“He’s our Michael Carrick, he’s a player in that mould”
That’s what Tim Sherwood said about Ashley Westwood this week.
At first glance you might think is an overreaction, but when you look deeper and analyse the importance of Westwood to this Villa team, you can see exactly why Sherwood has drawn such comparisons.
Westwood is arguably the key cog in this side. Yes, there are more skilful and more technically gifted players surrounding him (who we will come onto later), but without Westwood this team would not function
The former Crewe man sits in-front of Villa’s back four; protecting them and then distributing the ball to start Villa attacks.
Westwood has a passing ability similar to Carrick, he can play short passes with ease, or a cross field diagonal for wingers to chase. But what is most impressive is his subtleness and simplicity.
Very alike to Carrick three or four years before everybody began to appreciate his importance, Westwood knows his job and just gets on with it, no questions asked.
There have even been calls for Roy Hodgson to take note and select Westwood for England’s upcoming internationals, and it’s hard to argue why the midfielder shouldn’t make the cut.
Westwood’s role allows those around him to express themselves, which is exactly what Fabian Delph and Tom Cleverley have done.
The pair are much more offensive than Westwood, and in recent games the midfield threesome have shown just how devastating they can be.
Cleverley has scored in each of his last three Premier League games, whilst Sherwood claimed that Delph is the “best midfielder in the country” on current form.
Former Leeds man Delph has been a star player for Villa over the past two seasons, establishing himself as an England international in the process.
We already know that Sherwood is hardly the king of understatement.
He described Christian Benteke as the “best striker in Europe” at the start of May. Whilst this might be a slightly over exaggerated claim, there’s no doubt that Sherwood’s media tactics have worked.
He is able to instil such an immense level of confidence in players that he gets them playing above and beyond their means. It becomes almost a self-fulfilling prophecy to some individuals; Sherwood knows Benteke isn’t the best striker in Europe, but if he is able to make Benteke believe that he is, he will become almost unplayable, which is exactly what we have seen.
Benteke couldn’t hit a barn door before Sherwood took over from Paul Lambert, but since Sherwood has come in he has looked a completely rejuvenated player.
We saw last season at Spurs what the ‘Sherwood Effect’ can do to players. Emmanuel Adebayor couldn’t even get a game prior to Sherwood’s arrival at White Hart Lane, but he made the Togo forward his main man, installed a shed load of confidence into him, and Adebayor went and hit 11 goals in 20 games.
We’re seeing similar results with Benteke now. The big Belgian has bagged 11 goals in his last 9 matches in all competitions. But it isn’t just his goal-scoring that is impressive, it’s his overall contribution to games that is having such a profound effect on Villa’s performances.
It looks like Benteke is back to the same form he showed in his debut season at Villa Park back in 2012-13 where it wasn’t just the goals that received plaudits, it was his hold up play and his ability to link others into the game that were just as impressive.
And this is where Jack Grealish has really benefitted this season.
Sherwood is very keen on blooding youth players into the first-team, as we saw with the likes of Nabil Bentaleb, Ryan Mason and Harry Kane at Spurs last year, so it was no surprise to see Grealish be given a chance.
The 19 year-old has been highly talked of by those who follow Villa for a while now, and it’s no coincidence that Benteke’s return to form has coincided with the emergence of Grealish.
However, the youngster now finds himself in the middle of a country v country row. Grealish turned down a call up to the Republic of Ireland squad and is still eligible to represent England. Grealish’s next decision will be vital for his career, but there’s no doubt the winger could turn to his manager for some advice.
You can almost picture Grealish walking into Sherwood’s office and asking for his opinion. This is why the ‘Sherwood Effect’ works; players trust him with off-the-field issues as well.
With 38 points on the board, Villa look safe, but you can’t take anything for granted in the Premier League (I should know, I’m a Blackpool fan and we were relegated with 39!). Sherwood had his critics following his spell at Spurs, with some claiming he was a bit of a chancer and not tactically astute, but he has proven those people wrong.
The foundations have been laid for a very exciting future to be built at Aston Villa.
£20 million target two years ago, Aston Villa should consider Abel Hernandez again
The Uruguayan is out of contract at Hull City this summer.
In the summer of 2016, Aston Villa were in talks to sign Uruguayan striker Abel Hernandez from Hull City.
The £20 million deal looked to be good to go, until it came time to discuss salary, according to a report by the Sun.
It was claimed that Hernandez wanted £70,000-a-week to join Villa and then an increase to £100,000-a-week should Villa win promotion to the Premier League.
Those terms were considered unsatisfactory and Villa pulled the plug.
One year later, Hernandez was again linked with Villa.
Aston Villa chairman Tony Xia soon made it clear that wasn’t happening either. He was quoted by Birmingham Live as stating:
“Never will happen after last summer. Good for us.”
But what about this summer? Should Villa swoop for Hernandez once again?
There are many reasons why the Uruguayan would now be a more logical signing.
Hernandez is out of contract at Hull this summer.
The 27-year-old is therefore available on a free transfer, a massive bargain considering Villa were prepared to pay £20 million just two seasons ago.
Hernandez would also not be able to command such a wage on this occasion.
In 2016 the striker was coming off the back of scoring 22 goals in 45 games for the club and winning promotion to the Premier League.
Since then he has not been as prolific and also battled injury trouble. £70,000-a-week is simply not a possibility.
His best season with Hull actually came under the management of Steve Bruce, which might also help Villa in convincing Hernandez to Villa Park at a lower cost.
This season Hernandez managed just three games before suffering a ruptured Achilles tendon. In those three games, he scored three goals.
If Villa fail to earn promotion this season then there are not many better goalscorers available at this level – never mind on a free transfer.
Since returning to action Hernandez has played three times, scoring three goals – giving him a 100 per cent record of six goals in six games for Hull City this time.
If Villa can come to an understanding over wages, Hernandez would be the perfect summer signing.
Jonathan Kodjia could become an Aston Villa hero
The Ivorian is set to return to first-team action after the international break.
Aston Villa’s automatic promotion hopes have come off the rails in recent weeks. For a while, it seemed Villa were going to upset either Wolves or Cardiff and break into the top two in the Championship. After a run of just one loss and one draw in 12 games, which ended in a 4-1 thrashing of Wolves, it was easy to see why.
Unfortunately, those hopes have come crashing down to earth. Villa have suffered two shock defeats in their last two outings. Firstly there was the 3-1 home reverse to QPR. Last weekend it was the turn of Bolton Wanderers, with Villa losing 1-0 at the Macron Stadium.
The international break could therefore not come at a better time for Aston Villa, who will hope to see some of their regulars return to action after injury.
One such player could be Jonathan Kodjia. The Ivory Coast striker has not played since the 0-0 draw with Birmingham City in October. The 28-year-old is suffering from another ankle injury and has been sorely missed up front.
But it appears he is nearing a return.
Kodjia featured for 45 minutes of a behind-closed-doors friendly against Peterborough United at Bodymoor Heath.
His return to action would be a huge boost for Villa. Whilst Kodjia can be a frustrating figure at times, he is also a top striking option.
Last season Kodjia scored 19 goals in the Championship and his firepower at this level has been sorely missed. With Scott Hogan out of form Lewis Grabban has been handed the burden of finding the net, Kodjia will hope to ease that responsibility.
If he can return to action at Villa Park and score the goals that send them back to the Premier League he will go down in Aston Villa folklore as a hero.
For a man with Kodjia’s character, that is an opportunity he will try to not let pass.
Is Oscar Borg’s Aston Villa career at an end?
The young left-back is out of contract at Aston Villa this summer.
Back in March 2016, Aston Villa snapped up promising left-back Oscar Borg from West Ham United.
According to the Daily Mail, the defender had trials with Manchester United and was highly thought of at West Ham, but he made the move to Villa and was soon making an impact in the reserves.
Recently Aston Villa found themselves short of left-back options.
Neil Taylor was out of action and Alan Hutton was also missing. With Axel Tuanzebe struggling, Villa found themselves short in the position.
But instead of calling on Borg, Steve Bruce called up James Bree, playing out of position at left-back.
It seems Borg may not have been available for Bruce, even if the 20-year-old was set for a first league call-up.
He has not featured for Villa’s under-23s since the 6-1 win v Wolves last month, with Mitchell Clark featuring at left-back instead.
Borg is undoubtedly a top talent at Aston Villa but injuries have been a major problem for him since arriving at Bodymoor Heath.
He spent most of last season on the sidelines and this year needed to be a breakout campaign for the talented full-back.
Borg has played 13 times for Villa’s under-23s this term, as they hunt for success in the Premier League 2, where they are currently second in their section behind Blackburn Rovers.
But, despite being Villa’s only other natural left-footed left-back, bar Taylor, the 20-year-old has made little impact in the first-team.
Borg only signed a two-and-half-year deal when arriving at Villa in 2016 and that contract expires in the summer.
Considering his lack of impact and history of injury problems it will not be a surprise if Borg does not remain a Villain beyond the end of the season.
If he does move on, hopefully, he can remain fit and push toward a professional career elsewhere.
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