Football Features

Morgan Sanson to Aston Villa? How the French midfielder’s skillset could compliment Jack Grealish and Co

By Chris Smith

Published: 7:30, 20 January 2021

Aston Villa look set to add even more quality to their midfield with the signing of Morgan Sanson from Marseille. 

After barely avoiding relegation last season, Dean Smith’s men have been turning heads with a number of impressive performances, not least that famous 7-2 win over Liverpool in October. The Villans are currently mid-table but if they can win their games in hand (as many as three over fourth-placed Liverpool), they’ll be right back in the mix for Champions League and Europa League qualification.

With five goals and seven assists so far, Jack Grealish has led the charge, but the England international has been backed by some stellar midfield performances by the likes of John McGinn, Douglas Luiz and Chelsea loanee, Ross Barkley.

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Even so, it would appear Smith is keen to add more options to his midfield ranks and Villa have now emerged as the favourites to sign 26-year-old Sanson, despite reported interest from the likes of Tottenham, Arsenal and Borussia Dortmund.

Who is Morgan Sanson?

Sanson started his professional career with Le Mans, making 27 Ligue 2 appearances in 2012/13 and scoring three goals before being quickly snapped up by Montpellier. The midfielder spent three-and-a-half years at Stade de la Mosson, grabbing 13 goals and 13 assists in 106 games across all competitions and picking up numerous international caps for France at youth level.

After spending just €700,000 on Sanson, Montpellier turned a huge profit in January 2017 when Marseille paid a huge €12m for his services.

Sanson has been a huge success with Les Phocéens, notching 25 goals and 21 assists in 156 games across all competitions, including netting nine times in the 2017/18 Ligue 1 campaign as Marseille finished fourth, missing out on Champions League football by just a single point.

What is Sanson’s style of play?

At 26, Sanson certainly isn’t an unknown commodity, although it did take a while to work out his best position, with the Frenchman fluctuating between box-to-box, attacking and holding midfield positions.

Given his goalscoring output and excellent dribbling skills, coupled with this tough tackling and ability to win one-on-one duels, Sanson is very much suited to playing a box-to-box role, or as a No.8, if you will.

Sanson can sometimes frustrate with his passing and, indeed, his passing accuracy of 77.4% is way down in 20th among Marseille players in Ligue 1 this season. However, his strengths lie in his ability to win the ball back before driving it forward quickly, while the fact he was Marseille’s most fouled player (52) across the 2019/20 Ligue 1 season shows how much of a ‘pressure-relief valve’ he can be for his team, an attribute which should marry well with the likes of Grealish and McGinn.

Though he’s most comfortable on the left of a midfield three, as mentioned Sanson is able to operate in any position through the middle while he’s comfortable moving horizontally across the pitch as well as vertically thanks to his ability with both feet.

While Sanson wouldn’t be a guaranteed starter at Villa Park, he would offer excellent cover (experienced in Champions League and Europa League football, no less) in all three of Smith’s midfield positions, ensuring the Midlands club have options throughout what is a packed schedule, and offering the player himself extended minutes on the pitch.

How much will he cost?

Sanson’s current Marseille contract is set to expire in June 2022 and while losing him for free certainly isn’t an issue yet, the time to sell at a price is now for the French club.

Transfermarkt give the 26-year-old a market value of £18m while Birmingham Live believe it would take an offer of £22.5m to acquire his services. Marseille’s sporting director, Pablo Longoria, has hinted he would be open to negotiations if a ‘concrete’ offer came their way.

“We always talk about Sanson in England. He’s a very good player, with good value in the market,” he said recently. “We have to wait and see if there will be anything concrete. These are rumours.”

Manager Andre Villas-Boas added: “We’ll see. The transfer window is open, Sanson is a player who is highly rated. Officially, we have not received any offers, unless it happened during the match.

“He is a boy who interests English teams because of his characteristics, and it is possible that something could happen.”

With Conor Hourihane also set to join Swansea on loan for the rest of the campaign there is now a gap in Villa’s central midfield, paving the way for Sanson to come in, remedy that departure and bring a new dimension to Smith’s forward-thinking approach.