Dean Smith happy with Aston Villa striker Wesley despite lack of goals | Paul Doyle | Football
To really offend people around Villa Park, just say the F word. After spending at least £127m on 12 players following promotion to the Premier League, Aston Villa fans get annoyed at accusations that their club are “doing a Fulham”, who splurged heavily last season only to flop out of the league with a whimper.
Villa have lost their first two matches and know that losing at home against Everton on Friday night would increase the heckling. The only way to make it stop is to start winning.
Dean Smith is not worried. He says he saw enough in the defeats by Tottenham and Bournemouth to suggest his team are coming together and will turn encouraging performances into positive results. He scoffs at suggestions that one player – the record signing Wesley – is under particular pressure to prove his worth. But the 22-year-old, signed from Club Brugge for £22m, carries a heavy burden, being the only forward capable of leading the line in the way Villa need. How capable? That is already a matter of debate even if the evidence is skimpy.
“What are we coming to if we’re judging players after two games?” asks an exasperated Smith. “There have been questions about him playing in the Premier League but he played in the Champions League last season – he’s not too shabby.
“He’s settled straight away. I can see that every day in training. He’s shown potential in his performances so far and that potential will come through.”
Smith says that although the player is yet to score for Villa, he has demonstrated other qualities. “There’s certainly no frustration with Wesley from me and his teammates. He showed me enough in pre-season to show me he’s going to be a top player. He never hides away from the ball, he goes and competes. He’ll get better and better. He hasn’t had an awful lot of chances so far but I’ll probably name you 14 clubs’ centre-forwards who won’t get a chance at Tottenham.
“He has created chances for a few of the players. He drew two centre-halves to him against Tottenham for John McGinn to get in and get the first goal in the Premier League for us. He set up Trezeguet and Neil Taylor [against Bournemouth]. He brings other people into play. He’s two games into a season and one goal behind Mo Salah at the moment. I’m not judging centre-forwards this early in the season.”
Some of the doubts about Wesley may come from the fact he can look cumbersome when running but that is a deceptive consequence of having one leg nearly 3cm shorter than the other, a feature that initially drew comments at his previous clubs before his performances convinced people to disregard it. The other quibble is that he has not yet proven he is as strong in possession as his size suggests he should be but that must be balanced against the fact that Villa have not been very quick to get support up to him.
McGinn has been the most frequent beneficiary while the wide players, Trezeguet and especially Anwar El Ghazi, have not yet dovetailed with the central striker consistently enough.
Jack Grealish, meanwhile, has operated mostly in a deeper role than last season, so has not been able to support attacks as much. These may be understandable growing pains for a new team in a new league. If so, Villa need to overcome them quickly. Smith says they are on the right track.
“I think our most likely goalscorer at the moment has looked like it’s going to be John McGinn,” says Smith. “He’s made some really deep runs into the opposition half. Saying that, Jack Grealish had a really good chance last week, Wesley teed up Trezeguet for a good chance. Neil Taylor even got in the opposition box last week and had two chances. So we’re creating chances, we just need to start taking them. I’m sure [the goals] will come.”
They will not come easily against Everton, whose previously leaky defence proves the theory that time plus good coaching equals improvement. Marco Silva’s side have conceded in only one of their past 10 matches. If Villa became the first to score against them this season there would be a surge of optimism, especially if the goal came from Wesley.