With significant talk this week about the impact of Danny Ings’ exit, Aston Villa’s Ollie Watkins provided the perfect response in our win over Southampton.
Admittedly, the departure of Ings leaves us light up top. With Cameron Archer out on loan and incoming signing Jhon Duran needing time and patience once his move from Chicago Fire is officially announced, the onus is on Watkins to lead the Villa line effectively and consistently.
That said, there is a real trust in Unai Emery’s judgement, and so for him to give the green light to Ings leaving means that he was comfortable that it was in the best interests of the club to let him move on, and it will undoubtedly lead to him stamping his mark on the squad in the long run.
With that decision though, comes added pressure and responsibility on Watkins between now and the end of the season.
“It’s very good pressure for him,” Emery said, as per BBC Sport. “I think he will want this pressure. We are of course looking for something in the transfer window but we are only going to add a player if it can really, really improve the squad. Some players are going to leave, sure, and we want to add players in the squad as well to add some skills, some capacities, improving the squad.”
While the situation could yet change if Villa decide to add more firepower this month, Watkins has evidently emerged as our first-choice option up top, and while Emery is showing plenty of faith of him – never more so with the decision to let Ings leave – Watkins is repaying that faith so far.
In six Premier League appearances under Emery, the 27-year-old has scored two goals and provided two assists, while it’s worth noting that he lasted just 30 minutes in one of those games before having to come off.
Add his goal against Man Utd in our Carabao Cup defeat, combined with the increased influence he has had on our overall play with his movement, running, hold up play and tireless defensive work, there is no doubt that Watkins has been a fundamental player for Emery since he took charge.
Of course there are areas in which he can still improve. He can certainly be more clinical in front of goal, but the improvement in his game, the way in which he is being used now under Emery to maximise his strengths rather than trying to use him as something he’s not and the confidence that he is building, are all positive signs as we look for more from him.
Fresh from his game-winning header against Southampton, Watkins will no doubt be confident in his ability to be our main man up front now. While we wait to see if there are any further additions in that department of the squad, Emery will not only be delighted with what he’s seen from the Villa forward so far, but he’ll be confident in his own coaching ability to get more out of him too.