Aston Villa’s much-needed victory against Burnley on New Year’s Day came at considerable cost.
Tom Heaton and Wesley were stretchered off at Turf Moor, and Villa confirmed this morning that both players will be absent for the remainder of the season.
Dean Smith has confirmed that Villa will enter the transfer market for reinforcements, saying: “I am sitting down with [chief executive] Christian Purslow and [sporting director] Jesus [Garcia Pitarch] to see what this changes for us. It will probably hasten what we do in the market.”
Although Wesley hasn’t always convinced since making a £22m move from Club Brugge in the summer, he has managed five Premier League goals – a total only bettered in Villa’s squad by Jack Grealish with six.
Indeed, Wesley ended a 12-game drought in the top-flight with a well-taken finish against Burnley, which might just have triggered an upturn in fortunes in front of goal.
Despite Wesley’s inefficiency, he retained the faith of Smith throughout his barren run by starting in every Premier League game this season, which suggests the Villa boss felt he was influential in other ways.
Only six other players in the division have contested more aerial duels this season than Wesley, showing he has been a focal point around which Villa have attempted to build attacking moves.
In recent weeks, Villa’s talisman Grealish has been moved from a central midfield role into an inside left position and it is perhaps no coincidence that he has been in such supreme form given he has had the Brazilian to bounce off.
With Wesley out for the foreseeable future, and Villa 5/6 second-favourites* to be relegated from the Premier League this season, who could they turn to in the transfer window?
*Odds provided by William Hill, Squawka’s partner for the 2020 January transfer window. You have to be 18+ to gamble. For more information, go to BeGambleAware.org
Dream: Michy Batshuayi (Chelsea)
Even before Villa had received the results from Wesley’s scan, they had made a beeline to Chelsea for Michy Batshuayi, who has struggled for game time under Frank Lampard this season.
According to Sky Sports, Villa have submitted a loan enquiry for Batshuayi and are awaiting a response from Chelsea. Former Villa loanee Tammy Abraham is firmly established as Chelsea’s starting No.9 and Batshuayi has managed just 119 minutes in the Premier League this season spread out thinly across 12 substitute appearances.
Since moving to Stamford Bridge from Marseille in 2016, Batshuayi has been loaned out three times by Chelsea – to Borussia Dortmund, Valencia and Crystal Palace – with two of those moves occurring in the winter transfer window. A similar scenario, therefore, doesn’t seem out of the question, particularly given Batshuayi will be desperate to secure a place in Belgium’s Euro 2020 squad.
Batshuayi scored five times in 11 Premier League appearances for Crystal Palace after joining them last January which demonstrates that he has the pedigree to have an immediate impact at a bottom-half club. Interestingly, though, Sky’s report claims that he is keen to stay at Chelsea to fight for his place, reducing the likelihood of a move to Villa Park.
Realistic: Olivier Giroud (Chelsea)
Another out-of-favour Chelsea striker who may feel more inclined to find a new club this winter is Olivier Giroud, given his chances of representing France at the Euro’s appear to be in serious jeopardy. France boss Didier Deschamps has remained fiercely loyal to Giroud in the past, but he acknowledged that he needs more playing time between now and June.
Speaking last month, Deschamps said: “Giroud, like others, may have to move. His situation at Chelsea hasn’t changed in two months. It would be better for him, of course, to go to a club where he would get more playing time. If he can’t get it at Chelsea, the idea is to get it elsewhere.”
Giroud will turn 34 in September so this summer is likely to be his last opportunity to play for Les Bleus in a major competition and consequently, he has more to lose than Batshuayi if he doesn’t find a new club this month. Considering his contract is set to expire in the summer, Chelsea are likely to be more open to offloading him, too, with the current window representing their last chance to sell him.
Stylistically, Giroud would represent a decent option for Villa. Although he isn’t as athletic or dynamic as Wesley or Batshuayi, he excels in aerial duels and is far superior to either when it comes to bringing others into play. As Deschamps has shown, Giroud can be a major asset if fast, mobile attackers are deployed around him and with the likes of Grealish, Anwar El-Ghazi and Trezeguet in their ranks, Villa have such options at their disposal.
Wildcard: Christian Benteke (Crystal Palace)
The writing was on the wall for Christian Benteke when he accidentally tweeted that he had joined Burnley rather than Crystal Palace upon his £27m move from Liverpool in 2016. Attempting to cover up the confusion, Benteke said: “Oops my bad lol[.] Yes I signed for CPFC and not Burnley. Sorry for the little mistake. The person who manages my Twitter got a little confused.”
Benteke bounced back from that gaffe by enjoying a productive debut campaign at Selhurst Park, scoring 17 times in 40 matches, 15 of which contributed immensely to their Premier League survival that year. Since then, however, his productivity has dipped in alarming fashion.
Since the start of the 2017-18 season, Benteke has mustered only four goals from 62 appearances, and he is yet to find the net from 15 Premier League outings this term. It was no surprise given those statistics that there was widespread confusion when it was announced in October that the Belgian had signed a new one-year contract with the Eagles.
One might question why Villa – a club on the search for firepower – would see value in signing a striker who has scored four times from his last 101 shots on goal, but it is in the club’s claret and blue where Benteke emerged as one of the Premier League’s most-feared strikers, scoring 49 goals in 101 games.
Moves that suit all parties rarely happen in football, but this is one that could actually work out best for everybody involved.
Squawka Suggests: Ollie Watkins (Brentford)
Aston Villa raided Brentford for Dean Smith in October 2018 and then returned to West London to snap up centre-back Ezri Konsa in a £15m deal last summer. The Premier League strugglers have been linked with further moves for Brentford players recently too with Algerian winger Said Benrahma and star forward Ollie Watkins reportedly in their eye line.
With Villa short in attack, Watkins is likely to be the more desirable target this month. A winger by trade, Watkins has been shifted into a central striker role this season by Thomas Frank. This has proven to be a masterstroke, as he has struck 17 goals in 26 Championship games this season, a total only bettered by Fulham’s Aleksandar Mitrovic (18).
Although Watkins isn’t a bulldozing forward in the Wesley mould, he has held his own as a lone forward with Brentford playing either 4-3-3 or 3-4-3 this season. The 24-year-old would add exceptional pace to the Villa attack as well as superb movement, which is an aspect of his game that has noticeably improved over the past six months.
It is also worth highlighting how well-rounded a finisher Watkins has developed into. Of his 17 league goals this term, he has scored six apiece with his right foot and head, four with his head and one bundled in off another body part. All of them have been converted from inside the penalty area, too, suggesting he has that priceless knack of being in the right place at the right time.
Promotion-chasing Brentford will be desperate to keep Watkins and their other big players but according to reports, Watkins is valued at around the £25m mark – a fee that Villa would likely be able to match.