With Frederic Guilbert going into his second season at the club, is Aston Villa’s interest in Max Aarons warranted?
Words: Andrew Maddox | @MaddoxJourno
A report emerged in the Daily Telegraph on Wednesday that Aston Villa ‘hold an interest’ in Max Aarons.
The young right-back has gathered many admirers during his debut season in the Premier League, including German giants Bayern Munich and Jose Mourinho’s Tottenham Hotspur. The reported fee is upwards of £18 million, which would make it the third biggest transfer in Villa’s history at this stage. This is despite Villa already having a popular and effective presence at right-back in Frederic Guilbert. With that much money on the line, it must be asked if Aarons is really that much of an upgrade on the Frenchman.
Firstly, it must be noted that the two are typically very different types of right-backs. Aarons is a fast, skilful and creative player while Guilbert is a tough tackling, no-nonsense defensive right back. Aarons’ play-style is more comparable to that of Ahmed Elmohamady, although the Englishman would provide an obvious upgrade over Elmohamady due to Aarons being 12 years his junior.
Looking at Aarons’ stats from his debut season in the top flight, it is clear that he excels in creativity. The Norwich academy product has been one of the standout creative full-backs in the league this season, coming at tenth for passes completed for full-backs ahead of Tottenham’s Serge Aurier and former England international Ryan Betrand. His passing numbers are also leagues ahead of Guilbert, with 1339 passes from Aarons and 749 from Guilbert. It has to be noted that Aarons played 11 more games than Guilbert, so it is fairer to break them down to passes per 90 minutes.
Aarons completes just under 15 passes per 90 while Guilbert completes just over eight, almost double the Frenchman’s number. Even comparing Aarons to Villa’s attacking left-back Matt Targett, the youngster still comes out on top with Targett completing 10.5 passes per match. However, a much higher proportion of these passes are backwards when compared to the other two. Aarons played 26% of his passes backwards, while Guilbert plays 19% of his passes back and Targett just 15%. Despite this, Aarons has the highest pass completion rate of the three with 78%, higher than Targett’s 72% and Guilbert’s 69%. With his higher number of passes per match and higher completion rate, Aarons will certainly get the ball forward quicker than Guilbert.
On the ball stats are an interesting comparison. Aarons prefers to run with the ball, taking 25 touches per match and completing 1.3 dribbles per match compared to Guilbert’s 16 touches per match and completing 0.9 dribbles. This is again a symptom of Guilbert being more of a defensive full-back than Aarons. The Englishman’s attacking style can leave him more defensively open than other full-backs, leading to him being dispossessed frequently. Aarons was the fourth most dispossessed defender in the league last season, losing the ball 31 times over the course of the season. By comparison, Guilbert was down in 21st as he gave the ball away 14 times. Again, comparing Aarons to Targett, the current Villa left-back is still more secure on the ball as he has the same number of dispossessions as Guilbert. So, while Aarons is more of a runner out from the back, possibly more in keeping with Dean Smith’s style, he is prone to losing the ball and can leave the defence in a rut at times.
Looking at defensive numbers, it is obvious who comes out on top. In every defensive area other than blocks and clearances, Guilbert comes out on top. Even accounting for clearances per match, Aarons still comes out on top in those two departments. Guilbert’s main strength this season has been his tackling ability, being up there with the best in the league. The Frenchman ended the season tenth for tackles completed by a defender and 20th overall. Until the restart, where Guilbert didn’t feature until the final two games, he was in the top ten for the league. His final standings are made even more impressive when you realise that Guilbert only played in 28 matches this season whereas those above him played much more frequently. Interestingly however, Aarons’ success rate with tackles is actually marginally better than Guilbert’s. Norwich’s right-back completed 62% of his tackles when compared to Guilbert’s 58%. The Frenchman also takes the lead in the air with 48 aerial battles won compared to Aarons’ 22, though Aarons has made slightly more headed clearances.
A final area of comparison is discipline. It is often assumed that Guilbert is a red card waiting to happen because of his no-nonsense approach to defending. However, Aarons and Guilbert managed to rack up the same amount of bookings this season with seven each. While Guilbert would accumulate an average of 2.5 more yellow cards per season than Aarons, it shows that the English defender is no stranger to the referee’s notebook either. Guilbert also gave away more fouls over the season, conceding 36 fouls as opposed to Aarons’ 29.
While Max Aarons would be a more thrilling and attractive option on the right of defence it would leave Villa defensively vulnerable with an already fragile defence. Aarons’ lack of defensive steel didn’t help out Norwich this season, with the Canaries conceding 71 goals while he was on the pitch. With Villa already possessing a vulnerable defence, regardless of its post-restart turnaround, Aarons is probably not the right-back Dean Smith would be looking to recruit. A system where Aarons and Guilbert rotate in and out depending on the team’s needs could work, but an £18 million fee for a rotation option is a luxury Villa can ill-afford. Such sums of money would be better spent on other areas of the pitch, making Aarons an exciting link on paper but a poor fit in reality.