre of the player and manner in which the deal has progressed is an indicator of what to expect over the next few windows. The phase of clearing out the ‘dead wood’ of previous seasons is drawing to a close.

With a strong starting XI established, Smith can focus on a smooth transition to a squad with more quality throughout, looking for value (which does not necessarily mean cheap) and recruiting players that fit the system. As key areas are reinforced, the level of competition and ability to rest players will drive the squad forward without the need for any over-priced or ‘panic’ signings.


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