A Beginner’s Guide to Moussa Diaby
Aston Villa finally got their man Moussa Diaby on a five-year contract, after weeks of negotiations with Bayer Leverkusen for a reported deal worth around €40m (£34.6m) plus add-ons. While we’ve spoken a little about the pros and cons about Moussa Diaby on the My Old Man Said podcast, here’s a brass tacks skinny guide of the latest Villa signing, answering the five most basic questions on him.
Moussa Diaby The 5 W’s
Moussa Diaby is a French international winger, forward, wideman or whatever your favourite term for a fast tricky player who can play in any of the front three positions is.
Diaby, was a product of the Paris St Germain youth system, joining at the age of 13 and making his senior debut in the 2018-2019 season. During this period, he played 25 times under Thomas Tuchel, who, according to Diaby in a 2019 interview with Spox, expressed a desire for him to stay and continue developing under his guidance
Instead, Diaby moved to Bayer Leverkusen and took up position on either flank, 41% of his time playing on the left-hand side and 47% on the right-hand side.
He has represented France at every level and is yet to score for the senior side in 10 appearances.
Moussa Diaby is expected to be the solution to one of the identified areas of weakness in the Villa side. Since Steven Gerrard released El Ghazi and Trézéguet while sending Bertrand Traore out on loan, Aston Villa has had only Leon Bailey as a wide player.
By signing Bailey’s former Leverkusen teammate, Diaby, Villa are directly addressing this issue.
Although some have made a lazy comparison with Arjen Robben, Diaby, who is predominantly left-footed, prefers drifting in from the right but tends to score most of his goals from inside the box. Out of his nine goals last season, only two came from outside the area, so Villa should not expect too many Robben-like curlers from him.
Diaby’s playing style revolves around pace and trickery, with an impressive end product. According to Opta Analyst, just five widemen recorded more carries ending in a shot or a chance created than Diaby’s 55.
In terms of all Bundesliga players last season, Diaby had the second most Progressive carries (125) and carries into penalty area (55). Interestingly, his nine goals and eight assists last season, is exactly the same amount that Leon Bailey registered in the season before Villa bought him.
This is where it gets interesting, as if Diaby plays where he played the majority of games for Leverkusen, then he is a direct replacement for Leon Bailey.
I think this is likely to be the case, but it may not be all over for Bailey at Villa, considering the two players worked well in Germany. A more likely scenario is Bailey moving across to the left side to be an option against Jacob Ramsey.
Of course, with Diaby able to operate on both flanks, there will be plenty of scope for flexibility and fluidity across the front line, so it will be down to Emery to slot them in where they can be most effective.
Unai Emery will have been aware of the young Diaby from his time managing PSG, and despite not breaking through under the Spaniard, there will be a knowledge base there to work with.
“We were following Moussa Diaby and he can improve our level in the attacking third,” said Emery in the US, shortly after Diary was announced. “He can play as a left winger. We are really excited and happy with him. We have to rebuild our structure, and Moussa gives us something.”
“He has experience in Europe. He will give us more power,” added, the Villa boss.
Moussa Diaby has been on the radar of many large clubs, Arsenal have kept an interest in him as have Manchester United, but both sides had more pressing concerns in the transfer window.
Newcastle United were very keen, yet have gone with the safer option of Harvey Barnes.
Diaby agreeing to join Villa is something of a coup, especially when one of Saudi Arabia’s PIF owned Saudi Pro League clubs was trying to sign him.
The right side of Villa needed strengthening, as it was clear that the combinations down the left of Alex Moreno and Jacob Ramsey, along with the natural drift to the left of Ollie Watkins, made Villa lobsided in attack.
Diaby will not only replace or add competition for Bailey, but a possible partnership between the two is also on the cards again.
There is a significant worry over Diaby defensively. In his four seasons in the Bundesliga, he has averaged an attempted tackle only 0.5 times over 90 minutes. It means it takes Diaby two games to make a tackle.
While clearly not purchased to be a defender, you should know the drill by now. Villa supporters get excited by YouTube clips of a winger’s attacking endeavour, but after they sign, start complaining that they don’t track back and help out. At 5 feet 7 inches, Diaby isn’t going to be winning many headers either.
Of course, if Diaby can rack up even half the goals and assists, of other players who aren’t known for defending, like Mo Salah, then it won’t be noticed.
The other concern is over the transfer fee. Reports have this ranging from anywhere between £34.6 million to a whopping £51.9 million club record fee. While inflation and fees generally are just something to be accepted by fans nowadays, the pressure of a club record fee, coupled with the position he plays, can lead to a longer settling-in period.
While Emery has claimed he wanted to sign Wilfred Zaha over Nicolas Pepe during his time at Arsenal, the £72 million Pepe is a cautionary tale of an expensive wide player not fitting into the Premier League.
Pepe scored 35 goals in 74 Ligue 1 appearances for Lille before joining Arsenal, and his lack of physicality and inconsistency was a major factor in Emery getting sacked from the Emirates.
Manchester United fans will also highlight Jadon Sancho and Antony as similar examples who take time to show their worth.
However, in choosing Aston Villa over an astronomically wealthy contract, playing water carrier to Cristiano Ronaldo at Al Nassr, there is already a major plus in the character column of Moussa Diaby. He chose a more competitive career over a more lucrative one, this will give him a head start with Villa fans, who will have to show a degree of patience in their new winger as he settles in.
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