Our writers have joined forces again, on an article surrounding under utilised Premier League options that Aston Villa could, or should take a look at.
Words: Under A Gaslit Lamp Writers | @VillaLamp
Every once in a while, we task our writers in joining forces on articles where a wide range of opinions can all be seen within one place. This summer, we’re going to pick out a number of transfer-related subjects for our writers, and they’ll come back to us with their thoughts, reasoning and more.
This time around, we asked our writers to come up with a single player that is under utilised by their current side, meaning that they’ve made under fifteen or under appearances this season.
Let’s get started, shall we?
Xherdan Shaqiri, 28, Liverpool, (Market value: £14,400,000)
Regan Foy, Founder and Editor-in-Chief (@findfoy)
Xherdan Shaqiri is one of many players that once had the world at their feet as a younger footballer, but a wrong decision has seen him go from one of the most utilised players in the Premier League at Stoke City, to one of the most under utilised at Liverpool. It’s almost a like-for-like to what Christian Benteke went through at the same club.
Seven Premier League appearances last season, paired with the odd showing in Europe or Cup competitions, have made the former Potters maverick a shadow of his former self.
A manager in Shaqiri’s native Switzerland has recently attacked the winger, stating that he’s only showed his importance at Basel and Stoke, but has struggled at Bayern and Liverpool, with said manager saying Shaqiri is ‘no champion’.
Injuries plagued the 28-year-old’s season in 19/20 and he struggled to offer much more than a bit-part role – and it’s likely he’s going to struggle to be involved in the upcoming season with the likes of Takumi Minamino signing last January. This saw the pint-sized player go from picking up nine goal contributions in his first season with Liverpool in just over 1,000 minutes of game time, to just one in 175 minutes last season.
The Switzerland international has blown hot and cold in his time in the Premier League, but attacks to an acceptable standard to a Premier League benchmark, and works a lot defensively too – when he’s up for the game.
It’s a possible gamble, but at a cut-price deal potentially if Liverpool aren’t going to be using him, Dean Smith could potentially pick up a slightly older bargain.
Ruben Loftus-Cheek, 24, Chelsea (Market value: £21,600,000)
Mark Jirobe, Co-Founder & Senior Contributor (@VillaMarkPGH)
Only seven Premier League appearances this past season for the 24-year-old Ruben Loftus-Cheek at Chelsea allows the central midfielder to be on this list of under-utilised options that may be available – albeit likely in a loan capacity.
Whilst Loftus-Cheek did pen a five year deal with Chelsea in 2019, it hasn’t been all wine and roses at the club he has been with since the age of eight. With great expectations come great misfortunes more often than not, and Loftus-Cheek found himself injured for the majority of the 2019/2020 season.
Ruben Loftus-Cheek isn’t immune to the criticisms about his injury history. An ankle injury ruled him out from December 2017 until March 2018 whilst he was on loan at Crystal Palace. In May 2019, Loftus-Cheek ruptured his Achilles tendon; a serious and painful injury for any athlete that required a lot of meticulous rehabilitation. The injury wouldn’t stop him from earning a new five-year deal with Chelsea, but he wouldn’t return to action until February of 2020. He was only selected to start two Premier League games since his return and saw little time from the bench for his other five appearances.
Whilst it’s an easy assumption to make, it is way too son to think that his Achilles injury has hampered his development or skill in any way.
Loftus-Cheek has had a lot of competition in the ranks of Chelsea in his natural position. As of late, there have been serious rumours suggesting that Chelsea boss Frank Lampard would like to retool the squad in a way that could see N’Golo Kante and Ross Barkley depart. If both of these end up staying put, Loftus-Cheek could yet again struggle to find himself in with a shout of much needed time on the pitch. Mason Mount has broken through as a very tidy and relied-upon player at Chelsea too, and this makes the most plausible scenario where Aston Villa could step in and bring Ruben in on loan, or even with a possible loan-to-buy agreement with Chelsea if the price was advantageous for both clubs.
During the period where Antonio Conte was the Head Coach at Chelsea, Loftus-Cheek was used sparingly as a striker, and that is an area where Villa would like to solidify. Conte even said that he could see the midfielder being an out-and-out striker due to “good technique, good personality and being good one vs one”. This could whet the appetite of any Aston Villa supporter.
It’s difficult to put a marker down on just how important Loftus-Cheek will be to Chelsea moving forward. On one hand, it appears as though Frank Lampard would like to improve his midfield, but on the other, Loftus-Cheek could provide great cover and depth no matter who Chelsea decide to bring in. Across all domestic competitions in 2018/19, Loftus-Cheek scored six goals, boasted a near 90% passing accuracy and won 61 defensive duels in 1377 minutes of football.
Yoshinori Muto, 28, Newcastle United (Market value: £4,950,000)
Harry Trend, Senior Contributor (@HazaTrand)
Under utilised or frozen out? Both terms could be used to describe Yoshinori Muto’s time at Newcastle United under Steve Bruce. The Japanese striker has featured in ten competitive games for the Magpies in the last season, and has played just six minutes since January.
Muto was brought to the North East from Mainz 05 by Rafa Benitez, with the then Newcastle United manager paying £9,500,000 for his services.
But the Japanese striker’s first season was a tale of two halves, playing 17 times and scoring once against Manchester United. Muto had his fair share of game time during the start of that campaign, playing as a centre-forward or second striker. However, after picking up a calf injury that November, the former Mainz man struggled to get back into the team once recovered – often being shifted into unfamiliar wide roles when he did get his chance.
What would Muto bring to Aston Villa if Dean Smith were to sign him? The Japenese international was a big reason as to why Mainz survived relegation during his three seasons in South-West Germany, grabbing 20 goals in 48 Bundesliga starts.
Muto was much more than a goal scorer in Germany – with his fitness levels allowing him to press opposition defences and make runs to free up team-mates. During the 2016/17 season and 2017/18 seasons, Muto managed to hit just over 50% of his shots on target, a higher percentage than Keinan Davis (31.3%) and Mbwana Samatta (17.6%) combined last season. He possesses a fair amount of pace too; an attribute Villa have found themselves needing in recent times.
With these traits, why has Muto been starved for minutes at St. James’ Park? As a team that is primarily set up to defend, Steve Bruce has been reluctant to start two men up front. Despite being surprisingly good in the air, Muto is anything but a target man and is perhaps too lightweight to lead the line on his own in the Premier League.
Ultimately, if Villa were to sign the Japanese forward, Smith’s best bet would to use him in the hole or as a second striker. Admittedly, Muto’s Premier League statistics don’t paint a great picture, but more frequent opportunities on the pitch, coupled with a fresh coaching approach could be what Muto needs to rediscover his Mainz form.
Axel Tuanzebe, 22, Manchester United (Market value: £7,200,000)
Matt Blogg, Senior Contributor (@Blogg_Matt)
Last summer, Axel Tuanzebe was a name on the lips of Villans up and down the country after playing an integral role in Aston Villa’s promotion, but 12 months and just 5 Premier League appearances later, the defender’s situation is looking slightly concerning.
After his assured performances in the Championship, Villa fans were sure that Tuanzebe would be playing regularly for Manchester United last season. On paper, Tuanzebe and Maguire seems like a potential future England partnership, so why did the Red Devils opt to give him just 186 Premier League minutes across the season? A simple answer is that he was rarely fit, only actually making 14 matchday squads, but even when he was fit, he was rarely favoured. Tuanzebe only found himself in the starting line-up twice, playing the full 90 minutes in back to back games across September and October, but only 6 Premier League minutes after that (and 0 after December 7th) tells the story.
A hip injury stopped the 22-year-old in his tracks after his second consecutive 90 minutes on October 6th, ruling him out for 6 weeks, but in making the matchday squad for the next 5 games, it looked as though he was slowly making his way back into Ole Gunnar Solskjaer’s plans. However, a hamstring injury then kept him out for 10 straight weeks and that proved to be the end of his Premier League season.
Contracted at Manchester United until 2022 with the option of a further year, Tuanzebe still has time to prove himself at Old Trafford and earn a place in the team, but if last season is anything to go by then he is going to struggle to really cement his place in that backline. It does say a lot about Tuanzebe’s season when his most memorable act was gifting Bukayo Saka the ball to assist Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang’s equaliser for Arsenal at Old Trafford back in September, and may explain why Solskjaer was reluctant to give him any serious game time, but Villa fans know better than anyone what a genuinely good defender he can be.
It is still felt that he will make his name at Old Trafford, but if the young defender endures another season where he is as criminally underused as he was in the last, then he will have to start seriously thinking about his future. 186 Premier League minutes just isn’t enough for a player with Tuanzebe’s potential, so if the 2020/21 season is much the same for the 22-year-old, he will surely be up for grabs.
Fikayo Tomori, 22, Chelsea, (Market value: £14,400,000)
Andrew Maddox, Contributor (@MaddoxJourno)
A common problem across Villa’s 2019/20 season was not having a settled partner for Tyrone Mings.
Bjorn Engels, Kortney Hause and Ezri Konsa all played there with mixed to poor results. However, one underutilised top four centre back could provide the solution to Dean Smith’s issues.
Fikayo Tomori made a bright start to his first season in the Chelsea first team, starting ten league matches in a row before falling out of contention with Frank Lampard. Tomori even scored a long-range screamer in a 5-2 win against Wolves, but this wasn’t enough to convince Lampard that Tomori had a future in blue.
Tomori’s run in the team was mainly courtesy of Antonio Rudiger’s early season fitness issues. While the young defender didn’t play badly during this run of games, he was nevertheless Lampard’s choice to drop out once the German returned to fitness.
The defender didn’t play a single minute of Premier League football after the restart and Chelsea are seemingly happy to let the Englishman leave this summer. So, does he offer an upgrade on Villa’s other defenders from this season?
Comparing Tomori and Kortney Hause, it is obvious that they both have strengths in different areas. Tomori is a technically gifted defender, with his best qualities shining through when the ball is on the floor. Meanwhile, Hause has been described by many as being incompetent with the ball at his feet, but his aerial stats are up there with the best in Europe.
The current Chelsea centre-back has made more interceptions than Hause’s 20 as well as 29 tackles to Hause’s 21. This is all while playing three less games than Hause. When playing out from the back, Tomori has played more passes, more passes forward and with a higher completion rate than Hause as well as being dispossessed less times. Clearly, Tomori provides an upgrade over Hause.
It’s much the same story with Bjorn Engels, though many of the Belgian’s defensive stats are superior to Tomori’s. Engels made more blocks, interceptions and clearances than Tomori as well as having superior aerial stats. However, his teamplay stats are worse than those of Hause. With a team that likes to play out from the back, Tomori again provides a clear upgrade.
Compared to Konsa, it’s the same story yet again. Superior aerial ability, vastly inferior teamplay stats. Even comparing Tomori to Tyrone Mings, it’s the same story. Clearly, Chelsea’s under-appreciated gem would provide something different to Villa’s one-dimensional defensive options. While he would likely cost a pretty penny due to interest from abroad, especially from Ligue 1 side Rennes, it is an option worth pursuing for Dean Smith.
Alireza Jahanbakhsh, 27, Brighton & Hove Albion (Market value: £5,850,000)
Guy Poxon, Contributor & Number Cruncher (@GuyPoxon)
Alireza Jahanbakhsh, once Brighton & Hove Albion’s club record signing, has been fairly uninfluential during his two years at the Amex. His debut season, 2018/19, for the Seagulls saw no productivity in goals or assists despite 17 appearances – a worrying sign for a right winger. That was followed by a lack in faith from the new Brighton boss Graham Potter in the 2019/20 season. During this time, Jahanbakhsh managed two Premier League goals in 10 appearances. However, only 3 of those appearances were starts and the Iranian international failed to feature more than twice since the restart. Even then, it was only a combined 21 minutes over two matches.
The rot won’t stop for Jahanbakhsh, but it isn’t for lack of trying. His shots per 90 minutes average at 3.59 this season – which is higher than both El Ghazi’s (2.29) and Trezeguet’s (2.3). Alireza Jahanbakhsh had a hot streak in December 2019, scoring the goal to earn a point against Chelsea and scoring in a 2-0 win against Bournemouth. But, in truth, both of Aston Villa’s current wingers look less of a risk than the £17 million Seagull. Both El Ghazi and Trezeguet have higher expected goals per 90 minutes, and that is accounting for the fact that both Villains have played almost seven times as many match minutes as Alireza Jahanbakhsh.
Looking at the Iranian’s contribution to Brighton’s attacks overall, and he does manage a more efficient attacking rating than Trezeguet; getting a 62/100 rating for contribution to Brighton’s goals, compared with Trezeguet’s 31/100 for Villa. That suggests that Alireza Jahanbakhsh is quite efficient going forward. But even then, El Ghazi out-performs Alireza Jahanbakhsh’s attacking rating with a score of 70/100 – so that gives the idea that El Ghazi and Jahanbakhsh are quite similar going forward. The winger does look quite dogged in defence, and he tends to tackle and harass the opposition quite well – it must be noted. But it’s worth also considering that Trezeguet and El Ghazi have both managed far more goals and assists than the Brighton man, too.
Whichever way you cut it, Alireza Jahanbakhsh has been unremarkable in the Premier League and probably not an upgrade on either El Ghazi or Trezeguet. It was his stand-out season of 2017/18 in the Dutch league which earned him a shot at the Premier League in the first place, but perhaps £17 million was too much to pay for a player off the back of one or two good seasons in a weaker league. That being said, Ajax are tracking the winger’s situation, eying a move back to the Dutch league. Perhaps Dean Smith and his coaching team will spot something they can work with, and perhaps Aston Villa might swap a player like Jota for the more robust Alireza Jahanbakhsh with the hope that he might build some form during cup matches. If he can come to Villa for a fraction of the price that Birghton paid, he might just be a wildcard – but he shouldn’t be Villa’s first, or even second, choice winger.