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Have Aston Villa Done Enough to Stay Up? Assessing Their Summer Signings

Aston Villa have earned praise and criticism for their continuous recruitment this summer. They seem to be going down the same route as Fulham; recruitment players from weaker leagues that could either be great or bad. However, I’d argue that their business, in general, is a lot worse than the Cottages last season.

Fulham brought in a lot of players who had a positive reputation beforehand. Andre Schurrle was a Premier League proven winger, Mitrovic had that bite and dominance to the success in the league and Seri was linked to Barcelona only in the previous year. A lot of experts thought these players could have been snapped up by bigger clubs, myself included. Last summer, I wanted to see Zambo Anguissa join one of either Arsenal or Chelsea. What happened to Fulham is challenging to explain because so many players had a down year all at once. It’s an anomaly for many players on that side, and it’s how history will view that team.

One area of context is vital when discussing the comparisons between both of these sides. The main criticism against Fulham signing so many players was because they managed to keep their promotion team together. Their goal was to add as much quality as possible to ensure their chances of survival had increased. Villa were in a very different situation. Their most used eleven during their promotion campaign featured ageing forwards and defenders who were on loan. It meant there was a lot of surgery required to turn this squad into an average Premier League side. It makes the insane amount of signings more necessary than Fulham’s in the previous year.

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Villa, while spending £20 million more than Fulham, have brought in more players on permanent deals from leagues where the quality can be questioned. We’ll go through all of their signings so far in this window and judge whether they are good or bad, giving them a final verdict of either a hit or miss.

Wesley (Club Brugge) – £22.50m

Replacing Tammy Abraham is a difficult task for a promoted club. The Chelsea forward was absolutely sensational during his second spell in the Championship, scoring 26 goals for Villa. He proved once again that he is just too good for England’s second tier and should be starting in the Premier League. However, due to Chelsea’s transfer ban, the chances of signing Abraham were next to impossible. The signing of a striker of a vital, and unsurprisingly, I don’t like this movie.

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I’m not going to act like I’ve watched a lot of Wesley, but judging from the numbers I’ve seen, it doesn’t look so good. When signing players from a bad league, they need to be players who have truly stood out and are clearly better than their competition, and Wesley hasn’t done that. The Brazilian scored 12 non-penalty goals in the Jupiler Pro League. The arguments made against this is he is a target man who’s technical strengths allow him to bring others into play, think Sebastien Haller. However, the forward only wins 1.5 aerial duels per 90, not nearly enough to justify that opinion. I could be very wrong about him, but based on initial impressions, this could be one of the worst signings of the summer come May.

Verdict – Miss

Tyrone Mings (Bournemouth) – £20.07m

Signing players who succeeded on loan is usually pretty safe business, depending on how much-said player will cost. Mings was excellent last season, but paying over £20 million for a player with an injury-struck career, it does seem like a lot of money for him. Mings has missed two full seasons due to long term injuries. Usually, when spending a lot of money on players with very little resell value, you want guarantees that these players will be able to play as many games as possible. Mings is a risk, and while you want to keep some of the key players of that promotion campaign together, Villa have definitely overpaid for him. Mings could perform very well on his return back to the Premier League, but there was definitely better investments out there.

Verdict – Miss

Douglas Luiz (Manchester City) – £15.12m 

The first transfer I seemingly like, Douglas Luiz arrives to compete for those key midfield positions, offering versatility, solid defensive numbers and a very, very good dribbler. Luiz comes after impressing on loan at Girona, Manchester City’s sister club that has housed the Champions younger players in the past. Luiz didn’t necessarily have a breakout season, but he has shown enough to justify a side taking a risk on him. He’s still only 21, and for £15 million, it seems like a pretty good deal for him.

Verdict – Hit

Matt Targett (Southampton) – £13.95m

Targett has played a lot of Premier League games for a player who is still pretty young. He has also done very well in the Championship with Fulham during their previous promotion campaign. For a reasonable fee, Villa have brought in a decent full-back who is good enough defensively, however, the main reason for his signing is his crossing. Targett has consistently averaged over an accurate cross per game over the past 3 seasons, one of the highest in the league. He could function as a good creator for Dean Smith’s side, who were one of the most prominent crossing sides during the Championship. His inclusion makes, and wouldn’t depart if the team do suffer relegation. This is another arrival I’m okay with.

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Verdict – Hit 

Ezri Konsa (Brentford) – 11.97m

When discussing Tyrone Mings, I mentioned finding value in the market, and the possibility of better deals than Mings and Konsa is a better deal. The England under-21 only arrived at the Bees last summer and is already on the move once again. Brentford have earned a reputation of finding value in players domestically and across the continent; Konsa is another example of that. For a 21-year-old, the defender has shown a lot of promise and enough reason for a Premier League to consider him. He started 42 games for Brentford last season, completing 80% of his tackles, making over 50 passes and 3.6 clearances per game. What his most impressive about Konsa is how clean he is, only committing 18 fouls last season. There is a potential England international here and was picked up for a perfect fee.

Verdict – Villa’s best signing

Marvelous Nakamba (Club Brugge) – £10.80m

Initially, it seemed that Villa were going to spend up to £30 million for Leeds defensive midfielder, Kalvin Philipps, but opted to bring in Luiz and Nakamba for less. It was a very sensible move from the promoted side. With Luiz a good signing and Nakamba another good bit of business, I’d say yes. While Luiz is fine defensively and a good ball progressor, Nakamba is definitely on the defensive side. While his numbers in Belgium are unattainable for me, his time at Vitesse is. He showed himself to be a prominent ball winner, consistently putting over 5 tackles and interceptions per 90. While I’m not the biggest fan of Wesley’s signing due to his numbers not standing out in Belgium, Nakamba is a different case. No matter which league you are in, players like Nakamba, Ndidi or Gueye will succeed. Their skillset means they can succeed due to their game being primarily on defensive actions. While Nakamba won’t be an attacking threat, he will adequately cover for McGinn and Grealish as they focus on ball progression and scoring goals. Nakamba is still only 25, meaning it is another good bit of business for Villa.

Verdict – Hit 

Trezeguet (Kasimpasa) – £9.00m 

The Turkish Super League is a real mix bag in terms of recruiting talent. While many bigger clubs like to offload their highest earners to Turkey, signing players from there is quite a rarity. Trezeguet is an excellent dribbler, and while scoring 9 goals from the left-wing does sound promising for a 24-year-old, 5 of those goals did come from outside of the box. The likeliness of the Egyptian scoring that many again is very unlikely and I do not expect him to be this threatening against Premier League opposition. Trezeguet is expected to be a better bench option, which makes sense. He can be unpredictable, and his high dribbling could be great against tiring defences.

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Verdict – A hit if used sparingly 

Anwar El Ghazi (Lille) – £8.10m

Not much to say here. El Ghazi was used often during Villa’s promotion and keeping him is a safe thing to do, considering the lack of wide players Villa have. He doesn’t cost nearly as much as Mings will cost, and is unlikely to leave if Villa to succumb to relegation.

Verdict – No issues

Tom Heaton (Burnley) – £7.92m

While I do think they have slightly overspent on the 33-year-old, all three promoted sides have proven that a good shot-stopper is vital. Norwich managed to sign Ralph Fahrmann on loan and Sheffield brought back Dean Henderson for another season. While the other two sides were justified in their signings, Villa were in desperate need of a goalkeeper. There was constant rotation in that position throughout last season. Jed Steer did manage to earn a place as the number one near the end of the season, but he isn’t good enough for the Premier League. Heaton is a massive improvement over the three goalkeepers they have at the club, with his performances for Burnley earning him a lot of praise since his arrival in the Premier League. It’s a safe signing that has no drawbacks in terms of performances.

Verdict – Hit

Bjorn Engels (Reims) – £7.20m

Engels is third centre back arrival of the summer and is by far the most interesting. While I’m very excited to see how Konsa adapts to the Premier League, Engels is still an excellent addition. The Belgian defender played in a Reims side that defended very well, having the 6th best defensive record in Ligue 1. Engels was a considerable part of that, winning 66% of his aerial duels and making 5.4 clearances per game. My only issue is that while he could perform well against sides who prefer a more target-man approach, he might struggle against better teams in general. Engels only completed around half of his tackles last season, winning only 11. This is primarily down to style of play but could become a problem against the top-level teams. I think he is an okay addition, but I worry he won’t get the playing time he might want.

Verdict – No issue

Jota (Birmingham City) – £4.05m

This was a strange one. This was marketed as Dean Smith bringing back a player he was fond of during his time at Brentford. Villa were in desperate need for wide talent and bringing in the Spaniard for next to nothing does make sense. Jota is a decent creator, but he does lack any sort of ability to beat a man. He might struggle against Premier League full-backs, but for the price, he is bound to offer something for Villa, even if it is minimal.

Verdict – Hit for the price

Kortney Hause (Wolves) – £3.06m

The final transfer is another centre-back, this time from Wolves. Hause is another signing I don’t have an issue with. Hause, while not a mainstay in the Villa side last season, did start over 10 games for the team and performed well when given the opportunity. This signing did feel slightly unnecessary, considering it means Villa now have 5 centre backs at the club. However, the fee is so small I don’t think it is much of an issue

Verdict – Hit

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One might think if my opinion on a majority of the signings is positive, then why have not liked Aston Villa’s business as a whole. It’s because they spent over £40 million on two players who I do not think are a good value for money. It mainly points to Wesley being their only attacking signing of the summer, meaning there is a lot of pressure on him to perform well. I don’t think he will score many goals, but that isn’t what he is there for. He is there to be a focal point and allow Grealish, McGinn, Hourihane and Luiz to push forward and find space around the Brazilian. Last season, Aston Villa’s starting midfielders contributed to 43 goals. It is highly unlikely that they will add to that many, but it seems Smith is hoping that McGinn and Grealish can similarly replicate their success. That still isn’t enough to save Villa from relegation. They’ve lost a lot of goals through Tammy returning to Chelsea, and that could be the difference. Missing out on Maupay has a massive part in this. Villa were chasing the Brentford forward for a majority for the summer but failed to get his signature. His arrival could have brought the goals they need. I predict Villa, alongside Sheffield United, to go straight back down. I do like a lof these signings, but the lack of goals is what I worry about.

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