Aston Villa are in advanced talks with Barnsley over Conor Hourihane and James Bree, according to Sky Sports, with a deal for the former believed to be nearer completion. There has been a lot of interest in the pair and it will be considered somewhat of a coup if the deals go through as expected. Although Bree is an exciting talent, it will be Hourihane that can make more of an immediate impact and he could be the best signing made by a Championship club in this window.
At the age of 25, Hourihane is ready to come straight into the Aston Villa side and he has already shown this season that he is one of the best midfielders in the Championship. He has played a key role as Barnsley have climbed to 8th position, but his contract expires at the end of the season and the Yorkshire club need to sell him now or risk losing him for nothing in the summer. They aren’t in the financial position to get no fee for their captain and best player, which is why he is set to move in this window.
His goal record for Barnsley was excellent in League 1 and he has continued to find the back of the net on a regular basis in the Championship. This season, he has contributed an incredible six goals and eleven assists. No player in the league has more assists than the Irishman. Although he has been a very good player in the third and fourth tiers with Plymouth and Barnsley, he had never played in the Championship before this season, which makes his achievements even more remarkable.
Barnsley have the second best attack in the Championship, scoring 46 times this season. That is a great achievement for a newly-promoted side and Hourihane has been a central figure for them. He has not only adapted to the Championship, but he is already emerging as one of the league’s most consistent and dangerous midfielders. Hourihane is a complete midfielder, possessing a good passing range and a powerful strike, which makes him a threat in attack. Moreover, he is an intelligent reader of the game and able to get stuck in if required, as shown by his average of 5.6 ball recoveries per match. The 25-year-old will also add leadership and a quality set piece delivery if Villa are able to complete the deal.
Steve Bruce has already added a midfielder with plenty of Championship experience in Henri Lansbury. Villa also have Aaron Tshibola, Ashley Westwood, Gary Gardner and Mile Jedinak that can play in the centre of midfield. The pursuit of Hourihane may look like an odd one, but it suggests that Bruce isn’t happy with the options available to him in the squad that he inherited. The Barnsley captain is a complete midfielder, capable of contributing in both halves of the pitch and that is something that is perhaps lacking. Furthermore, given Hourihane’s contract situation, it could be that the opportunity to get one of the best midfielders in the Championship has arisen and Bruce believes it is too good to turn down.
If Villa manage to complete a deal for Hourihane, it could turn out to be the signing of the window. He has been one of the players of the season so far and will hugely improve the Villa starting eleven. Their main problem this season is a lack of lower league know-how, especially when it comes to killing matches off, underlined by their league-high 12 draws. They have more than enough quality to secure promotion, but they lack leadership and Hourihane will provide that. This is a player that led Barnsley from the bottom of League 1 to the Championship during the second half of last season. There is no reason why he can’t play a part in taking Aston Villa into the play-off positions this season if he does move to the club.
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