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Location: Home / Article / Crucial Aston Villa transfer decisions to be made as teenager lights up pre-season

Crucial Aston Villa transfer decisions to be made as teenager lights up pre-season

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It took Danny Ings all of 33 minutes to score at Villa Park in Aston Villa colours as the England frontman impressed ahead of Saturday's Premier League curtain-raiser at Watford.

Villa rounded off their five-game pre-season schedule with a

3-1 win over Serie A newcomers Salernitana

as Dean Smith adopted a new system.


Ashley Preece

was inside Villa Park for Sunday's behind-closed-doors friendly and here's what he picked out with

Ollie Watkins hobbling off

with a thigh muscle injury.


We'll start with that much talked about new system as Ings partnered Watkins up front as Villa's £60million strikeforce went to work.

As expected, it was Ings who dropped into the No.10 pocket whenever the opposition had the ball. The 29-year-old interestingly told Watkins "just let me drift" during a Bodymoor Heath conversation between the pair that was recorded via Villa TV last week, with Watkins himself outlining to Ings that his preference will be to "stay in the box".

Indeed, Ings was the drifter as Watkins stayed on the shoulder of the opposition centre-backs against the Italians on Sunday.

Ings' link-up play with John McGinn, Anwar El Ghazi and others was impressive given the fact that he became a Villa player just four days ago.

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Back to the shape and, for the majority of the time, it was a Southampton-esque 4-2-2-2 with Jaden Philogene-Bidace and El Ghazi told to stay high with McGinn and Marvelous Nakamba both protecting Villa's defence.

It appears Smith's placed a newfound emphasis on being much more effective; cutting out the intricacy he's often favoured as he previously built around getting the best out of the now-departed Jack Grealish.

Smith's new approach also highlighted getting the best out of every set-piece and throw-in with new coach Austin MacPhee tasked with, again, making Villa much more effective.

Crosses into the box, long balls over the top, clever free-kicks and playing in the opposition half for as long as possible - that's Villa's new mantra for 2021/22.


Northern Ireland coach Austin MacPhee setting out a tactical session as the Northern Ireland football squad train at Windsor Park in Belfast

On the topic of set-pieces, Scotsman MacPhee was in the Villa dugout for the first time after being named specialist coach last week. If you didn't know, the 41-year-old has a remarkable back story knowing he was in the vicinity of three world disasters. MacPhee was present in New York for the 9/11 bombings; was in Thailand for the Indian Ocean tsunami which killed 250,000 on Boxing Day in 2004 while, in 2005, he was living in Japan when the Fukuoka earthquake hit.

But back to MacPhee in the football world and Smith spoke about the ex-Hearts boss honing in on the "untapped potential" of dead-ball situations and throw-ins.

MacPhee hovered behind Smith and Craig Shakespeare at Villa Park on Sunday iPad in hand. During the odd drinks break he showed players pieces of paper and passed on bits of information to the likes of McGinn.

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Villa equalised from a corner when Watkins took it short, played Matty Cash before he checked it back to McGinn who, as he triggered his left foot, had Smith shouting for a "far post overload" to which the midfielder found Philogene-Bidace who volleyed inside before Ings finished well.

Villa attempted a whole host of different free-kicks, from short ones to one involving two Villa players standing in front of the Salernitana wall.

It'll be interesting to see Villa's set-pieces evolve as the season goes on with MacPhee described as "the best in the business" by countryman McGinn.

Villa did, though, concede from a set play which would have been disappointing on Smith's and MacPhee's part.


Wesley Moraes of Aston Villa walks from the pitch following his red card at Stoke City

To players that weren't involved now and Emi Buendia (hip), Morgan Sanson (knee) and Frederic Guilbert (unknown) watched on from the Corner Flag restaurant on Sunday.

Record-signing Buendia will be in a race against time to make Watford on Saturday now after missing back-to-back pre-season friendlies with


due to speak to Smith at Friday's press conference.

Summer addition Leon Bailey was also missing on Sunday with the winger in quarantine after his arrival from Jamaica last week. The £30million signing is a doubt for Watford as it stands.

Striker Keinan Davis, meanwhile, remains sidelined with an injury that's scuppered his chances of moving out on loan to the Championship.

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However, the most glaring name not on Villa's team sheet was that of Brazilian striker Wesley. The 24-year-old last featured in a behind-closed-doors match against Crewe last week after his seven-minute, red card showing at Stoke the week before. With Ings signed for an initial £25million, it now remains to be seen if Wesley sticks around with a loan move away appearing most likely.

We're yet to know the seriousness of Watkins' injury and, with Davis also out, Villa are short of options in attack at present knowing Carney Chukwuemeka, El Ghazi and Bertrand Traore all filled in as unorthodox strikers against Salernitana. It's three weeks until transfer deadline day and you suspect Villa will wait until as close to that date as possible before making a decision over Wesley's future.


Axel Tuanzebe of Aston Villa

Staying with transfer decisions and Villa made one themselves on Sunday as Axel Tuanzebe returned on a season-long loan deal. The centre-back also signed a new year extension at Old Trafford in doing so with the Manchester club having an option to extend that until 2024 if they wish.

Villa, meanwhile, are expected to conduct further business with Lazio attacker Joaquín Correa the latest to be linked over the weekend via reports coming out of Rome. Villa want to keep their dealings very much secretive now as they did when Ings joined last week.

Fulham's André Anguissa is another name that continues to stick as Smith prepares to add one to his midfield department that's light in numbers at present.

Conor Hourihane came on for the final 30 minutes on Sunday as well with the Irishman wanted by a whole host of Championship clubs.

Despite Christian Purslow's statement last week hinting at business being done following Grealish's record-breaking sale, it appears that Villa could well add one or two more in the coming weeks.


Jaden Philogene-Bidace celebrates his goal for Aston Villa against Bristol City

(Image: Getty Images)

And lastly to two players who've really stood out for Villa over pre-season and that's Philogene-Bidace and Marvelous Nakamba, with perhaps the former the pick of the bunch over the summer.

Philogene-Bidace has seemingly proved his worth as a first-team player here with a realistic possibility he could well start Villa's opening Premier League match at Watford on Saturday.

The 19-year-old has two goals and two assists from his four games over pre-season with the Londoner really establishing himself amongst the group. Philogene-Bidace just has that something about him. The winger could easily become Villa's surprise package this season.

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To Nakamba and the Zimbabwean has picked up from where he left off after his brilliant displays against Spurs and Chelsea in Villa's final two games last term.

Nakamba's playing with a real confidence to his play which was showcased with a lovely vertical pass into Ings' feet on Sunday. The ex-Club Brugge man is a real confidence player and, at present, he's really enjoying his football alongside McGinn with the pair poised to start at Vicarage Road on Saturday to form the base of Villa's new-look two-man central midfield.

While I'm on the topic of those who have been impressing, Ashley Young was a real vocal leader against Salernitana on Sunday. The 36-year-old looks set to be a real asset both on and off the pitch this season. What a coup he could turn out to be.

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