While Unai Emery’s arrival at Aston Villa has led to crucial improvements across the board, his impact on Ollie Watkins in particular is making a key difference for us.
Now, we may as well address the obvious flaw that remains in his game early. Many will agree that the 27-year-old could be more clinical, and if he were more ruthless in front of goal, his numbers would be even better.
It’s hard to dispute that as whether it’s creating opportunities for himself after doing all the hard work or others providing him with service, Watkins does have an unwanted habit of needing more than one chance to eventually get on the scoresheet.
That said, it’s unfair and disrespectful to simply then label him as not being good enough. Yes, that is an area of his game that still needs to improve, but we’re also seeing him develop and show consistency under Emery.
In the four games that Watkins has been involved in since the Spanish tactician took charge at Villa, he has been directly involved in four goals, with two goals and two assists. In the Premier League, he has either a goal or assist in each of the three outings thus far, and then there’s everything else that he offers up top for us too.
Strikers will of course always be judged on their goalscoring, and it’s fair to say that Watkins needs to be more consistent in front of goal and convert chances that come his way with more confidence and ruthlessness.
However, what should never be underestimated or go unappreciated is his work ethic. Whether that’s his defensive pressing or tracking back to make life difficult for the opposition or his movement off the ball to stretch defences and create space for his teammates in key areas.
Watkins does a superb job of that, and we’ve undoubtedly seen an improvement in his hold up play in the last few games too as he is battling hard when pitted against physical centre-halves and bringing others into play to keep our attacking moves alive.
That takes a lot out of a player in itself, and so for him to be constantly scrapping, making vital runs off the ball and then having the composure and ability to provide assists or score goals is huge.
Several key individuals in the Villa squad have clearly benefited from the arrival of Emery, and Watkins is one of them. We’re playing to his strengths and putting him in areas to have an impact on games – namely in the channels and in pockets of space in the final third – and so he should now be relishing the opportunity to continue to evolve and develop his game under the current Villa boss.
Reinforcements are expected this month as Emery looks to stamp his mark on the squad, but in Watkins he has seemingly found an ideal option to lead the line as he offers fundamental attributes that fit his identity and style of play perfectly.
From his tenacity and tireless work-rate out of possession to his movement, speed and threat in the final third, Watkins just needs to be more clinical and he’ll continue to be one of our star performers as we continue to improve under Emery.
The important thing is that we’re now creating chances consistently and so, should we add a finisher alongside him who perhaps combines the best of Danny Ings and Leon Bailey, it could be an ideal partnership that allows Watkins to maximise his own strengths.
— Aston Villa (@AVFCOfficial) January 1, 2023