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The case for Jordan Veretout at Aston Villa

Jordan Veretout could fit in at Villa this season

AS Saint-Etienne v Manchester United - UEFA Europa League Round of 32: Second Leg Photo by Christopher Lee/Getty Images

Jordan Veretout wasn’t a standout player for Aston Villa during their relegation season back in 2016. He’s now forming part of a new-look bomb squad alongside Carles Gil, Aly Cissokho and potentially Jordan Amavi - who have all been placed on the transfer list.

Amavi and Veretout, however, have joined the first-team training camp over in Portugal, while Gil and Cissokho have been told to look for a new team, which presents a rather interesting situation - especially with the news that Veretout is actually working hard at Villa’s pre-season camp.

Villa’s owner, Tony Xia has said that Veretout has a chance at Villa - as long as he doesn’t rule himself out, and as long as Villa’s transfer demands are not met. This could potentially be great news for Aston Villa - who failed to get the best out of two of their marquee January signings in Conor Hourihane and Henri Lansbury.

Why is this good news? Well - while Villa stumbled in the Championship, Veretout was enjoying a decent season over in France, for Saint Etienne. So it’s worth taking a look at the Frenchman’s performance for Villa in 15/16 and for SE in 16/17 against Villa’s other performers - namely Jack Grealish, Henri Lansbury and Conor Hourihane, to see if Veretout could actually offer something.

There are some things to consider though; Hourihane and Lansbury had a baptism of fire for Villa, while Veretout enjoyed a full season at Saint Etienne. The leagues are relatively comparable, but the top ten Ligue 1 clubs are bound to be better than the Championship’s best, while the relegation fodder might be comparable to the teams scraping the barrel in the Championship. The number of games played will help the numbers for Villa’s players as well - with there being more games for EFL team. However, Veretout played throughout the Europa League campaign for Les Verts, against stronger teams than Villa would face in the EFL. With that being said, let us dig into it.

Jordan Veretout was nothing if not a direct threat for Saint Etienne last season over in France; which is enormously better than anything Villa could muster from last season. He passed the ball forward almost 33 times per game over the course of an entire season, which is better than his 27 times per game rate at Villa in 2016. This also kills off Jack Grealish’s production (however, it’s worth bearing in mind that Grealish clocked in 1000 less playing minutes than Veretout, which amounts to just over 11 games) - Grealish managed 2 assists in the Championship, while Veretout set up four goals in Ligue 1, and five during his Premier League days for Villa. It seemed that Veretout had a lot more attacking freedom in Ligue 1 than during a relegation battle with Villa.

However, Veretout will not be displacing Jack Grealish at Villa, he’ll be fighting Conor Hourihane and Henri Lansbury for a spot - and here’s where things get interesting. Veretout was a better defensive player than the pair - clocking up 2 tackles and an interception every game. A few more and he’d be looking at Mile Jedinak levels (2.39 interceptions a game) of defensive production, despite playing a more advanced role - that’s exactly what Villa want from a midfielder right now. Amazingly, Veretout was also a better tackler than Jedinak - winning more of his tackling attempts the Aussie midfield commander. Hard to believe, right? Jedinak was a bruiser in midfield - but it’s mad how Veretout seems so promising at this defensive play, maybe he’s the defensive midfielder that Villa are looking for?

In terms of attacking play - Conor Hourihane takes the crown, but that’s expected. He is Villa’s best midfielder! Veretout is a more than capable deputy, it was Hourihane who you’d rely on for killer balls and shots on goal. It’s interesting to note that Veretout is close to Jedinak in defensive play and Hourihane on the offensive. Lansbury was a bit better on the ball than the pair, and matched Veretout’s output. Generally, it was Veretout who was finding better success with his passes, and Hourihane having better luck with his passes - as they seemed to be finished off more.

The numbers present a very interesting ‘tale of the tape’ - but there is so much more to it than that. Veretout failed to adapt to his time at England, despite being one of Villa’s better performers during their doomed season. Lansbury and Hourihane suffered after joining Villa, and couldn’t match their levels of production seen at Nottingham Forest and Barnsley respectively. Veretout perhaps thrived in France because it was his home country, but if Villa could make an effort with the player, they’d have an extremely reliable midfielder on their hands who could do some damage if deployed alongside Lansbury and Hourihane - instead of perhaps replacing them.

The question of fitting all of Villa’s players in seems a cursed question now. Villa clearly have an abundance of resources, and plenty of opportunities to rotate. If Villa keep Veretout, I believe they have someone to replace Mile Jedinak throughout the course of the season. It’d be interesting to see - especially because Veretout seems capable of deputising for Hourihane, Lansbury and Jedinak, while being a better all-rounder than Bacuna. Why wouldn’t you try to hold onto that type of player?

How would Villa line up? It could be a 4-3-3 system, with Jedinak being the starter and Veretout the second option, but as you can see - Villa’s midfield reserves are rich. Bacuna and Bjarnason are clearly the preferred midfield options.

It might even be something like this, where Hourihane and Jedinak/Veretout drop further back to allow Lansbury to do his thing.

Either way - it seems that Aston Villa might have someone they want to hold onto in the form of Jordan Veretout.