Aston Villa have been without Leon Bailey now since the home defeat to Manchester City in early December. During that game the £30 million superstar was only able to contribute half an hour before going off with an injury which would keep him out of action for the following two months. With Bailey being out for such a long period of time and having only played one full game for the Villa so far, his upcoming return has all the feelings of a brand new signing.
During yesterday's press conference, Steven Gerrard confirmed that Leon Bailey is back in full training and should be fit for selection sooner rather than later. Unfortunately it appears tonight's encounter with Leeds United at Villa Park has come a little too soon for the Jamaican international, but hopefully he can at least make it onto the bench for Villa's trip to Newcastle this Sunday. This ponders an interesting question however, even if Bailey was fully fit right now, where does he fit into Gerrard's new look Aston Villa?
Leon Bailey was of course brought in by Dean Smith in the summer with a view to play him out wide in what is Bailey's most natural position. It's no secret however that Gerrard doesn't play with traditional wingers, instead choosing to go with two attacking number 10's sitting just behind the striker. This system works brilliantly for both Philippe Coutinho and Emi Buendia with the latter really coming into his own and shining in his new role in recent games. So even if Bailey was fully fit and raring to go, would he be dislodging either of those two? I highly doubt it, not right now anyway.
The truth of the matter is that Bailey will have to fight for a starting spot in this Villa side now. It really shows the strength and depth Villa have at their disposal that what is effectively a new £30 million signing has to fight to get into the team, it shows real progress and is a shining example of a club moving in the right direction. Not only will Bailey need to outperform either Coutinho or Buendia but he will also need to show the manager that he's comfortable in one of those two attacking midfield positions as it's unlikely Gerrard will change up his preferred formation just to fit in Leon Bailey. There's also an argument to be made that he has to fight off Carney Chukwuemeka as well given the glimpses of excellence the youngster has shown when coming on in one of those positions. The main positive to take away here is that if Bailey breaks into this starting eleven, it will likely be because he's performing to an extremely high level and keeping out two very talented attacking players. If Bailey is to achieve this however, it will take time and patience from both the coaching staff and the supporters. Until then, expect Bailey to be used as mostly an impact player off the bench while he still finds his fitness and his place within this side.
As for the player himself, he will not be happy just playing the role of an impact sub and nor should he be given the bags of talent he possesses. Bailey is a confident player who will back himself to the hills and, unlike certain other characters recently departed, will likely be well up for the fight with his fellow teammates. One other factor to consider in all of this is that Bailey might not only have his eye on Coutinho and Buendia's positions.. Let us not forget that Bailey's preferred squad number is of course the the famous number 9. We've already seen against Everton that he knows where the net is and is not averse to pelting the ball through it. The Ollie Watkins vs Danny Ings debate is one that has lingered on all season and the argument against both men is their poor individual scoring records so far in this campaign. If Bailey starts putting them away on a regular basis then there's a chance the answer to Watkins or Ings is actually Leon Bailey. It goes without saying there's more chance that Gerrard sticks with one of the two classic strikers for a while and gives one of them a proper run in the team but this left field option might be one worth remembering.
Whether Bailey is unfortunately used as an impact sub for the rest of the season or he does enough to claim a spot in the first eleven, there's no denying that with his raw pace, trickery and wonder of a left foot that he will have a massive impact on Villa's second half of the season. Villa fans across the globe will be willing him on and praying he stays fit because if he does, the Premier League needs to be on notice!
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