Wesley is gearing up to return from injury after a year out of the game. He can still make an impact at the club.
Words: Andy Bates | @k2_villa
It has been quite a rollercoaster of a year for Aston Villa fans. Amongst dreadful global circumstances which we have all faced, football has somehow managed to continue, albeit largely without supporters watching the matches live, with Dean Smith’s team not only securing Premier League survival and reaching a Wembley cup final, but also making an impressive start to the 2020-21 campaign and ending the calendar year in 5th position.
There has been good news aplenty since the 1-1 draw with West Ham United in July, which secured the club’s place in the top flight and provided a platform for an impressive summer of transfers and new contracts. After years of hard luck stories for Villa fans, it seems as if that trend has abated and whenever Villa hit the headlines now, it is for the right reasons.
Now as we enter a busy January with eight fixtures, as well as one eye on the transfer window, another piece of welcome news is bubbling away in the background, as former record signing, striker Wesley Moraes edges closer to his long awaited return from a horrific ACL injury which has kept him out for the entirety of 2020.
Photos and videos of our Brazilian forward in training, via the official site have certainly been welcomed with pleasure by the club’s following, as a tinge of excitement for the big man’s return becomes evident.
Goalkeeper Tom Heaton, who suffered a similar injury in the same match, against Burnley as Turf Moor, last New Year’s Day, has now fully returned to playing action. He took his place on the bench at Stamford Bridge in Villa’s previous match and appears to have replaced promotion hero Jed Steer as the number 2 behind Emi Martinez for the time being.
At the time of the injuries, both Heaton and Wesley were firm first choices in their positions, with little competition. However the landscape within the Villa squad dramatically changed this summer, with Villa bringing in the big Argentinian stopper from Arsenal and also, splashing out a club record £28 million on striker Ollie Watkins.
Whilst the route past Martinez appears impossible currently, the forward line could prove more forgiving for Wesley, particularly given the flexible and interchangeable nature of how Smith is setting up his attack.
Watkins has received rave reviews from multiple sources, for the way he leads the press and allows the team to execute the attacking and defensive sides of their game plan, even if he has been hit and miss in terms of his goal return. The hat-trick against Champions Liverpool in that incredible 7-2 victory set the tone for what Villa fans might expect from their new centre forward, however the ex Brentford man has proven to offer far more than just his name on the scoresheet.
Whilst it would be a tall order for Wesley, who currently possesses the famous Villa number 9 shirt, to edge Watkins out the side, there has been no lack of rotation amongst the front players this term. Wesley will take confidence from the way team mates like El Ghazi and Trezeguet have engineered themselves opportunities to impress and been able to improve and make themselves useful options in the front 3.
It was a difficult start to life in English football for Wesley last season. Coming in from Belgian football, which is undoubtedly a lower level competitively, he also had the tag of not only being Villa’s record transfer, but he was also replacing Tammy Abraham, who had scored 26 goals in the previous season whilst on loan from Chelsea. That was certainly a comparison he was never going to win, although he managed to find the net 6 times before injury struck.
It was evident that the Villa faithful and Dean Smith were prepared to give Wesley time to adjust, although question marks about his game and theatrical antics were there. At one stage, last December, it seemed that Wesley may lose his place to Keinan Davis, however the young striker picked up a hamstring injury which allowed Wesley more time. It was widely felt that during that fateful Burnley victory, Wesley produced his best performance of the season, scoring the first goal and being heavily involved in an accomplished attacking performance.
That display has certainly left the Villans wondering ‘what if?’ and there is a hope that Wesley’s imminent return could reduce the need to explore back up for Ollie Watkins this January. It must be remembered that the ACL is widely regarded as the worst footballing injury, so any return to the squad will be carefully managed and the player will need time and support to settle back in.
Whenever Wesley is deemed ready to reintegrate, it could represent a fantastic opportunity for him to show what he can do, as part of this resurgent Villa side. The difference in the team, from this time last season is stark, with Villa now creating many more goal scoring chances than they were the last time Wesley was involved. He showed that he is a player with a good touch and an appreciation of his teammates, so with the overall improvements in quality around him, he will have a great chance to find his feet quicker than he managed to last year.
In truth, the Brazil international will likely occupy a place on the bench, providing Watkins steers clear of injury. Also should Johan Lange and Dean Smith look for attacking reinforcements this month, he could find himself further down the pecking order. However, as Anwar El Ghazi has proven over the last few matches, commitment, hard work and ability will be rewarded, if and when opportunities to impress present themselves.