There’s been a lot of talk about how many players Aston Villa have signed this summer, with little regard to how many players left at the end of last season. Throw in the fact, that a third of the players brought in where actually at the club last season and a further two have played under Dean Smith before, and it’s not as drastic as it seems.
For most part, Villa have been replacing the departed, but one position that will probably be key to the season is the deeper lying midfielder or DM role.
Incoming DM Battle
For Smith to get Villa playing the way he wants to, a ball-winning midfielder to be the pivot of the Villa midfield is essential, some one who can pick a pass and can play smart in his own half.
The position will potentially be key to Villa’s eventual progress this upcoming season.
Villa have already drafted in Manchester City’s Douglas Luiz, whom they’re waiting for a work permit for, and now have announced CF Brugges’ Marvelous Nakamba (reported to cost around the £11m mark).
Bruges consider the deal as done…— Kristof Terreur 📰🎥 (@HLNinEngeland) July 28, 2019
As MOMS stated when giving a more realistic profile of the 21-year-old Douglas Luiz, it maybe a tad reckless to rely on such an inexperienced player in such an important position. After all, Luiz made 16 starts for relegated Girona in La Liga last season and just a single start in the season before that. Nakamba, at least, has more first team pedigree and experience to his name.
Last season, while perhaps not as good for Nakamba as the previous title-winning season, he did experience Champions League football alongside Wesley. Both notably started in a 0-0 draw away at Dortmund, a home 0-0 draw against Atlético de Madrid and in Brugge’s 4-0 win away at Theirry Henry’s Monaco.
It suggests that Nakamba (and Wesley) helped provide Brugge with a solid spine to ensure they were no mugs in the Champions League.
Certainly the player had a better time in Europe, than when he played in the recent African Cup of Nations. Nakamba started Zimbabwe’s opening match, a 1-0 loss to the host nation Egypt, which was his only appearance in his country’s dismissal tournament showing, as they finished bottom of Group A with a single point.
The Zimbabwean joined Brugge two years ago for a fee just south over £4m from Vitesse in the Dutch Eredivisie, after it was thought he’d make the jump up to one of Europe’s top leagues then. It was reported that even Liverpool were interested in him at one point.
Back to Nakamba’s potential role in the Villa team, of course putting a team together on paper is one thing, but getting it to gel together on the field is another. With Smith keen on playing out from the back, it is essential for a team to have as many games as possible to get increasingly comfortable with the style.
Obviously, a key player taking the ball off the back four and interchanging passes with them, will be either Luiz or Nakamba, but they will have very little game time to bed down before the season kicks-off in earnest against Spurs.
This is a potential red flag to Villa’s early season progress. We saw with Idrissa Gueye, when he signed for Villa to play in a similar position, a player’s talent can get lost, if he isn’t bedded in or the team as a whole isn’t ready.
Hopefully, the other 10 players around whoever starts in the deeper midfield position, will be better equipped than the team of 2015/16, who looked like they could have done with another couple of months of pre-season after being put together on the fly.
Key to the Season?
In Villa’s pre-season games so-far, it’s been very much about getting the players playing a style and system, and noticeably getting them to move the ball around quickly.
Villa look good when they’re allowed to play, but in the Premier League potentially they won’t be afforded such luxury and time.
The need for a more combative enforcer type player, who can play a bit, could be key in providing the fulcrum of the Villa midfield. An ageing Glenn Whelan at times had success in the role towards the end of last season, but a more dynamic force will be needed hence forth in the Premier League.
The likes of Henri Lansbury and Birkir Bjarnason have been tried out in pre-season, but it’s a position that needs a natural suitor to fill it, rather than a midfielder trying his hand in the position. Conor Hourihane, alongside John McGinn and Jack Grealish, is another midfield option too.
Certainly, with Nakamba coming in, they’ll be current Villa players needing to seek pastures new.
The tussle between Luiz and Nakamba will be an interesting one. What happens if both prove invaluable? Will there be a temptation to play both in the same starting XI? Who would make way?
Refreshingly, it seems Villa will have a genuine squad with healthy competition in it, going into the 2019/20 season. It may take Smith a few months to settle on his first XI, but with his players needing to impress to earn the right to be included in it, it can only be good for Villa.