Aston Villa January 2021 Transfer Window Preview
Festive adverts are on TV, Noddy Holder is on the radio and we’ve been granted licence to visit the houses of loved ones without judgemental stares from the neighbours; Christmas is well and truly upon us, which can only mean that the transfer rumour silly season is about to commence.
A Coronavirus outbreak within the Newcastle camp has put Friday’s fixture on hold giving the squad a brief respite before the slog of fixtures throughout December. The final month of 2020 does include matches against Burnley, West Brom and Palace, all lauguishing in the lower region of the table. If Villa turn their recent result woes around they can expect to be in a strong position come January, far from the relegation scrap that already looked likely this time last year.
With that in mind, it seems like a good time to reflect on what the bizarre start to the 2020/21 season tells us about our transfer window needs. Villa’s three home defeats on the bounce with a defence that has the tendency to switch off at times, may seem worrying, but an attack capable of putting seven past the reigning champions definitely isn’t.
Just as soon as the New Year’s countdown ends, ill-informed ‘in-the-know’ time wasters will be sprouting up all over Twitter, but we can take time now to analyse what Villa may need to bolster the ranks and really push on as the season progresses.
The last window must be deemed as a success, with Villa CEO Christian Purslow declaring in a recent Villa Fan Consultation Group meeting that they “almost” got all their main targets.
The additions of Martínez, Barkley and Watkins in particular now help create a side that, on its day, can be a real threat to any other in the league. It’s important to remember that, whilst we may list a few positions in which we could certainly do with a signing, the economics of modern football suggest that only one or two new faces would be likely. After all, the return of Wesley from injury in Janaury, itself will provide Villa with much needed line-up options.
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What do we need?
The difference in performance and confidence without Ross Barkley has been very noticeable, with only an injury to Jack Grealish more likely to completely change the way we operate, whilst making many of us at home cry. As the season progresses on, the lack of strength in depth is a factor that may exclude Villa from the upper echelons of the league, with many backup players being off the pace if the aim is to be a side with the potential of knocking on the door of Europe.
The fact that Dean Smith initially opted for Bertrand Traoré over Hourihane to replace the on-loan Chelsea man, shows a lack of trust in the current midfield cavalry to open up defences and offer the direct running and ability on the ball that the system relies on.
Whilst a like-for-like, attack-minded midfielder would be ideal, there would be few candidates of the right quality that would come in at an affordable price and happily play second fiddle to a fully fit Barkley or Grealish – realistically, given other priorities, this is perhaps a ‘luxury’ transfer that should only be pursued if the right opportunity arises or the right talent emerges from the current crop of youth players. There are better ways to boost the attacking options and ease the responsibility placed on the shoulders of Grealish, Barkley and Watkins.
Signing a new winger would be a good way to do this – as with the goalkeeping options in the seasons before Heaton arrived, Villa have gone for quantity over quality in this area, one of the key reasons behind moving Grealish to the left forward role.
The incumbent on the right, Trézéguet, is by no means a poor player – his work at the end of last season secured safety and his defensive contributions are underrated, but uncomposed finishing and occasional lack of final product has been noticeable this season (particularly in close defeats to Brighton and West Ham with glorious chances were wasted). Statistics do not always tell the full story, but a contribution of no goals and just a single assist to the 20 we’ve scored in the league this season, shows that a better option may bring more unpredictability and threat to Villa’s attack.
Currently, Traoré and El Ghazi act as understudies, neither of whom are playing with the confidence to be a nuisance to defences across the division.
A fairly persistent link with Milot Rashica from the last window has recently been recycled again. Unfortunately, a knee injury has limited game time this season and Werder Bremen are not keen to let him go so his acquisition seems unlikely.
A major hurdle in a position as volatile as mid-table in the Premier League is convincing promising players that the club is heading in the right direction – whilst the early signs certainly indicate this, it may be too early to guarantee that European football is a distinct possibility in the near future.
With the ‘summer’ transfer window closing less than two months ago, expect to see the same links re-emerging.
Whilst injuries have prevented him from setting the Championship alight this season, the performances of Joe Lolley in the last campaign may see a slight gamble taken with the hope that he adapts to the big leagues in the same way as former teammate Matty Cash.
Alternatively, Norwich’s Championship table topping position is in no small part down to Emi Buendía – the Argentine would be a very useful addition, with a contribution to 6 goals in 10 games in the campaign so far.
World Cup winning squad member Florian Thauvin is one of the more high-profile players linked with Villa as he runs down his contract at Marseille and would offer a stronger final product and set piece threat, but interest from across Europe is likely to prevent a move to B6.
A running theme throughout these targets will be that we have a perfectly good player in the starting XI, but that injuries could expose us due to the drop off in quality from the first names on the team sheet. Ollie Watkins has proved to be an effective, complete forward with the speed, finishing and hold-up play required for the level that we are striving to be at. However, if the spearhead of our attack were to be injured, the replacements are not as sharp as we would need for an extended period.
Wesley is likely to be out until mid-January, over a year after he seemed to just be finding his feet in the Premier League. Such length of time out of the game means that he could be a rather unknown quantity when he returns. You’d want to drip feed him back.
Alternatively, Keinan Davis has potential, but not to the extent that you’d want him leading the line. Hopefully the Wesley has enough time to show he’s back at the level of performance he was signed for – having him as an option off the bench or in an alternative starting formation – would feel like a new signing. It’s for this reason that recent reports of interest in Mario Mandžukić should be taken with a generous pinch of salt.
Although the last few games have not been his best, Douglas Luiz has been a pivotal player since the restart as a level-headed first line of defense, capable of winning the ball back and starting attacks. Whilst they may not be the array of talent that they were in the 1970’s or early 2000’s, breaking into the Brazil team is no mean feat and is a deserved reward for performances since the restart.
Once again, if injury were to strike, the backup option of Marvellous Nakamba has failed to live up to his name and so re-enforcement could be sensible. It would also provide a good option off the bench on the occasions that our midfield has seemed passive and overloaded.
There is also the threat of Manchester City exercising a clause in Luiz’s contract and re-signing him for a reported £25 million – whilst this is unlikely given the strength of their midfield, their signing of Rodri and the money at their disposal to sign the world’s very best, it’s likely that Smith and Johan Lange have dossiers prepared on replacements if required.
James McCarthy is a name currently doing the rounds, with the Irishman potentially being a good option as a squad player with Premier League experience. A good box-to-box midfielder with presence would also be welcome.
Matt Targett is a player that divides opinion – whilst he can put in strong performances and some memorable attacking contributions, he is occasionally wasteful with the ball and isn’t the most consistent. Competition would be good for him and develop his game and improve a player with undoubted potential. Neil Taylor is the only other natural left-back in the squad and looks set to be released at the end of his contract
Any Other Business…
After ‘Project Restart’, a leaking, creaking defence had been rejuvenated and reorganised (lets forget about the zonal marking for a second), conceding only twice in an unbeaten final four games to avoid relegation. Familiar mistakes have been ever too present in recent games and resolving this once again would arguably have a greater impact than any signing. Greater attacking options with the solidity that our defence has shown at times would ultimately see an incredible transformation in a short space of time and present a very good platform for further development.
The arrival of Johan Lange as Sporting Director from Copenhagen came with a well-reported history of success in the transfer market; Robert Skov and Robin Olsen are the most notable players that were ‘flipped’ for many millions. In a market in which fees are constantly inflated, competing against teams with more money than sense, a man with the proven ability to identify and recruit quality on a budget is exactly what is required.
After the splashes on Watkins and Traoré (plus Barkley’s wages) in the summer, if any transfers are to be made in the January window, it’s maybe of the calibre to improve squad depth quality for decent value, so Lange’s skillset may prove vital.