Villa aren’t particularly in the best of positions right now when it comes to their forward corps.
Christian Benteke is on his way out the door any minute now to Liverpool, and Andi Weimann was sold on to Derby County this summer, leaving… one striker with significant Premier League experience, Gabby Agbonlahor. Libor Kozak has 14 appearances and four goals, but that’s a small sample. Aside from that? Your other options are… Rushian Hepburn-Murphy, André Green and Callum Robinson.
That’s not the situation you want the club in heading into a new season.
Of course, Aston Villa have been heavily linked with Emmanuel Adebayor, and while there’s likely an element to which it’s lazy journalism, it’s also a move that makes a lot of sense.
Look, let’s be honest about something: Villa aren’t singlehandedly replacing the contribution of Benteke with one player, even if they move for QPR’s Charlie Austin. The Englishman is a solid forward, but even at his best, he’s not what Benteke meant to this side.
And quite honestly, that’s perfectly fine! Villa need to develop new ways of playing, and, in the last couple months of the season under Tim Sherwood, they began to do so. Moving Benteke allows the club to continue to change its tactics, and that’s in a lot of ways, a good thing.
There’s a certain level to which the argument that Benteke was too good for this side could have merit. He was a player who required the attention he got through Villa’s tactics; those "Keep Calm and Pass to Benteke" shirts weren’t really a joke for what Villa could do, and in a lot of ways, it may have stunted the growth of players like the aforementioned Weimann.
It’s all in the past now, but the main thing is how Sherwood moves forward. And if it’s with Adebayor joining the club as a forward option, it’s easy to see what he’s banking on.
There’s been a lot of chatter about Adebayor’s character, drive, inconsistency or whatever else people have against him and quite honestly, I’ve been a little shocked to hear how negative everyone’s been about the prospect of his move to Villa Park. Sure, I don’t really want to give him £100k/week, but I certainly think it’s an avenue worth pursuing; Adebayor has scored at a solid rate everywhere he’s been in England, including at Spurs, where he bagged 14 goals in 25 matches under Sherwood.
But at the end of the day, if there’s anyone amongst the club who knows Adebayor best, it certainly is Sherwood. He’s managed him, and figured out how to get the best out of him, re-starting the career of a striker who looked dead in the water. Just 12 months later, the Togo international’s career once again looks stagnant, and if Sherwood can work his magic once more, even an "expensive" signing could prove to be a shrewd move. At the end of the day, it’s not as if Villa are blowing a high transfer fee on the 31-year old; it’d be a low-cost, high-wage transfer that could prove beneficial.
Though perhaps the most important thing with the move wouldn’t be what it says about Adebayor, but instead what it says about Sherwood’s Villa: He’ll be counting on goals to come from all over the pitch, not just from the striker position.
That inability to score from midfield and defense was a plague of Villa’s play under Paul Lambert, and as Sherwood started to put his stamp on this side in the close of the season, we started to see that change. In a short span, Fabian Delph scored in the semi, Tom Cleverley scored three, and Carlos Sanchez popped up with a goal himself in a series of events unlikely to have happened in the previous regime.
And while two of those midfielders are gone, the limited signings Sherwood’s made this year have an eye toward continued attacking play, and contributions from all over the pitch. Both Idrissa Gueye and Jordan Amavi bagged four goals for their French clubs last year, and should be expected to do the same.
We saw it a little bit of the framework yesterday, with Scott Sinclair positioned perfectly in the box to tap home for Villa’s first goal; Sincair was deployed on the left wing, but the nature of Sherwood’s attack allowed him to pop up with a chance in front of goal, one that he took.
If Sherwood signs Adebayor — and hopefully he’d bring in one more target, preferably a younger "project" — it’s a clear sign that the days of relying on one player to score half Villa’s goals are over. Ade probably isn’t giving you more than 10 goals, and neither is Kozak or Agbonlahor, both guys who should continue to play a role this year.
But his system is designed on the principle that chances will be created, irrespective of who’s playing at the top of the formation. If those chances are finished at a solid rate, Villa will be just fine this year, and we’ll be talking about the five-goal midfielder from Senegal or Jack Grealish’s breakthrough seven-goal season.
Sherwood’s pursuit of Adebayor shows he’s willing to bet on himself, and what he knows, this season.
The real question is whether or not you’d bet against him.