Competition for places is a healthy problem for coaches to have, and Aston Villa boss Unai Emery has that in his current group across most of the pitch.
Naturally, there are certain positions where individuals have cemented their place in their side, while in others we do perhaps still lack quality depth to push those in the starting XI.
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One position that we’re not short in though is left-back, with Alex Moreno arriving from Real Betis last month and following Ludwig Augustinsson’s departure, it’s a battle between the Spaniard and Lucas Digne for a starting role.
Moreno impressed in his first two appearances for Villa, particularly against Leeds Utd when we think back to how he had only arrived at the club 48 hours prior to kick-off, and was then thrust into action after Digne’s early injury.
He followed that up with a solid performance at Southampton, and surprisingly then off the back of that, he dropped to the bench against Leicester City this weekend with Digne returning from injury and restored to the Villa XI.
Now, it’s worth emphasising that Emery of course has the benefit of seeing the players in training all week and will see things we don’t, while he also has tactical reasons for making his decisions that are far beyond our knowledge given the elite level of coaching he has produced over the years.
However, that decision did raise an eyebrow as Moreno had started to establish himself in the Villa backline, and it appeared as though we had found a good balance.
While Digne did well going forward to provide width and an attacking outlet on Saturday, he was part of a really poor defensive performance from Villa in the first half as we conceded three goals. Particularly looking at Iheanacho’s goal, there was an obvious breakdown between him and Tyrone Mings, with the Leicester forward left in acres of space between them to head home.
Emery ultimately opted to replace him at half-time with Moreno, and while he added a mistake of his own late on for Leicester’s fourth goal, there were still positive signs over his quality going forward and providing an attacking threat.
Of course, the priority for our left-back is to defend well first and then be a problem in the attacking phase on top of that. However, there is arguably more about Moreno with his pace, technical quality and reading of the game that should see him emerge as our first-choice moving forward.
It will be interesting to see what Emery goes with against Man City next weekend, as that is a daunting task for any full-back given the way they like to play with width. It will be a big test for Moreno if he gets the nod, but ultimately he has to test himself in those situations as part of his adaptation to the Premier League in terms of the tempo and intensity of the game.
Digne will no doubt have a part to play between now and the end of the season, but to replace him at half-time and coupled with how Moreno is of course an Emery signing and arguably suits his style better, it will be a big decision for the Villa boss as he looks for a crucial balance from his left-back between defensive solidity and attacking quality on a consistent basis.