Steven Gerrard’s recruitment team have been extremely busy in the first few months under his leadership. From being one of the greatest footballers of his generation and a man with an ever-growing reputation, Gerrard provides a massive pull-power, securing the services of Philippe Coutinho in his first month at the club. Now preceding an underwhelming 14th place finish in the league last season, the Villains have pinpointed the exact areas of the side that need improving. We’ve already seen the permanent additions of Philippe Coutinho, Robin Olsen, Boubacar Kamara and Diego Carlos, taking the rest of the Premier League by storm. The window only officially opened for business on June 10th, but the early business from Gerrard’s men arrows toward an exhilarating season in store for Villa Park’s supporters.
Loans becoming PermanentEmbed from Getty Images
In Aston Villa’s quest to improve upon last year, one of the most integral tasks was to secure the signature of Philippe Coutinho on a permanent deal. For a player with immense quality and Brazilian footwork bursting through his boots, Villa secured the deal for a nominal €20 million fee for the 30-year-old.
Coutinho never quite got up to full speed in his first season back in the Premier League, but was highly influential in each match he played. Dropping deep to pick up possession and then driving forward from his position as an inverted winger, Coutinho went on to score 5 goals with 3 assists in his 19 matches, whilst being one of the key figureheads for creating magic in vital moments. As he now enters his second season, with Gerrard given a full pre-season to bring out the best in his tactical ideologies, Villa fans can remember the highs of his career that achieved him such fame in the first place.Embed from Getty Images
Going all the way back to his early days in Merseyside, Coutinho declared himself on the world-stage for his exceptional close control and powerful dribbling. Encouragingly now for Villa, his unbelievably talented right-foot also enabled him to reach twenty Premier League goals from outside the box with the Reds. The game has evolved in such ways that allow less time and space for “traditional number ten’s”, but Coutinho’s decisive playmaking remains enough to electrify any top division defence. The 30-year-old will be key to providing incisiveness and pace into Villa’s quick attacking transitions, whilst also providing an extra cutting edge in ordinary attacking play.Embed from Getty Images
Brave in playing the decisive, dangerous passes to cut open an opposition defense, Coutinho has the quality to frighten any opposition team and will be a main focus of many an opposition report this season. His desire to frequent in half-spaces and drive inside will also facilitate the movement of his teammates on the overlap, as the likes of Jacob Ramsey and John McGill gallop forward, or Lucas Digne makes his way up to cross from left-back. Finally, whilst Villa had already signed a cutting edge creator in Emiliano Buendia shortly before Coutinho’s arrival, the Brazilian still provides a level of creativity and panache that very few Premier League players possess, and that will be integral to getting the best out of the finishing ability of players like Danny Ings and Ollie Watkins.Embed from Getty Images
Less flashy but potentially still important, Steven Gerrard also secured the services of back-up keeper Robin Olsen for another year. The former Liverpool legend likely gave Olsen the final-day nod to show the keeper a sign of faith, and provides more necessary experience and potential experience to the dressing room. Olsen will be hoping to earn more nods than the single appearance he claimed in 2021-22; and should Emiliano Martinez ever succumb to injury, the Swede could prove key to Villa’s sustained success.
Boubacar KamaraEmbed from Getty Images
After four successful seasons in Ligue 1 with Marseille, Boubacar Kamara has finally made a move to the big time. But it’s not Liverpool or United who have secured his signature… instead Aston Villa, picking up the versatile midfielder on a free transfer. As a tough-tackling, ball-winning midfielder, Kamara is perfect for the ‘number six’ role in Gerrard’s team. But he’s also an excellent passer of the ball, and should provide useful upgrades in possession.Embed from Getty Images
The former Rangers manager has so far enabled greater license for Jacob Ramsey and John McGinn to venture forward as part of his midfield three, requiring a new face to better anchor in front of the back-line. Douglas Luiz and Marvelous Nakamba possess more than enough quality to fulfill the role and break up the play, but Kamara provides a cutting-edge that few defensive midfielders in the modern game can rival. The Frenchman’s ability to anticipate and intercept competes well with the likes of Fabinho and Casemiro – a strong omen for a man who remains just 22 years of age. His 4.72 tackles + interceptions per 90 in Ligue 1 last season speaks well to his ability to break up the play and hold down the gauntlet. But unlike Fabinho and Casemiro, he’s also relatively disciplined with his tackles and tactical fouling, even despite boasting a tackle percentage less than 50% (46.7).Embed from Getty Images
Equally sound positionally in shuffling with the play and understanding how and when to pressure, Kamara should provide the necessary steel to helping Gerrard’s team remain compact in defensive phases. With a 39.7% pressure success in Ligue 1 last season (6th highest of players with the min. number of appearances), Kamara would provide an upgrade in intensity from Douglas Luiz (29.8) and Marvelous Nakamba (28.2). In fact, that pressing intensity could prove instrumental in providing a new level of desire from Gerrard’s team, as the Frenchman’s percentage points rank higher than any Villa player to accumulate 10+ appearances last season.Embed from Getty Images
With the ball at his feet, Boubacar Kamara is an equally capable distributor and passer of the ball. His pass completion topped out at a career high 90.8% last season, with a 76.5% long pass completion rate. This will allow Villa greater avenues to penetrate through the centre of the pitch and utilize a vertical approach in their ‘Christmas Tree’ 4-3-2-1 formation.
That may even be the case in providing progressive passes toward Villa’s illustrious front three, as highlighted by his 4.11 progressive passes per 90 in Ligue 1 last season, compared to Luiz’s 3.34 and Nakamba’s 2.70 in the Premier League. With John McGinn providing greater excellence in off-the-ball running and space seeking, and Jacob Ramsey more likely to endeavour toward progressive carrying and dribbling, a calming presence has long been needed Gerrard’s Villa.Embed from Getty Images
Relative to Marseille’s possession and control, Kamara boasted the fifth most touches in Ligue 1 last season, which situates well toward improving upon Villa’s mediocre 46.5% possession last season. It’s not as though possession is always necessary to winning matches, but Gerrard’s men lacked control and lost the plot in more than a few games in 2021-22. Their inability to break down opposition defenses with incisive passing often became a contributing factor, and garnering more control with steady figureheads like Kamara should allow Gerrard’s men to claim more valuable points this season.
Diego CarlosEmbed from Getty Images
Linked with Newcastle back in January, Aston Villa have again snapped up another highly sought after footballer at a cut-price, this time for just £26 million. Diego Carlos dovetails perfectly as both a ball-playing centre-back, and brave defensive presence. Both Tyrone Mings and Ezri Konsa had moments of susceptibility last season, and a third strong centre-back option allows the Villains greater flexibility in formation and style of play. The Brazilian defender played a significant role in helping Sevilla to 17 clean sheets in La Liga this season, while only conceding 30 goals – a league best. Wonderfully understanding how to organize a back-line and communicate with his teammates through problems, Carlos will be a wondrous addition to Gerrard’s plans, without ever needing to do anything flashy or flamboyant.Embed from Getty Images
Strong in the air and a capable passer of the ball, Carlos is more than comfortable in operating in defensively-minded systems and pairs well with either ‘Stoppers’ or ‘Sweepers’ – being a half-baked version of both himself. With 1.07 shots blocked per 90, Carlos has become accustomed to throwing his body in the line of fire, and has no problem timing his tackles (60.3%) and doing the dirty work. But like Kamara, he also provides a new cutting edge in possession. The Sevilla man completed 3.56 switches per 90 in 2021-22, which ranks within the top 1% of players in his position. His 88.6% pass completion should help to improve upon Mings’ distribution in particular (80.5%), particularly in identifying the correct moments to play long progressive passes forward (71.5% to Mings’ 58.9%). As a strong target with decent hold-up play and strength, Ollie Watkins’ may thrive off Diego Carlos’ ability to play progressive passes down the line for him to chase.Embed from Getty Images
Carlos’s abilities out from the back not only statistically surpass all of Villa’s centre-backs, but like Kamara, almost the entire team. Only Jacob Ramsey boasts a better long passing range of 80.5% than Kamara and Carlos, which now could be a fun triangle to watch in helping Gerrard’s team build out from the back and break down the opposition. Now at 28 years old, Diego Carlos is within the peak years of his career, and will provide another experienced leader to propel Gerrard’s system forward.
Next StepsEmbed from Getty Images
Despite all of their success in the summer window so far, Aston Villa may still be on the prowl for new additions. Back in June, The Athletic reported Villa’s desires to sign three new players – most notably a new striker in the form of Liverpool legend Luis Suarez. The lucrative £15 million sale of Matt Targett to Newcastle should now allow Gerrard greater flexibility in bolstering his squad, particularly at left-back if they feel as though it’s required. Lucas Digne’s fitness has been a slight concern since arriving at Villa Park, whilst Ashley Young may be allowed to leave on a free.Embed from Getty Images
Some candidates for the physically-demanding left-back role include Calvin Bassey and his relentless work rate at Rangers, Quentin Merlin and his delicate passing at Nantes or Hassane Kamara, now having been relegated with Watford. Each offer their own individual talents but may be less willing to take a spot on the bench. We must bare in mind, all of them are starters at their current clubs – as most good fullbacks are. Encouragingly, Calvin Bassey’s versatility to play both centre-back and left-back could tempt both player and club into a move, even despite the club already signing a left-sided centre-back in Diego Carlos.Embed from Getty Images
Elsewhere, much of Gerrard’s focus in the transfer window will be in finding another forward to supply competition for Danny Ings and Ollie Watkins. The young Cameron Archer may soon be on his way to Watford on loan, whilst Keinan Davis remains likely to return to Nottingham Forest. Entering the season with only two out-and-out number nines would be risky for Gerrard’s team, especially given Ings’ injury record. Although oddly placed, Luis Suarez may be the perfect man to enter the frame, whether it be as an additional option from the bench or a penalty box poacher to start alongside the exceptional work ethic of Ollie Watkins.Embed from Getty Images
One of the greatest finishers of all time, Luis Suarez will always be clinical in front of goal, and guaranteed to score goals even despite his limited mobility. Among egomaniacs, Suarez remains one of the more selfless, having developed as part of the MSN trio at Camp Nou in the late 2010s. Intelligent, skillful, and able to finish off chances in a variety of ways, Suarez sounds like the ideal man to spearhead Villa’s attack next season. His salary expectations and limited mobility at the age of 35 would however ensure this could only be a short-term option. So if Villa want to be smarter about their transfer business this summer, they could instead turn their heads toward Jesus Ferreira of FC Dallas.Embed from Getty Images
A brilliant runner in behind, fully capable of mixing it up and creating chances for his teammates, Ferreira boasts 13 goal involvements in his 12 starts so far this season for Dallas. The 21-year-old possesses the tireless work ethic that Gerrard may endeavour toward in a higher-pressing team in 2022-23, and is only growing in confidence with 5 goals in 7 appearances for the USMNT now in 2022. Capable of playing either as a number ten or up front on his own, Ferreira provides a clinical edge in front of goal that could bolster Villa’s attack and provide a useful rotation open.Embed from Getty Images
If Villa want to opt for something different, our final pick would be Enes Unal – who’s tall frame and aerial ability could provide Villa with a natural plan-B ‘Target Man’ up front. Starting to pick up form at Getafe, the Turk managed 16 goals in 37 matches last season – a vast improvement from the four he picked up in 2020-21. At 6’1, Unal’s size and strength allows him to compete against robust centre-backs and hold-up the play. But encouragingly, he also sat fourth in La Liga for total pressures last season, signifying Getafe’s greater than average pressing intensity last season.Embed from Getty Images
Finally, when it comes to their midfield unit, we feel as though it makes more sense to offer regular minutes to youngsters like Tim Iroegbunam, Carney Chukwuemeka, and Jacob Ramsey’s younger brother Aaron. They’ve already seen the success of gradually increasing Jacob Ramsey’s minutes over time until he became an important member of the squad, and should continue to prioritize that approach with some of their other young talents making their way through the squad.
ConcluSIONEmbed from Getty Images
The summer transfer window has so far been won by Aston Villa, and their astute signings of Diego Carlos and Boubacar Kamara, even when more famous clubs were linked. Gerrard and his recruitment team have completed some excellent business so far, and if that continues, there’s no reason why the Villains can’t compete for a European place in the near future. The re-signing of Philippe Coutinho, combined with the excellent upgrades of Kamara and Carlos should provide all the necessary improvements in and out of possession that Gerrard desires, leading the Villains to better times in 2022-23.
So there it is! An analysis of Aston Villa’s summer transfer window so far, and the potential magic that both Diego Carlos and Boubacar Kamara could soon provide. Be sure to check out more of our Transfer Market Analyses for the summer, and follow on social media @mastermindsite. Thanks for reading this work from the minds of both Charlie Ellis & Rhys Desmond, and see you soon.
YOU MIGHT ALSO ENJOY…
After examining all twenty Premier League sides, we’ve reached a conclusion. Bundesliga Tax exists in abundance, and at this point has to be considered a real phenomenon. For bottom-table sides, Bundesliga stars did little to aid chances of survival, with even Emmanuel Dennis unable to carry Watford over the line. Whether it’s the nature of players signing from the league in comparison to others, or simply something wrong with their ability to adapt, players coming over from Germany’s top flight have ranked consistently lower than players arriving from other leagues in all three sections.
As the name suggests, a ‘Ball-Playing-Centre-Half’ is a centre-back that excels in possession of the ball, from passing to long passing to carrying to dribbling. They can simultaneously exist as ‘Sweepers’ or ‘Stoppers’, providing another interesting asterisk to the role not found in many other positions. Unlike say a fullback or goalkeeper where we have created clearly defined separations and almost polarizations on a style scale, ‘Ball-Playing-Centre-Halves’ can also be ‘Stoppers’ or ‘Sweepers’.
It’s taken longer than most would have expected for Nick Pope to arise attention in the 2022 Summer Transfer Window, but it now appears as though the Burnley cult hero is days away from securing a move to Eddie Howe’s Newcastle United. Back in early June, our readers and contributors picked Pope as the number one player from relegated teams to keep an eye on this summer, and that promise now prepares to come to fruition with the Magpies. Pope would be the perfect player to bring greater stability and solidity to their defensive structures, not to mention between the posts, and at only 10 million pounds, remains an absolute steal. Here is why the Burnley man would be such an astute signing for the Magpies.