Aston Villa have a number of goalkeepers already on the books, and there are rumours that Pepe Reina could return. How does Aston Villa’s goalkeeping department actually shape up?
Words: Matt Blogg | @blogg_matt
Aston Villa used no less than 4 goalkeepers in the Premier League last season, a statistic that undoubtedly contributed to the consistent leaking of goals, but heading into the 2020/21 season, how is Villa’s goalkeeping department going to shape up?
Last season was a tale of season-ending injuries for the Villa ‘keepers, with Jed Steer suffering an Achilles injury on November 10th before Tom Heaton was stretchered off at Burnley on New Year’s Day after damaging his ACL. Both players were replaced by the frighteningly inconsistent Orjan Nyland, and just like that, Villa had lost arguably their top two shot-stoppers in the space of a couple of months.
Fast-forward to now and both Heaton and Steer are eying a return to fitness, new cult hero Pepe Reina is rumoured to be the subject of a potential bid, and despite almost single-handedly guiding the club to a League Cup final, it is looking like Nyland may have to settle for the honour of being 4th choice. With the prospect of Lovre Kalinic returning to the fray looking highly unlikely (despite having a contract that runs until 2023) and youngster Sarkic already having been sold to Wolves, Dean Smith has some serious decisions to make. But what should those decisions be?
At 34, Tom Heaton still has years left in him as a goalkeeper at the top level, so should he be fit before September 12th, he will more than likely take the responsibility of being the number 1 again. With his contract not ending until 2023, the England international still has plenty of time at Villa Park to repay the millions that went into his transfer, but is it also a gamble to throw him straight back into the team after a long-term injury? Certainly, but considering the quality he has, it is probably a gamble worth taking, irrespective of who the club bring in this summer.
That brings us to the number 2 spot, where things get slightly more complicated. Assuming Kalinic leaves, that leaves 27-year-old Jed Steer and 29-year-old Orjan Nyland, both players who have had brief stints as the starting ‘keeper over the last 2 seasons. On paper, it seems as though Steer is the more favoured choice due to his long-term contract, his role in the promotion run and his age, but Nyland has also put in some performances showing inklings of a genuinely good goalkeeper. Some of his saves in the League Cup Semi-Final will don highlight reels for years, but his form post-lock-down forced Dean Smith’s hand in replacing him with Pepe Reina, which would not only have given his confidence a huge knock, but also opens up a whole new conversation.
If the rumours are true and the veteran Reina is to return to Villa for the 2020/21 season, where does he stand? Excellent form at the end of last season and essential experience of the league presumably places him instantly above Nyland, the man he ousted from between the sticks just weeks ago. He has become incredibly popular with the fans, proved his worth with some vital stops in Villa’s Premier League run-in and will likely not be too disheartened at sitting on the bench most weeks at this stage of his career, making him an admirable number 2.
However, this then leaves Steer in the dark, and if he is to be third choice at the age of 27, is he going to be happy to stick around? He too has endeared himself to Villa fans with some excellent saves over the last two seasons and become somewhat of a cult hero himself, and with obvious shot-stopping skills, ability with his feet and over 100 appearances in first team football, would also be a respectable option as Villa’s number 2.
So Dean Smith has a headache. There are pros and cons to all four of the goalkeepers that could easily make up Villa’s union next season, from age and injuries to inconsistencies and confidence.
If I were Smith, it would be Heaton, Steer, Reina, Nyland, in that order. I would sign Reina for the dressing room more than anything else, but should the club be as unlucky as last season, he would still be a very solid option to bring in, even as third choice. Steer pips Reina for number 2 despite his injury, as at 27 years old he still has a long future in the game, and with Heaton coming back from a long-term injury himself, the load is likely to be shared slightly more than it may usually be, so I would still expect him to get a decent amount of game time.
As for Nyland, I can’t see him staying at the club beyond the expiration of his contract next summer, but if the club don’t end up signing Reina, he too would be a solid enough third choice, with his 7 Premier League appearances last season providing the basis of some invaluable experience.
In an ideal world, all ‘keepers will be fit by September 12th and Tom Heaton will be between the sticks for Villa’s season-opener, but this is emphatically far from an ideal world, so who can really say? The only certainty is that whoever gets the nod will have the full backing of the fans and players alike, and with the confidence of the great escape now in the bank, next season is already looking promising.