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Who is Conor Hourihane? Meet the midfielder Villa need to buy

The Barnsley captain should be Aston Villa’s top January transfer target

Barnsley v Northampton Town - EFL Cup Photo by Pete Norton/Getty Images

Aston Villa need help in midfield. It’s been apparent all season.

Enter Conor Hourihane. The heart and soul of Barnsley FC, Hourihane is an all-action central midfielder. The 25-year-old Irishman joined the Tykes in the summer of 2014 from Plymouth Argyle following Barnsley’s relegation to League One.

Since then, Hourihane’s scored 29 goals and assisted 45 more for Barnsley and was named club captain in August 2015. He’s a goalscoring midfielder that controls the play.

Two weeks ago, Hourihane had been in talks with Barnsley over a new contract. However, according to the Daily Mail, they have broken down amid interest from other clubs, with Villa among the suitors.

Conor Hourihane is exactly the type of player that Aston Villa need in the middle of the park. Attack-minded, yes, but he doesn’t forego his defensive responsibilities either. Tactical awareness is an underrated attribute, and Hourihane should be able to integrate into Steve Bruce’s system seamlessly.

In the current FL Championship season, Hourihane has five goals and 11 assists. He’s won 72 of the 102 tackles (70.5%) he’s attempted, made 59 interceptions and passes the ball with about 81 percent accuracy. Hourihane’s committed 21 fouls while winning 30, and has seen yellow six times in 23 matches.

Oh, and he scored this brilliant 25-yard dipping cannonball of a strike in the 88th minute against Nottingham Forest to win it for Barnsley today.

Far from flashy, Hourihane is dependable. He’s missed just two matches; playing the full 90 minutes in every game he’s started. Hourihane is a player that any manager would like in their team, specifically because you know what you’re going to get out of him — solid performances while making his teammates better.

The only part of his game that is lacking is winning aerial duals. At 1.81m, that could be expected in a very physical league. However, it is also mitigable with a partner like Mile Jedinak, and Nathan Baker behind in defence.

Something Villa fans will enjoy from Hourihane is that he moves the ball forward. Far too often, midfielders like Ashley Westwood and Gary Gardner have been comfortable shifting the ball from side to side, recycling it back to the defence, or just pumping it hopelessly forward. Look for Hourihane to spread it to the wings or combine with the strikers before playing them in behind with clever through balls.

Will Villa snap up Hourihane? Hopefully, although Barnsley are set to make a tidy profit if they choose to sell. He cost just £250k back in 2014.

Where else do Villa need to improve in January? Let us know in the comments!

*Editor’s note:* Originally this article featured a tweet showing touch numbers for Gardner, Westwood and Aaron Tshibola from the loss to Cardiff. The figures have since been corrected and the evidence is nowhere near as damning for Westwood and Gardner, but they still have performed poorly and midfield help is needed.