Charismatic, agile, creative, and, as of a couple of weeks ago, the scorn of half the Merseyside’s unemployed population.
Most Villa fans will agree this is an apt way to currently describe Emiliano Buendia, given the magnitude of his recent performances. With a goal, assist, and his role in Coutinho’s equaliser against United in his last three Premier League matches, the Argentine is undoubtedly one of the first names on the team sheet these days.
But this was certainly not the case two months into the season – in fact, Buendia had registered just a single goal and was struggling to make any real impact on the pitch, particularly noticeable given the absence of Jack Grealish. After passing on Arsenal in favour of the NSWE project, Gunners’ fans were gleefully reminding anyone who would listen to them of his 38-million-pound price tag, and much of the Villa fanbase was resigned to Buendia being one of the inevitable high price flops that come hand in hand with rich, ambitious owners.
Undoubtedly, anyone who felt this way early on would be surprised and delighted to be proven wrong. However, with hindsight, it is not at all shocking that Buendia has turned both his season and Villa career around. By splitting his season thus far into three distinct parts, it’s clear how he went from a near certain flop to a crucial player in a now star-studded squad.
Despite Buendia being signed to play alongside Grealish, once the latter left it became clear that Dean Smith expected the Argentine to be Villa’s new creative outlet. As Villa faltered through a just-ok-but-underwhelming start to the season, Buendia was noticeably isolated, forced to take on the central attacking role when his best work has always been done from the wing. The screamer against Brentford and occasional beautiful passing plays were interjected far too frequently by lazy balls, errant touches and seemingly a penchant to make up for the aforementioned errors by dribbling through entire teams on his own. His performances were symptomatic of a team still finding their feet without their talisman, and, combined with some slight injury scares, saw his involvement limited to sporadic appearances and extended stays on the bench.
Upon reflection, the Villa fanbase was very harsh on Buendia’s first few months in Birmingham. Given he wasn't even signed for the role he was playing, it was quite the ask for him to go up an entire division and effectively replace the most expensive player in Premier League history. A player with his qualities was always likely to struggle without space, and even now his best play comes from him dropping into the middle via the wing and playing off the midfielders – certainly preferable to the lost baby deer we had in behind our strikers early. Whereas Grealish loved to run entire games off his own boot, Buendia’s play is just a piece of the puzzle; it is highly probable this misconception contributed to his lacklustre start in claret and blue.
Ironically, in a period where it seemed like everything Smith touched turned to rubbish, Buendia started to earn his spot on the team sheet back. In fact, it really was during the disastrous 5 game losing streak (with the exception of a woeful performance against Arsenal) that Buendia’s Villa career began to ignite. Despite the rest of the squad consistently delivering that trademark Villa disappointment, Jacob Ramsey and Buendia formed an extremely solid understanding as the former took up creative duties in the middle of the park. Whilst the goals and assists weren’t quite flowing, they weren’t flowing for anyone in the team – it was as much the energy he brought off the bench that impressed the fans. It was like watching his Norwich highlights packages we’d all feasted on during the summer, albeit in a team lacking creativity and finesse.
The momentum didn’t stop once Gerrard was hired, with Buendia starting his first game in charge and playing a full 90 minutes in Villa’s hard-fought loss to City (his first full game in 11 weeks!) He picked up his first goal involvement under Gerrard in a 2-1 win over Leicester, and his increasingly tough performances were in keeping with a squad growing a new identity and developing some much-needed grit across the board. Stupid giveaways and loose passes were replaced with sharp, quick moves that had the entire midfield working in perfect harmony; it was precisely this time that Buendia, SJM, Ramsey and Luiz really started to function as a complete unit, and the Argentine’s turn around in form was a major part of this.
Recent Games and Conclusion
Emi Buendia is currently a nailed-on starter for Villa, as well as working his way into Argentina’s starting 11. Whilst his figures don’t quite match his best at Norwich (yet), he is a man playing with fire in the belly and the hunger which is spreading like wildfire (or Covid) throughout Bodymoor Heath. His shot count per 90 is on the up, yet his key passes tally remains consistent. The G/As will come, but it is his consistent ability to launch intricate attacks from seemingly nothing that is drawing admirers at present. Initial fears of him and Coutinho being unable to play together have thus far been quashed, with the limited evidence showing that having two extremely talented, agile South American superstars on the same team can yield positive results.
Dean Smith and Steven Gerrard both deserve some credit for Emi Buendia’s turnaround this season; one signed him and got him out of a dire form slump, while the other has devised a new system that allows a player of Buendia’s talents to have a much greater impact on games. But all plaudits must go to the man himself - with hard work, patience and some trademark flair, he has gone from a 40 million pound silhouette on the bench to one of Villa’s best signings in recent years.