The versatile veteran can play in a number of positions, allowing Dean Smith to utilise him in a range of different ways.
Words: Matt Blogg | @Blogg_Matt
Ashley Young returning to Villa Park after 10 seasons away initially seemed like more of a sentimental homecoming for one last go at the Premier League than anything else, but a full pre-season and an opening day disaster later, the 36-year-old could yet prove to be Aston Villa’s very own Swiss army knife.
It’s no secret that Young was brought in as left back cover this season, to fill in for Matt Targett when necessary, and any Aston Villa fan will have been forgiven for thinking he may not see the pitch too often. His competition, Targett, was incredibly impressive last season, putting in solid performances both defensively and offensively before claiming the player of the year award, and has been rewarded with the number 3 shirt this season. So that’s easy then, Target is the left back and Young is the backup – right?
Well, yes, but pigeonhole Ashley Young as a deputy left back at your own risk, because he is not here to just make up the numbers. The opening day defeat at Vicarage Road saw him start at left wing in a surprising call, and while it may not have worked out, that demonstrates Dean Smith’s views on just how involved the current Serie A champion can actually be for his side this season. He was even preferred to Targett in the second half, with the starting left back getting the proverbial hook, so suddenly the battle for that starting spot doesn’t seem so easy to predict.
So that’s two positions covered by Young in just one game, and his usefulness doesn’t stop there. In a move that perhaps went slightly under the radar on Saturday, Dean Smith left Frederic Guilbert out of the match day squad, and hasn’t seemed to trust the Frenchman for over a year now. He was loaned out to Ligue 1 for the second half of last season, with Elmohamady preferred, and now seems to be a long way down the pecking order for a spot in the Villa squad, which suggests that Ashley Young is actually seen as right back cover to Matty Cash too.
It would make sense, considering Dean Smith has renamed Ashley Young ‘Young Ashley’ as a result of his impressive numbers in training, and with the experience he brings to the team, you would expect him to be in every matchday squad, even if just as a substitute. As manager of Brentford, Smith had a leadership group instead of one permanent captain, and while Tyrone Mings has officially been given the armband, it wouldn’t be a surprise to learn that Ashley Young has been given senior responsibility as well. His leadership qualities are clear even just from training videos, so his influence in a very young dressing room cannot be overlooked.
And as if he hasn’t got enough bases covered, Young also boasts excellent technical ability, with a strong footballing intelligence accompanying a mean set piece as two of his many strengths. Leon Bailey took a free kick off him at Watford (fair enough), but if the opportunity arises to cause problems from a dead ball situation, there are definitely worse people to have standing over the ball than Ashley Young. And to top everything off, the Englishman even scored Aston Villa’s final goal of pre-season against Salernitana, so he’s also demonstrating the ability to put the ball in the back of the net, which is quite important in football.
Basically, Ashley Young is not just here to look pretty and make the teas. He wants game time, and his versatility, experience and undoubted ability can certainly earn him a fair amount. Already deployed as a winger and a full back, Young’s usefulness to the side is clear for all to see, and while he may not be in many fans’ ideal starting XI, his label as Villa’s Swiss army knife is going to do his chances of playing no harm at all.