Why Villa ace faces big challenge over place in pecking order

While a number of key Aston Villa players have successfully adapted and improved under Unai Emery thus far, Leon Bailey is among those still struggling to entirely convince.

In 11 Premier League games since Emery took charge, the 25-year-old has featured in every single outing thus far, nine of which have been as a starter.

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Based on that, it’s clear that Emery rates his quality and what he can offer in his side, but the fact is that Bailey has provided an underwhelming return of two goals and no assists in those 11 league appearances.

“Leon Bailey is working well,” Emery told the media ahead of the Everton game. “We are trying with him to find his best position on the pitch, defensively and offensively.

“He has as well, ambition and determination to try to get his best performances and each match is an opportunity for him.”

He fired blanks in our two cup games as well, and when he’s not scoring, it can be argued that his influence and impact in games is pretty limited despite boasting pace, technical quality and skill to be a real nightmare for opposition defences when on form.

As we saw again at the weekend against Everton, the Jamaican international was sloppy in possession and gifted it away consistently, while he just couldn’t get going in the game to provide a sustained threat up top. Based on that and the competition he faces, the question surely has to be asked as to how long Emery will persist?

In the two games that he has scored in – wins over Man Utd and Leeds Utd – he was deployed in a wider role on the right side, particularly in the latter, and so there could be an argument that he feels more comfortable in that position as opposed to offering support to Ollie Watkins up front.

That gives him an opportunity to drop deeper, turn and run at players to utilise his strengths more, but we’ve just not seen enough from him to warrant that level of priority in how we set ourselves up for games.

With John McGinn back fit and impressing in that role now too, coupled with Jacob Ramsey’s ability to play that side, Bailey will face competition there.

In contrast to his struggles, Emiliano Buendia bagged his third goal under Emery with a brilliant impact off the bench on Saturday, and all three of those goals have come with him operating further up the pitch in a position that increases his chances of making a decisive impact.

Admittedly, it doesn’t always come off for the Argentine playmaker, but there’s no denying that he has a bigger influence on our overall play when on the pitch, and his creativity and ability to make things happen have proven to be more impactful over Bailey’s contributions.

Add to the mix the positive impression that Jhon Duran has made in his limited playing time thus far, Emery has options at his disposal, and so Bailey faces a real test in the coming weeks to showcase his quality on a more consistent basis, and to make an important contribution to solidify his place high up in the pecking order, either up top or in midfield.

The expectation is that Emery will be backed significantly by the club this summer to bring in reinforcements that better suit his ideas and style of play, and if Bailey can’t produce when given an opportunity between now and the end of the season, the pressure will build in terms of the longer-term picture.

It’s certainly hoped that the Villa boss can get the best out of him before that becomes a more pressing issue, as he’s a talented player with a lot of potential to offer an important dynamic in our attack. However, we need to start seeing that potential turn into tangible results on the pitch on a regular basis.

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