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Aston Villa and the Great DM Meltdown

The 2021 summer transfer window has been somewhat of a turbulent one for Villa fans. With big departures, shock signings and some areas left untapped, many are left with a bitter-sweet taste when looking back on the last two months of business. In the build-up to the market opening, and for the many weeks throughout, Villa fans anxiously awaited signings. Ashley Young returned, Emi Buendia arrived to fill the number 10, and secret agent Danny Ings took everyone by surprise. Leon Bailey completed what seemed to be an excited collection of incomings for the club, but one area in particular sparked debate amongst fans. The prestigious defensive midfield spot has been one that has been a topic of discussion for years under Smith.

The number six shirt is one that has never really been filled since Gaz Baz left in 2009. In came Douglas Luiz in 2019 as Dean Smith began to rebuild his squad at the top flight. An exciting prospect coming from Manchester City, Luiz was thought to be a refreshing force in the centre of the park to dominate and protect the backline. Since then, Luiz has had spells of fan-favourite performances - a true Brazilian with grit and determination. However, consistency is an issue alongside regular bookings and some poor decision making. Beyond that, he is not what many typically envision as a domineering DM, whether this is important or not, and there seems to be much speculation about what a tall, strong number 6 would add to a Dean Smith team. Whether you’re one of those who pleaded with the Villa Twitter admin to announce a defensive midfield signing, or frankly weren’t too fussed after some good business elsewhere, the debate is ongoing. Has Dean Smith ever truly played a system at Villa with a true number 6? It is not just Dean Smith that doesn’t insist on having an out and out defensive midfielder, but there are many at the very top of the pyramid that operate with a talented DM. Kante, Fernandinho, Fabinho to name a few, just in the English game - all trusted and integral cogs in their respective teams. As a Villa fan with high expectations after a vast improvement last season, it is easy to understand why many are hoping to have a real enforcer in the midfield - a player unlike any at the club currently. With very few departures this window, only Hourihane leaving the midfield after a loan spell away last season, Villa’s midfield is stacked full.

Frenchman Morgan Sanson essentially feels like a fresh signing after little game time since his arrival in the winter, and the club is yet to see the best of him. In the defensive spot, Luiz is the better ball-player, while Nakamba can mop up most things nicely. Put the two into one player, and maybe add a few inches of height, and you could possibly have the perfect number 6.

This isn’t to say that either of these players aren’t good enough themselves. They both have good attributes, and can fit into Smith’s systems and style of play nicely, but aren’t quite the full package. So what is the solution? Is it the coaches who feel that the style of play doesn’t suit a true DM, or is it that Lange and co. are yet to find the right fit for the middle of the park? After being linked with the likes of Cheick Doucoure, it was easy to get swept up in the hype of signing such talent for that area of the field. There are some games where the midfield seems open to opposition infiltration, such as West Ham at home in February 2021, and maybe those are the games crying out for a dominant force that could intercept, but also enable smooth transition to attack - the Dean Smith counter-attacking way. It is hard to know whether a single player would solve this predicament, since Villa fans are yet to see such a player fit into a Dean Smith team with a squad full of young and attack-minded players. An addition to the midfield that would steady the ship and allow the likes of McGinn to settle in the box-to-box role is more than ideal, however. Whatever side of the fence you may sit on, it’s a discussion that will be argued for and against, no matter if there’s a DM on the pitch or in the transfer rumour mill. In the meantime, it will be a matter of finding the right balance with existing squad members, who have a point to prove if they are to dispel any suggestions of bigger and better replacements in the next window.

Hannah Gowen | Edited by The AVFC Faithful

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