It is fair to say that without the goals of Christian Benteke last season, Aston Villa would be a Championship team right now. A classic adage is that goalscorers will keep you up, and with a few exceptions (Charlie Austin being the one that springs to mind) this is normally the case. Needless to say, at just 24; and with guaranteed Premier League goals, a move away from a team that finished 17th was inevitable for the big Belgian. As a direct replacement (or seemingly so), Blackburn’s bulky striker Rudy Gestede was brought in.
Much has been made of Aston Villa’s season, with recruitment being one of the key facets examined, and for good reason. £7 million on Jordan Amavi, £9 million on Idrissa Gueye anyone? Most shockingly a staggering £10 million on Jordan Ayew, hardly a prolific goalscorer, and set against the context that his more talented brother joined Swansea for nothing. These players were all gambles in relation to their ability, but also their ability to settle and adapt to English football. Gestede however, is different in my opinion.
Battle-hardened by the rough and tumble of the Championship; as well as boasting Premier League experience from his days at Cardiff (albeit only for a few months), Gestede is at least settled and certainly physically capable. At 6’4”, he also boasts a frame that can give worry brittle defences, unwilling for a difficult afternoon.
However, despite the highs of a winning goal on the season’s opening day, as well as the winner against fierce rivals Birmingham in the Carling cup, (which to be honest, pretty much equate to Villa’s only high points thus far), the move has yet to spark truly into life. Despite the recent criticisms of Alan Shearer on Match of the Day in the Villa Arsenal game (unfortunate, as any Claret clad outfield player was dreadful that day), there are ways where Aston Villa can get the best out of their new target man.
The obvious one would have to be their French manager encouraging his side to send many more crosses his way. It is well documented that Gestede has more headed goals over the past 2 years than any other striker in the professional English leagues; a staggering 19. Being 6’4” certainly helps in this regard, but this would be nothing without good service. At Blackburn, the pace down the line of Josh King, as well as Craig Conway’s set piece delivery, (as per October 2014 7 of Conway’s 15 assists were to Gestede), helped the former Championship man to apply the finishing touch.
At Villa on the other hand, you struggle to think of any creative wingers, who will give this sort of service. Villa’s most technical players; such as Grealish and Carles Gil, are tricky and like to dribble, get their head down, and thread balls through, rather than fire pinpoint deliveries from deep. Moreover, Scott Sinclair; probably the closest thing Villa have to a rapid winger, is often found cutting inside and looking to shoot, looking to be the goalscorer from his Swansea days, rather than a provider.
This may be adapted tactically, or it could be resolved in January (someone in the mould of Robbie Brady), although the fact that Villa are linked with Andros Townsend, a player notorious for being a poor man’s imitation of Arjen Robben, will mean this may be something that could prove difficult.
The system deployed by Remi Garde must be examined too. These days, most Premier League teams do not usually play two up front. You only need to look at the praise heaped on Watford and Leicester City at the moment to see how challenging it is fighting a five-man midfield with the threat of two goal-getters.
Villa are no different, with Gestede playing Benteke’s old role of target man, central striker, and focal point. However, even at 6’4”, this may not be the role for him. In his goalscoring days for Blackburn, Jordan Rhodes was right alongside him. On the surface, this looks like your classic ‘big man little man’ combination, however it was so much more than that. Rhodes does not possess searing pace or brute strength, yet much like Van Persie, Raul, or probably most appropriate to this level, Kevin Phillips, he comes alive in the box, drawing defenders away and creating perfect chaos. Perhaps most vital of all would be the goals he adds to the equation.
As a focal point, Gestede has the undivided attention of burly centre backs and with Villa’s trials this season, long passes have been pumped up for Gestede to chase, often a long way from the box. It is difficult to see who can fill the Rhodes-like void at the Villains. Certainly not Jordan Ayew in my view, for reasons mentioned above. The most likely option would be a revival for Gabby Agbonlahor. While never a prolific striker, his best days were alongside big Norweigan striker John Carew, where his lightning pace could cause panic, even if his finishing often let him down. It is worth at least considering this as an option, with maybe Grealish and Sinclair as wide players, and two energetic central midfielders in behind him.
Finally, a point highlighted by the Premier League’s leading all-time scorer; Alan Shearer, is Gestede’s lack of purposeful movement. Nobody is calling Gestede a lazy striker, yet it has been pinpointed that his movement off the ball is not offering any advantages to Aston Villa’s play. Playing as a lone striker, not running into the channels, not coming deep, and not darting sharply off the ball, the creative members of the Villa team are struggling to find an outball mid dribble.
There may be better examples out there, but a fine example who Gestede would do well to study the movement of is Oliver Giroud. The in-form Frenchman is a similarly sized striker who also gets plenty of headed goals but has added so much more to his game. Giroud’s near post runs are now practically a trademark, with him even notching the coup de grace as part of Arsenal’s FA Cup triumph over Villa last season, finishing in typical style. The way that Arsenal’s primary hit-man has developed his game over the past season or two should provide inspiration for Gestede to do the same.
The best judgement should be reserved until after the January window however. Aston Villa need to decide whether to stick or twist. In other words, will Remi Garde work with what he has currently at his disposal, developing players such as Gestede, or act more in the manner of a few seasons ago when Darren Bent was brought into Villa Park.
Sitting on seven points as the season’s mid-point rapidly approaches leaves the Midlands outfit in a dire situation. If they are to emulate Leicester circa 14/15 as opposed to Derby circa 07/08, the contribution of players such as Gestede need to be optimised.
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