Despite losing confidence at Barcelona, and a poor season on loan at Spurs, Clément Lenglet could prove to still be a wise investment for Aston Villa.
Words: Regan Foy | @findfoy
France international Clément Lenglet is close to joining Aston Villa this summer according to multiple sources, following his loan at Tottenham Hotspur last season.
Despite Tottenham’s performance while he was at the club, and a number of years at Barcelona that have progressively worsened over time and across different managers, the centre-back is still considered a top defender – yet perhaps one with more to prove moving forward.
Lenglet’s career started in Ligue 2 as he worked his way through the Nancy youth system before making his full debut in the 2013/14 season. Once his debut had been made, he settled quickly into the rhythm of senior professional footballing, making more than 20 appearances in his first full season and then 34 in the following one. He was a vital cog in Nancy’s return to Ligue 1 after a three season hiatus.
After just six months in the French top flight, Lenglet would meet with Monchi for the first time – leaving for Sevilla for a €5,000,000 fee in January of 2017. Just a season and a half later, Barcelona triggered the defender’s €35,000,000 release clause and the 6ft 1 star found himself at the Camp Nou.
At the high point in his Barcelona career, the silky defender found himself adorned with superlative phrases like “Knight in shining armour“, “Saviour” and “Serene warrior” as he battled superbly in the Champions League against the likes of Bayern Munich and Napoli. Fans figured they had a protégé who would lead the side for years to come, showcasing composure, distribution skills and comfort on the ball. Consistent and composed were just two words often used to describe him.
In more recent seasons however, Lenglet’s performances have struggled at Barcelona and especially so under Ronald Koeman. Mistakes, red cards, conceding penalties – there was something very awry when it came to the Frenchman’s time on the pitch. During the 20/21 season, Clément was the only player to have ticked off all of these mistakes in one season: score an own goal, be sent off, commit an error leading to a goal and concede a penalty. It was a nightmare season for the defender, especially as some heavy defeats came. As Xavi arrived and imprinted his own style on the Barcelona side, Lenglet became increasingly out of favour.
Thus came his most recent move, a loan to Tottenham Hotspur. Lenglet wasn’t a bad acquisition for the London-based side, and he adapted well to Antonio Conte’s system, making 26 appearances and performing an essential role. The season was a tumultuous one for Spurs, with Conte’s exit and various off-the-field issues, meaning that Lenglet’s career revival didn’t quite come as expected at the Tottenham Hotspur Stadium.
With over 300 games in professional football, and over 50 of those coming within the Champions League, Lenglet’s arrival at Aston Villa would bring with it a pedigree fans have began to associate with the other senior centre-backs at the club, in the form of Diego Carlos and Pau Torres.
Left-footed, the France international is often deployed in the role that Pau Torres currently operates in, in the left-hand side of the traditional back four. Defensively, he’s not the aerial presence that Villans are accustomed to in Tyrone Mings – in fact he had the worst success rate for aerial duels across the entire Spurs backline when Conte opted to sign him last season.
He does, however, impress in his ability to read situations and time his challenge – as well as being strong in the tackle.
Where Clément excels is in his ability on the ball, much like Pau. He’s an average dribbler and is able to bring the ball out of defence, but his passing ability and range is what sets him apart. In his last full season at Barcelona, Lenglet notched up a 93% pass accuracy – and a long-range accuracy of above 50% which is a great standard. His most effective tool is how he’s able to switch the play, especially across a diagonal, to the right-hand side. Pairing this with a player like Diaby, Cash or even McGinn could work wonders.
The impending deal that would bring Lenglet to Aston Villa on loan is a perfect deal this season for Unai Emery’s side. It is thought the deal will not involve a buy option – showcasing that the defender’s arrival is likely in response to the injury to Tyrone Mings. Comparing the two in their most recent Premier League season, Mings was the better defender – although had a significantly larger sample size.
Lenglet isn’t arriving to dislodge Mings role in the squad while he’s recovering. He’s not arriving to be a regular starter – he’s arriving to lessen the load on Pau Torres, the only senior left-footed centre-back at the club currently, who would have otherwise been ran into the ground across four different competitions this season. Emery often states he wants two players in every position – and Clément is that second option. Instead of having two players offering very different attributes, Lenglet is relatively closely matched with Pau in terms of what they can offer, meaning Villa’s game plan won’t need to change when they’re rotating the side.