Aston Villa power rankings: Trezeguet slides as Jack Grealish & Bjorn Engels rise – Ashley Preece
Aston Villa are back in the Premier League after a three-year exodus.
Defeats against Tottenham, Bournemouth and Crystal Palace was not the start Dean Smith envisaged following what was a truly monumental – and bold – summer with 12 new additions costing in the region of £130million.
But, against Everton last month, any early-season disappointment disappeared after star striker Wesley fully announced himself on the big stage in what was a crucial first home victory of the campaign.
Smith’s squad is now set after a memorable summer window. Villa made sure the play-off heroes stayed put while adding sprinklings of Premier League pizazz and young European talent to the mix to help bolster the ranks.
Here, in our updated Power Rankings following the Crystal Palace defeat and looking ahead to West Ham, BirminghamLive’s Aston Villa club writer Ashley Preece picks out the most valuable players – and ranks each and every one based on week-by-week form and all-round importance.
25. Orjan Nyland
Previous week: 25
Came in as the club’s new No.1 under then-boss Steve Bruce last summer. The Norwegian struggled given Villa’s lack of defensive cover in front of him last term and, against Preston on December 29, ruptured his Achilles which sidelined him for the rest of the season. It’s been a frustrating start to life at Villa for Nyland who, at this stage, is nowhere near the starting XI.
24. Lovre Kalinic
Previous week: 24
Staying with goalkeepers, Lovre Kalinic was Smith’s first signing back in January and, like Nyland, the Croatian has struggled with form and injuries. The 29-year-old has made just eight appearances since his £5.4million move. The keeper had knee surgery back in March. His last appearance for Villa came when he was forced off at half time during the West Bromwich Albion defeat back in February in the Championship. Fallen down the pecking order now behind Jed Steer and new arrival Tom Heaton. Remarkably, didn’t leave Villa during the European transfer window which closed last week.
23. Kortney Hause
Position: Central defender / left-back
Previous week: 22
Our Hause in the middle of defence as the song goes as Smith opted to sign Kortney Hause for a paltry £3million from Wolves in the summer. Picked up an injury while out in Leipzig during pre-season. Hause’s role will be the same as last year, coming in as a back-up for the likes of Tyrone Mings. The 24-year-old is a positive character around the dressing room and will be given game time in cup competitions. Valuable cover if Smith ever needs it.
22. James Chester
Position: Central defender
Previous week: 21
Still the club captain, James Chester is battling back from injury having put his body through the mire last season given Villa’s lack of defensive options, often playing through injury. The popular Welshman now has to manage his knee after it inflamed, an injury which ruled him out for 103 days which forced him out of Villa’s promotion run-in. Chester has since tweaked his hamstring and finally back amongst the first-team squad. Will find minutes hard to come by now and will need to build up his fitness. Could play against Brighton in the cup coming up.
21. Jed Steer
Previous week: 19
Last season’s play-off hero has lost his No.1 shirt to Heaton and now finds himself as Villa’s back-up option. Performed brilliantly for Villa in the Championship and was vital in the club gaining promotion. His penalty-saving heroics at The Hawthorns was a stand-out game for the 26-year-old who has been at Villa now for six years and has recently signed a four-year deal.
20. Ezri Konsa
Previous week: 18
The much hyped about centre-back arrived from Brentford after Villa triggered his £12million release clause. Suffered an injury setback in pre-season but now fully fit and raring to go. Smith has high hopes of Ezri Konsa but, given how Bjorn Engels has taken to the Premier League like a duck to water, Konsa will have to wait for his chance. More of a long-term signing, this one. Has operated at right-back and holding midfield before too. Konsa is cover, as it stands, but scored on his only Villa outing against Crewe in the Carabao Cup.
19. Jonathan Kodjia
Previous week: 15
The eccentric Ivorian is back after an extended break and back in the mix. He’s Villa’s only real hope up front if ever Wesley picked up a knock and Smith said recently how the Premier League suits Kodjia’s game better than the rough and tumble of the Championship. An off-the-cuff striker, Kodjia is capable of the stupendous at times and has an eye for goal. Has scored 29 goals in 67 league starts for Villa which isn’t a bad return at all. Picked up an ankle injury after coming on at Spurs and is back jogging again. Hopeful he’ll be ready for West Ham. A lot rides on Kodjia this year, he’ll have to make a real impact off the bench while he can also be an added option on either wing. Intrigued to see how he’ll take to the speed of the Premier League. Has recently picked up a head injury after a training ground clash, hopeful of shaking it off, though.
18. Matty Targett
Previous week: 16
Matty Targett was a big-money signing from Southampton and was fully expected to nudge Neil Taylor out of Villa’s starting XI – but it simply hasn’t happened. Targett’s Welsh teammate has got a tight grip on the No.3 shirt and has been defensively sound so far for Villa. Targett picked up a hamstring injury on his debut for Villa against Crewe and will miss the next match against West Ham. He slides down two places.
Previous week: 10
The summer signing from Kasimpasa looked dangerous at Spurs and had a goal-bound effort blocked against Bournemouth but, in more recent weeks, has been arguably non-existent. Was stupidly sent off against Crystal Palace and will now lose his place in Smith’s starting XI. Drops seven places in Villa’s latest power rankings. Now needs to come back with a bang.
16. Keinan Davis
Previous week: 20
From non-league to Premier League, the story of Keinan Davis is a remarkable one after Villa signed the big striker from Biggleswade Town in 2015. Smith likes Davis – describing him as a bully in training – and was keen to keep him around the first-team setup. The 21-year-old is just one of three strikers at the club now alongside Wesley and Jonathan Kodjia and will be called upon. Davis will be hoping to earn a new contract too and will need to impress, as he did against Crewe in the cup.
15. Marvelous Nakamba
Position: Central midfield
Previous week: 17
The guy with ferocious energy and a heart-warming smile, the combative midfielder joined late after sealing his long-awaited move from Club Brugge. Was injured while playing for Zimbabwe at AFCON and has been given extra training sessions to build up his fitness. Already very much settled and big mates with ex-Brugge teammate Wesley. It won’t be long until he breaks into Villa’s side. The 25-year-old has bags of energy and heart and will be relied upon as the season progresses. Still waiting for his Premier League bow.
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14. Henri Lansbury
Position: Central midfield
Previous week: 23
The midfielder has made just 25 starts since signing back in January 2017. However, during pre-season, Lansbury showed glimpses of real ability to suggest he could become a valuable squad player in the Premier League. Made three assists against Crewe in League Cup action and scored what should have been a brilliant equaliser against Crystal Palace. Has been impressing Smith in training in recent weeks and is starting to look the part at Bodymoor Heath. The 28-year-old climbs a whopping nine places here and could be close to a Premier League start in the coming weeks – who’d have thought that a month or so ago?
13. Conor Hourihane
Position: Central midfield
Previous week: 14
Started at Spurs but lost his place at Bournemouth, Conor Hourihane has been Villa’s anchor man in recent months but, as supporters will tell you, the Irishman is better further up the pitch where he adds a real goal threat. His left peg is devastating at times, both on dead balls and balls coming out to him on the edge of the box. Has scored 23 times for Villa in two-and-a-half years. Signed an improved contract in the summer and he’ll be hoping to work his way back into Villa’s XI in the weeks and months to come. A great option off the bench if Villa need a goal. Will have to do a lot to move ahead of the likes of Douglas Luiz and John McGinn but will be pushing each of Villa’s midfielders for a starting berth. Climbs a place.
12. Ahmed Elmohamady
Previous week: 13
The Egyptian is Villa’s Mr Reliable and last season’s form – coupled with Premier League displays to date – has seen him earn a new one-year contract extension up until 2021. Has experience in abundance, a solid performer who is breathing down the neck of fellow right-back Freddie Guilbert.
11. Anwar El Ghazi
Previous week: 12
The Wembley goal hero penned a permanent deal in the summer after his hugely-impressive loan spell last season. Was such a threat in the Championship when on song and has a moment of brilliance in him. So far in the Premier League, though, the Dutchman has lacked any real conviction. Was hoped to be a much-needed goal threat but it’s still early days. Scored after being dropped against Everton which will act as a reminder to boss Smith that there’s still plenty more to come. Will look to take his chance again given Trezeguet’s one-game suspension.
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Previous week: 9
The summer signing lit up pre-season and was arguably Villa’s star performer. The 28-year-old is a Juan Mata-type player, not quick but can pick a pass out no many others can see. A great dribbler and a clever link-up player which was evident throughout the summer. You get the inkling the Spaniard will be used more at Villa Park given the physical demands of playing against top teams on the road but will be vying for his chance now. Works well with both Jack Grealish and close pal Wesley, which was evident during his brilliant full debut against Everton.
9. Frederic Guilbert
Previous week: 7
The energetic Frenchman, like other new arrivals, was made to wait given Ahmed Elmohamady’s form at right-back but, against the Toffees during Villa’s only victory so far, grabbed his chance with both hands. Possesses a great, whipping cross and has pace to burn. Villa fans were surprised not to see Guilbert sooner. Was brilliant against Everton, defensively and as an out-ball down Villa’s right-hand side.
8. Neil Taylor
Previous week: 11
The Welshman is enjoying a real resurgence. The 30-year-old is currently keeping £14million signing Targett out and he’ll now be doing everything he can to earn a new deal given his contract expires in 2021 – and he’ll be backing himself to keep up his good form. Climbs three places.
7. Douglas Luiz
Position: Central midfield
Previous week: 6
The surprise capture from Manchester City has already had an eventful start to life in B6. The Brazilian was frustratingly made to wait for his passport in pre-season, let the ball run through his legs to allow Bournemouth to score 10 minutes into his debut while later notching one of the all-time great Villa Park goals. Manager Smith was surprised a deal could get done for the Brazil under-23 captain, with Pep Guardiola himself telling Smith: “You’ve got a good lad there.” Looks a snip at just £15million while there is a hefty buy-back option in place if City ever want to come calling and, if they do, Villa will no doubt be excelling with Douglas at the heart of their midfield. Looks a classy operator even at this early stage of his Villa career. Has stiff competition now for the anchor role in midfield given Nakamba is back to full fitness.
6. Tom Heaton
Previous week: 8
Tom Heaton doesn’t turn 34 until April and he’s got many more years yet as Villa’s No.1. The summer signing cost a little over £8million and what a deal that looks already. Strong, vocal and has acrobatic-like agility, Heaton has already shown his brilliance and he’ll be absolutely vital for Villa this season, both on the pitch and in the dressing room. A real leader among men. He climbs two after a brave showing against Palace.
Previous week: 2
Villa’s hopes of a successful season – you feel – rests on the shoulders of record-signing Wesley. The beastly Brazilian arrived for £22million and will lead Villa’s line in the Premier League. Was given a wake-up call at Spurs but, against Everton, answered his critics after notching his first goal in what was a truly memorable, monster-like display against the Toffees. Looks tailor-made for the Premier League given his powerful presence – but now needs to back it up with goals and performances. As previously mentioned, so key to Villa’s hopes this year given their lack of striker options. Will have his eye on hunting down West Ham on Monday night.
4. Bjorn Engels
Position: Central defender
Previous week: 5
Cool, calm and collected: big Bjorn Engels has the stature of slow and limited defender but he’s anything but. The Belgian has been truly superb alongside Tyrone Mings at the back and looks a great addition for a reported £7million. The 24-year-old was previously tracked by the likes of Arsenal and you can see why. Has taken to the Premier League with relative ease and already looks as if he’s been at the heart of Villa’s defence for several years. A shrewd signing, this one. Engels is also known for being a goal threat from set-pieces. Hasn’t put a foot wrong yet and long may that continue. Was brilliant at Palace last time out.
3. John McGinn
Position: Central midfield
Previous week: 3
Supporters continue to pinch themselves at the ridiculous £2.75million fee Villa paid Hibs last summer, with the Scot’s fine form being rewarded with a bumper new five-year contract in the summer. Looks every bit of the player – if not better – than the one who rampaged through midfielders in the Championship last term. Burst through in a trade-mark lung-bursting run at Spurs to fire past Hugo Lloris on the opening day while, against Bournemouth, was yet again Villa’s stand-out player as he singlehandedly attempted to drag Villa back into the game. McGinn will take the Premier League by storm this season, sides will be awe-struck by his energy levels, drive and determination to succeed.
2. Jack Grealish
Position: Attacking midfield
Previous week: 4
The darling of Villa Park, Jack Grealish is finally back in the Premier League and completed what he always set out to do: to get his boyhood club back into the big time. Has captained the club in Chester’s absence since February and will continue to do so with the eyes of the world – and England boss Gareth Southgate – watching. Wants to add more goals to his game now after such a sterling final six months in the Championship last season. Grealish is amongst a cluster of top midfield talent vying for Euro 2020 selection alongside the likes of James Maddison and Mason Mount. Playing deeper now alongside close friend John McGinn in the heart of Villa’s midfield. There’s no doubting the academy graduate’s ability and he’ll fancy his chances against anyone in the Premier League. Turned 24 this week and, against Crystal Palace, was harshly booked for diving as he desperately attempted to drag Villa back into the game. Starting to really grow as both a player and a leader. The world’s his oyster if he wants it. Will improve game by game in the Premier League. Climbs two.
1. Tyrone Mings
Position: Central defender
Previous week: 1
It’s hard to think of a player in recent memory who’s had more of an impact than Tyrone Mings. The colossal and classy centre-back has been a revelation since signing back in January and was arguably the real reason why Villa gained promotion. Was immense during the record-breaking 10-game winning run and has continued in same vain back in the Premier League despite absurd doubters questioning his big-league credentials. A Rolls-Royce of a defender who’s now in Gareth Southgate’s England setup – and deservedly so. Continues to be Villa’s main man given his leadership skills and ability both on and off the ball.