The Analysis: Watkins is Proving to be More Than Goals and the Perfect Man for Villa's Europa Charge

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Ollie Watkins: Money well spent?

Ollie Watkins joined Aston Villa at the start of the season for a record £28m, potentially rising to £33M. During his 15 games in the Premier League, he has been highlighted for his ability to produce match-winning performances, particularly in the games against Liverpool and Arsenal where he netted a hat-trick and a brace.

Despite having a modest record of six goals and two assists in 15 Premier League appearances, the former Brentford man has impressed far more than just his ability to put the ball in the back of the net. His workman-like performances and his consistent ability to press has provided a platform for potentially the best Villa team in a decade to mount a serious challenge on the European places.

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ASTON VILLA TO FINISH IN THE TOP SIX @ 7/2

More than just the goals

Villa’s impressive 3-0 Boxing Day win against Crystal Palace was a solid indication of his importance. Despite missing several chances, hitting both the bar and post, Watkins was a constant threat, picking up the Man of the Match award in front of the BBC cameras.

Villa boss Dean Smith stated after the game that “there is nobody better to lead the line with 10 men than Ollie Watkins, the only thing missing was a goal.”

The Torquay-born attacker who was only converted to a striker two seasons ago, has impressed far more than just his goal return and that day at Villa Park against the champions is merely the cherry on the top of the cake in what is a player filled with essential ingredients.

According to Whoscored, the 25-year-old is currently registering 1.3 key passes per game, which is the same as regular John McGinn,more than Anwar El Ghazi, and only beaten by Jack Grealish’s 3.7. At the same time, Watkins is averaging a rating of 7.28, which is again, only bettered by the wondrous Grealish.

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OLLIE WATKINS TO SCORE 15+ PREMIER LEAGUE GOALS @ 5/4

Influence on his teammates

Speaking of Grealish, he is one of the most talked about players in Europe right now, but the arrival of Watkins has only strengthened his ability to cause problems for the opposition team.

The way in which Watkins presses and makes intelligent runs allows Grealish space to drive into and gives him a viable outlet, something that was not evident last season, a worrying thought for any opposing manager.

Despite playing an integral part and being potentially the sole reason Villa scraped safety last year, Grealish has once again gone up a gear, and with respect to Wesley and Mbwana Samatta, this has a lot to do with influence of selfless running and the ability of the energetic Watkins.

Wesley’s 21 games last season were heavily criticised amongst some sections of the Villa Park faithful, but his long-awaited return might just give Villa another dimension with the ability to play two up top. Although, Wesley as a player likes to drop deep to get involved with build up play, a style which can see the middle of the park congested but with the arrival of Watkins, and his on the shoulder style, the likes of Grealish, Traore and El Ghazi have flourished. Highlighted perfectly with the team’s performance against the highline of Liverpool, which allowed Villa’s creative talent to thread balls through at will for the pacey Watkins.

Watkins style of play stretches the opposition defence, creating space for the three behind him to cause havoc and attack the opposition defence, Grealish himself has made the most entries into the box with 55, the most in Europe’s top five leagues. Add that to the impressive form of the rejuvenated El Ghazi, who has scored more goals in five games than he did all last season, it suggests that Watkins’ influence is being felt more than just the number of times he puts the ball in the back of the net.

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Room for improvement

Despite how impressive some of the performances of the Exeter academy graduate have been since joining Dean Smith's men, there are areas of improvement that could see him become one of the most well-rounded strikers in the Premier League.

It would be harsh to suggest the 25-year-old is a poor finisher, but with an expected goals of 7.5 (excluding penalties) in which Watkins has returned five there is a clear indication that he needs to be taking one or two more of his chances to take him to the next level. Finding the net on a more regular basis is also an improvement that must be made with him only finding the net in three out of 15 games this year.

Some of this may be down to bad luck, with two dubious VAR calls to say the least, have seen Watkins have two goals chalked off away at both West Bromwich Albion and West Ham United. Despite falling victim to VAR, it must be pointed out that he has missed opportunities which an elite level striker would be taking, which was particularly evident in the games against Crystal Palace and Manchester United. Nevertheless, breaking his duct should be his aim, and potentially, with confidence, more goals will follow.

Despite having areas to improve, it has been an encouraging start to life at Villa Park for Watkins, and if the striker can start scoring on a consistent basis in what is his inaugural Premier League season, Watkins might just be playing in Europe for Villa next season. A monumental rise for a player who was on loan at Weston-Super-Mare five years ago.

By Harry Charlwood

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